The State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting began this week with the adoption of science instructional materials. There was a steady drumbeat of proposed textbooks removed from the recommended list. Some were removed for valid reasons like lack of standards coverage, but far more were removed because they lacked “suitability,” according to nebulous criteria. When all was said and done, only a handful of materials (out of nearly 300) submitted for review were judged to be adoptable by the SBOE.
By law, districts are not limited to the state adopted materials list when determining which textbooks to buy for their campuses. That the board saw fit to reject such a high volume of materials under the current process, however, does not bode well for textbooks to be considered under the new and much more stringent instructional materials review and adoption (IMRA) process established by House Bill 1605.
Houston ISD parents, educators, and community members speak to the press at the Texas Capitol after their testimony at the State Board of Education.
Houston ISD Community Visits the Commissioner
Perhaps the most exciting few hours of the week came on Wednesday when a bus full of Houston ISD advocates, including Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) and Houston Educational Support Personnel (HESP) members, visited the boardroom to testify during Commissioner Mike Morath’s standing comment item to the SBOE. Teachers, parents, and community advocates like Community Voices for Public Education (CVPE) gave powerful testimony on not only the violations of special education rights but also the wide-ranging injustices being imposed by F. Mike Miles and the appointed board of managers.
These advocates were not welcomed by all in the room, and at one point, Democrats on the board had to implore the chairman to let them be fully heard. Unsurprisingly, the commissioner did not stay in the room to hear their pleas to teach in the way they know is best for their students. One testifier pointed out that only 14% of HISD are definitely planning to return to the district next year.
This group also visited the Capitol and met with several offices to share their experience of the undemocratic take over of their school district.
HB 1605 & Instructional Materials
The work related to this bill is so voluminous that board members had to break it up into three separate items. Two items related to the criteria of the books and one on the review process.
Quality Review Rubric
First, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) presented the quality criteria necessary to meet the bar of “high-quality instructional materials.” SBOE members were presented with the rubrics for the first round of IMRA reviews, which includes English language arts and reading K-8, Spanish language arts and reading, and mathematics K-12.
Reactions to the rubrics were mixed with some commenting on the length and (perhaps, too much) detail in the criteria. Texas AFT testified that raising the bar too high may leave out certain materials and leave districts with fewer choices for their students. You can find the draft rubrics on the TEA’s Instructional Materials webpage.
As we posted in previous Hotlines, the TEA is seeking feedback through a series of webinars on these rubrics starting next week. Anyone may sign up to attend these webinars and we encourage you to attend and provide feedback. However, you can also provide public comment on the draft rubrics anytime between now and Dec. 15.
HB 1605 gave full authority to the SBOE to determine “suitability” for instructional materials. This term has previously been undefined in law or rule and has been the criteria often used to remove certain materials from the adoption process. For example, many health textbooks were axed in 2021 because they contained LGBTQIA+ inclusive information on sexual health even though all other adoption criteria were met. It was suggested in the room that the new suitability rubric should draw exclusively from what already exists in law or rule, like not containing obscene material. There was some pushback by more conservative SBOE members who may want to add more subjective criteria.
There was definite disagreement among members as to how the process of reviewing instructional materials should be conducted. The main discussion revolved around how much involvement and oversight the SBOE should have versus TEA. It is critical that the process continue to involve the expertise of current teachers and other subject-area practitioners. TEA has, in practice, administered the review process on behalf of the board in full view of the public. There are real concerns that this important review process might take place behind closed doors under the new law; decisions at the next meeting will provide more clarity.
The board heard impassioned testimony from several proponents, including students, in favor of the proposed American Indian/Native Studies course. This currently approved innovative course has been in use for several years in Grand Prairie ISD. Substantial research exists to show that ethnic studies allows students to develop healthy academic and cultural identities that mutually-reinforce each other. All our students deserve to see themselves in our state standards. Happily, the board voted to move the course forward and will review draft standards at their next meeting.
What to Watch for Next: Special December Meeting, Library Standards
The board has taken the unusual step of calling an additional meeting in December to accelerate the approval process for the quality and suitability rubrics and taking up a new chapter of rules that will govern the IMRA process. We would like to reiterate that this is a substantial amount of decision-making and rulemaking happening in a very short time. We will be watching this special meeting of the SBOE closely.
Among that hasty work: rulemaking in the wake of book-banning bill HB 900, even though its implementation has been stalled by court injunction. The Texas State Library and Archive Commission is accepting public comment on their collection development rules that the SBOE will approve, likely at their January meeting. The deadline to submit comments is Nov. 26. Our friends at Children’s Defense Fund Texas have put together a toolkit to help you submit those comments.