Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

May 1, 2014

Textbook vote fails 2-7

CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County Board of Education voted 2-7 against adoption of a new series of social studies textbooks Thursday, citing concerns ranging from cost, possible changes to state standards and testing, complaints from the public and the need to consider e-book formats.

"Can we do a smaller amount [of textbooks]?" asked Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative. "As many times as they have changed the standards and PARCC test is in and it's out, the way the state is going, these books could be out of date in two years."

The school system has estimated the cost of new social studies textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grade at $433,000, and the textbook adoption is good for six years.

The new textbooks are aligned with Common Core State Standards, a set of academic standards that have drawn fire across the country. Tennessee was set to begin testing aligned with those standards in the 2014-'15 school year, but earlier this month, lawmakers voted to delay implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers by one year. Schools will continue to use Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests next year, and the Tennessee Department of Education will be required to start a competitive bidding process for new tests aligned with Common Core standards.

"In six years, are we pretty sure these books will be fairly well aligned with whatever testing and standards we use?" asked Charles Tollett, 1st District representative. "Is this a stab in the dark?"

Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability, said, "This was done with fidelity and with the intent of asking 'Do we really need this?' We knew there was a budget crunch. We asked if we wanted to stick our necks out and say we need this. Teachers are hungry to have a source to help them in the classroom."

Wood said she would be less sure of the need to adopt math textbooks at this time, given the uncertainty of future standards.

"We have spoken with teachers and those who have watched the standards change. They feel these materials will meet their need even if the standards change," Wood said.

Janet Graham, interim supervisor of K-12 curriculum, said the current textbooks were published before President George W. Bush was inaugurated. While the textbook adoption is for six years, the school system traditionally uses the textbooks beyond that time.

She explained the process used in evaluating textbooks, with a system-wide committee of social studies teachers looking through the books and talking with the teachers in each school. They also met with publishers. The books were available for public inspection and comments, as well. All books evaluated by Cumberland County were first accepted by the state as acceptable for use in Tennessee schools. More than 20 teachers were involved.

"There is no such thing as a perfect textbook," Graham said. "You will never find one to meet 100 percent of the standards at 100 percent of the level it should."

Graham said she discussed e-books with publishers, and the recommendations were for textbooks with online resources and e-books. Those e-books would be updated as the books were updated each year during the six-year adoption.

Janeway said, "That's worthless if you're not using an e-book."

He spoke of another Tennessee school system that purchased e-readers for each student and then purchased e-books for all subjects, with e-books costing less than textbooks.

Graham noted that e-readers did not provide the interactivity that textbook publishers were building into e-book formats, so devices capable of that interactivity, such as the more expensive iPad, were necessary. Also, there was not a large price break offered by textbook publishers for purchasing an electronic version over the hardback book version. Many of the publishers participating in the selection process this year have offered digital options, such as student websites that update to the next level book each year and e-reader access that would update the text with updates to the book during the six-year adoption cycle.

"They can use the e-book on their device and at home," Graham said.

Schlafer asked if administrators had discussed purchasing classroom sets, instead of a book for each student.

Wood said parents and teachers prefer to have a book the child can take home to complete assignments.

Schlafer said, "I'm concerned we're teaching a book instead of a subject."

Wood said many parents asked, "Please, let my child have a textbook."

During community comments, Harris Meeks of Cumberland County spoke against the textbooks, saying the books incorporated material he felt was inappropriate for public schools.

"There are lots of inaccuracies," Meeks told the board. "They are perpetrating Islam in these books. They are trying to teach children inadequate and improper things that have happened in our country."

He also noted the error of "progressivism" in the books.

"They're teaching our children socialism," he said. "I don't have a horse in this race. I don't have children or grandchildren. I'm saying this because I'm terribly worried about my country and what children are learning."

Graham said most of the concerns from the public regarded the high school textbooks.

"Our teachers were OK with what they saw," Graham said. "I think, as professionals, we have to trust our teachers. We have to trust that they focus on the standards and teach those standards with the integrity we expect our teachers to do."

Josh Stone, 4th District representative, moved to approve the textbook adoption, with David Bowman, 7th District supporting the motion.

Schlafer said, "In my 40 years in education, I have never felt the angst felt this adoption year. It's usually open and shut...I don't mean to discredit the work that's been done, but for me, there is something different this time."

Julia Timson, Cumberland County Education Association representative, said, "We have to teach the standards and teach what it says, but we don't have to teach it like we believe it. We have to take a textbook."

Stone said, "I look at the list of teachers who signed this. These are people I know and people I trust. They're the ones who are instructing our students. I understand a lot of places have a great concern with what is being fed to our kids. The vast majority, the teachers cover what they believe to be right and true."

The question was called and the motion failed, with Stone and Tollett voting in favor of textbook adoption. Voting against were Janeway; Bowman; Schlafer; Jim Blalock, 8th District representative; Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative; Gordon Davis, 5th District representative; and Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative.

Timson asked, "What do you propose I tell the teachers? They will want to know why you voted no on the resources they need."

Janeway reiterated his concern for continuing to use textbooks and not investigating e-books.

Tollett noted the school system would have to determine how to proceed following the failed vote.

"We said no, but we did not give them a better course of action," he said.

The school system is required to adopt textbooks and return that selection to the state. The system could apply for a waiver or the state might accept "no adoption" as its submission.

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