Open Letter to Governor Rick Perry
P. O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711-2428
Re: Please veto HB 4294 -- taxpayer-bought student laptops and digitized textbooks on Commissioner's List
Right now, for a publisher to sell a textbook to a school, the publisher must also provide a digitized form of the book. However, that textbook and the accompanying digitized version have all gone through the public hearings and the careful scrutiny of the present textbook adoption process in which the elected members of the SBOE ultimately decide whether to adopt the "instructional materials."
HB 4294 inserts a completely separate digitized textbook adoption process over which the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education have no oversight or authority. (They can only make a comment that carries no legal weight whatsoever.)
The digitized textbooks will be submitted to the unelected Commissioner of Education (a.k.a., Texas Education Agency) who will choose a group of experts. The experts will obviously not have the time to pour over every single sentence in the digitized textbooks as is done now in the lengthy textbook adoption process. The digitized textbooks that are approved will be placed on a Commissioner's List.
In our present textbook adoption process, the public is able to get hard copies of the textbooks that are up for adoption and can then present their findings in public hearings.
Neal Frey of Educational Research Analysts told the Senate Education Committee last week that he had found 744 factual errors in the social studies textbooks he had brought to the hearing. (I believe there were four of them in the stack.) Frey said, "These were factual errors that even Rush Limbaugh and Obama could agree upon." It took Neal Frey six months of laborious reading to locate those errors.
Because textbook companies are charged a fee for every factual error that they leave in their books after these have been submitted to them, the publishers try very hard to correct their books.
It is because of our well-established textbook adoption process that many states set their textbook adoption process a year behind that of ours here in Texas. Other states know most of the factual errors will be caught during our process.
HB 4294 now changes the playing field because there will basically be two separate adoption processes (1) one with tight scrutiny, public input, and SBOE approval and (2) one with very little scrutiny and no public input. Which route will most publishers choose, particularly those with something to hide? Obviously, with less scrutiny, the chances of harmful and misleading information being placed in the digitized textbooks will increase exponentially.
Sen. Shapiro has kept assuring parents that everything will be fine under HB 4294 because all of the instructional materials will have to follow the SBOE-adopted standards (TEKS). However, look at the visual aids that Neal Frey brought to make his point at Shapiro's Senate Education Committee! Those social studies textbooks had followed the TEKS content also, yet they were replete with errors -- 744 of them. It was only because of the thoroughness of the present textbook adoption process and Neal Frey's hard work that those 744 factual errors were discovered and then changed. The SBOE-adopted content (TEKS) was not the problem; the factual errors were.
Rep. Branch and Sen. Shapiro keep trying to alleviate parents' displeasure over HB 4294 by saying, "A class set of hardcover textbooks will be in each teacher's classroom." Big deal. One set of 30 books will be useless when a teacher has 135 - 150 students. If the teacher even chooses to use the hardcover class set, then he cannot assign students any homework in which the textbooks would have to be used; 30 textbooks for 135-140 students simply will not work!
Here is what Rep. Dan Branch, author of HB 4294, told the Dallas Morning News that is supposed to placate the parents ("Educaton Bills Pass in Legislature's Final Days, 5.29.09):
Another education bill [HB 4294] on its way to the governor would let school districts speed up their shift to electronic textbooks. Dallas Republican Rep. Dan Branch, the bill's sponsor, assured social conservatives in the House that the bill wouldn't diminish the powers of the State Board of Education because each classroom still would have at least one set of board-approved textbooks.
I guess Rep. Branch thinks conservatives are stupid. That class set of SBOE-approved, hardcover textbooks would gather dust if students were all supplied with taxpayer-purchased student laptops loaded with the digitized textbooks that have been adopted under the Commissioner's list and that have circumvented the close scrutiny of the SBOE.
As I have stated many times before, I really respect our present Commissioner of Education Robert Scott; but he will not be the Commissioner forever. What kind of "experts" would another Commissioner choose to evaluate the digitized textbooks to be placed on the Commissioner's List? When legislation is passed, we must consider the future ramifications for a bill.
I stand by my testimony that I delivered to the Senate Education Committee on 5.19.09:
[To view my testimony, please go to http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/?yr=2009
. Click on May 19 -- Senate Committee on Education (Part 1). Then ooch your mouse a little bit ahead of the time marker slide bar until you get to 23:17 - 29:53. Neal Frey did a fabulous job right before I spoke, and MerryLynn Gerstenschlager added some excellent points after my testimony. -- Donna Garner]