Experts, standards, textbooks

An earlier post here on Curricublog reported (with audio, & link to a video feed) on the Texas SBOE‘s decision not to invite further input from their “experts” or the writing teams of social studies specialists in their revision of social studies standards for the state of Texas.

If that makes you think the SBOE does not want to hear from outsiders, you’re drawing too broad an inference.

The TFN blog has picked up on another decision by the SBOE, to bring a broader array of Texans into the process of reviewing textbooks. This is for all textbook approval by the Board, not just for social studies.

This time, it looks like the Board is more than eager to get input, provided it’s from the kinds of people that they prefer hearing from.

“Who’s an ‘Expert’? Anyone!” is the headline of the TFN blog post. And if you listen to the discussion (or click here for link to video stream) leading up to their decision, it often does sound like they are trying to decide who counts as an “expert.” I don’t think that’s really what they were deciding, but let’s see if we can figure out what they are doing (I have emphasized and highlighted the sentence at issue in the amendment. Text highlighted in yellow will be commented on later. Please leave a comment to let me know if the highlighting doesn’t show in your browser.):

They were deliberating over amending this rule in their regulations (I have added underlining to the sentence they were talking about changing):

§66.33. State Review Panels: Appointment.

(a)  The commissioner of education shall: determine the number of review panels needed to review instructional materials under consideration for adoption, determine the number of persons to serve on each panel, and determine the criteria for selecting panel members. Each appointment to a state review panel shall be made by the commissioner of education with the advice and consent of the State Board of Education (SBOE) member whose district is to be represented. The commissioner of education shall make appointments to state textbook review panels that ensure participation by academic experts in each subject area for which instructional materials are being considered. The term academic expert includes not only university professors but also public school teachers with a strong background in a particular discipline.

(b)  The commissioner of education shall solicit recommendations for possible appointees to state review panels from the State Board of Education (SBOE), school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, and educational organizations in the state. Recommendations may be accepted from any Texas resident. Nominations shall not be made by or accepted from any publishers; authors; depositories; agents for publishers, authors, or depositories; or any person who holds any official position with a publisher, author, depository, or agent.

(c)  The SBOE shall be notified of appointments made by the commissioner of education to state review panels.

(d)  Members of a state review panel may be removed at the discretion of the commissioner of education.

Source: The provisions of this §66.33 adopted to be effective September 1, 1996, 21 TexReg 7236; amended to be effective October 12, 2006, 31 TexReg 8354.

The TFN blog says ‘A proposed rule this week defined “experts” as “university professors but also public school teachers with a strong background in a particular discipline.”’ From listening to their discussion, I myself would have thought that the change being proposed was the phrase including public school teachers. I think that’s what the Board members thought they were discussing, but the text above makes it look like that phrase was there already in the regulations.

The discussion started with Chairman Gail Lowe asking as a point of information what the intention of that sentence was. This might make it sound like the sentence was proposed new language, even though it apparently was the existing language of the regulation, already in effect.

I think it was the Commissioner himself ( or maybe someone on the TEA staff) who suggested that the rule should go along the same lines as the Statute on the TEKS standards development (below).

Ex-Chairman McLeroy moved to eliminate the sentence altogether — not because he did not want teachers to be included, but because he thought that language including teachers, in particular, suggested that others who were neither university professors nor public school teachers might not be included. McLeroy wants inclusion to be completely up to the discretion of Board members, with no limitations or restrictions on their discretion.

Pat Hardy worried that the McLeroy amendment might still leave a Commissioner free to exclude people for not having some required expertise; she thought they needed more explicit language for including a broader range of people.

The Board’s discussion did sound like they were talking about who can and who can’t be included as an expert. I don’t think that’s what they did decide, however.

They did make a decision, but without deciding the specific language at that meeting. They directed the TEA staff to put their decision into draft language that they could vote on the next day, in an official action by the Board approving the change in its “first reading,” to allow public notice and input followed by final action at a later meeting. The decision that the staff was directed to draft was that instead of the sentence underlined above, the regulation would be changed so that the composition of the textbook review panels would follow the pattern prescribed in the statute governing development of the TEKS standards. I have emphasized in red below the language that the Board asked to have substantially incorporated into the amended regulation for textbook review panels.



(c)  The State Board of Education, with the direct participation of educators, parents, business and industry representatives, and employers shall by rule identify the essential knowledge and skills of each subject of the required curriculum that all students should be able to demonstrate and that will be used in evaluating textbooks under Chapter 31 and addressed on the assessment instruments required under Subchapter B, Chapter 39. As a condition of accreditation, the board shall require each district to provide instruction in the essential knowledge and skills at appropriate grade levels.

The whole thing was confusing. I might have got this wrong. In my defense, at least some Board members were at least as confused as I was, since some of them were uncertain over whether they were deciding on the TEKS review process or just the textbook review process.

Whether I understood their decision Thursday correctly or not, I can’t tell what they voted on Friday. Maybe I missed it Friday, but I think they voted Friday without further discussion of this particular rule change. Staff would have given them a document to vote on that would not have needed to be read aloud or discussed Friday. Whatever they have voted to approve, the public will be able to see it when “proposed amendments to existing rules” are posted here.

When they do get that posted, we’ll be able to see what they have done. Before then, if anybody knows what they did do, please let us know — especially if I’ve got this wrong somehow. I feel like I must have this wrong, since it does not make any sense:

It looks to me like they have not actually changed the definition of who is an expert. What they’ve done, rather, is to change it so people don’t need any expertise to be on the textbook review panel. I can see how there could be some rationale for including non-experts in the standards development process, since that can be regarded as a policy-making process, in which it could make some sense to include some political interest representation, along with the expertise.

The same rationale would not apply, however, to the review of textbooks. At that point, the policy decisions have been made already. Policy determination is something prior to and separate from textbook review. Textbook review might require different kinds of expertise (expertise in grade-specific pedagogy, for example, as well as expertise in the subject or discipline), but it is not a process calling for further policy-making representation of political, commercial, or industrial interests. Employers might have expertise for judging textbooks and materials for occupational/vocational courses [cf. Texas Education Code §28.0022 (b)], but not for courses in science, math, history, etc.

But this also applies to the language highlighted in yellow, which is already in the regulation. Are textbook review panelists appointed to represent particular SBOE districts? What sense does that make? And where in the regulation is it provided for review panelists to be appointed as district representatives?

I’m beginning to think that Texan is a different language — one that I don’t understand.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] on the basis of political representation, rather than on academic expertise (see, e.g., here and here). People who care about social education need to be prepared for these upcoming […]

  2. […] on the basis of political representation, rather than on academic expertise (see, e.g., here and here). People who care about social education need to be prepared for these upcoming […]

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