Recent focus on textbooks and Common Core: why now, and what’s at stake

There’s been a lot of talk, media coverage and misinformation in recent weeks about textbook review committees, censorship, and the Common Core standards. The editorial in Thursday’s Naples Daily News (“Textbooks not key Collier board issue”) made some important points. But there’s more to the story: Where is all this focus on textbooks coming from? Why now? And what’s at stake?

In this post, I’ll share what I think is driving these developments. I’ll also share what I’ve learned about how textbooks were chosen in the past and what might change as the result of a Florida law passed last year.

My main message, as always, is that elections have consequences.

New School Board members are keeping their campaign promises
Last summer, several School Board candidates, including Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter, signed a document presumptuously titled “Contract with Collier County, Florida Voters,” posted here on the website of the Southwest Florida Citizens’ Alliance. This organization, which describes itself as “a coalition of citizens and groups, [that] unites to advance the ideals and principles of liberty including, but not limited to, individual rights, free markets and limited government through education, outreach and community involvement,” is committed to “stopping Common Core.”

By signing this document, Ms. Donalds and Ms. Lichter pledged that during one or more of the first three regular Board meetings after their election to office, they would bring up for vote seven “major reforms.” These “reforms” are driving much of the recent activity:

FIRST, authorize the development and implementation of an external audit and review process (that takes into account public input) for all textbooks (including all newly purchased Common Core District textbooks and materials) to eliminate the use of all textbooks and materials that are factually inaccurate or politically indoctrinate our students at the taxpayer’s expense and amend the FY14-FY16 Collier County Public Schools Strategic Plan to reflect this.

SECOND, authorize the District to lobby at the state level against: (i) Common Core state standards and assessments, and (ii) data mining of our students.

FOURTH, eliminate BYOD in our K though 5 programs and amend the FY14- FY16 Strategic Plan to reflect this.

FIFTH, return math flash cards and memorization of multiplication tables to our elementary school programs and amend the FY14-FY16 Strategic Plan to reflect this.

SIXTH, return the phonics method of teaching reading and writing of English to our K through 2 programs and amend the FY14-FY16 Strategic Plan to reflect this.

Ms. Donalds’ and Ms. Lichter’s pledge to bring these matters up for a vote during their first three School Board meetings explains why textbook review and Common Core have been the focus of so much attention and public comment by members of the SWFL Citizens Alliance, the Libertarian Party of Collier County, and related groups at the post-election School Board meetings. It also ties in with the Anti-Common Core Resolution that the Marco Island City Council and the Board of County Commissioners have agreed to consider at upcoming meetings. (See here and here.)

Recent textbook review sessions were not sanctioned by the School Board
I became aware that a group of community members was reviewing textbooks through two NBC–2 TV news reports:

December 29, 2014: “A group of citizens is on a mission to read textbooks being used by the Collier County School District… (Read more and watch the video)

December 30, 2014: “An effort to review district textbooks is sparking political controversy for the board member organizing it. Conservative board member Kelly Lichter is leading the charge to read through district material, but people are mad that she didn’t reach out to a more politically diverse group of people….” (Read more and watch the video)

Concerns about censorship quickly arose as news of these textbook reviews spread.

I learned at this week’s School Board meeting that Ms. Lichter’s hosting of this textbook review was not sanctioned by the Board. In fact, concerns were expressed by other Board members about security risks taken and costs incurred as a result of the self-appointed review committee’s meetings at the District Offices.

Choosing textbooks
Florida school boards have long had the duty to provide adequate instructional materials for all students, and to adopt courses of study for use in the schools of the district. (See F.S.1006.28.)

Responsibility for reviewing, selecting and adopting textbooks and other instructional materials and providing school districts a vetted list from which to choose was tasked by the Florida Legislature to the state Department of Education.

But as explained in the Naples Daily News editorial:

During the past legislative session, there was a push to hand over textbook review to districts rather than keeping it in state control. That didn’t pass. What did pass was a measure, Senate Bill 864, that Gov. Rick Scott signed, that enables parents to object to texts used in schools. At one point during the legislative process, there was a requirement for districts to set up an instructional materials review committee. It changed during the legislative process to allow — not require — districts to set up a panel.

Yes, elections have consequences.

SB864 gives school boards an important choice. They may continue to select instructional materials from those vetted by the State Department of Education as in the past. They can bypass the state review and vetting and implement their own local program. Or they can implement a hybrid of the two options.

If a school board chooses to implement its own program, it is required by law to:

  • Adopt rules addressing, in part,
    • the processes, criteria, and requirements for the selection of reviewers,
    • a thorough review of curriculum content,
    • the review and selection of materials.
  • Specify the qualifications for an instructional materials reviewer and the process for selecting reviewers.
  • List a reviewer’s duties and responsibilities.
  • Establish the process by which instructional materials are adopted by the school board, including making recommended materials available for review online and providing a process for public comment.

And more. You can read SB864 here.

Required changes to School Board policy
School Board Policy 2510 – Adoption of Textbooks must now be changed because SB864 shifts responsibility for selection of instructional material from the superintendent to the school board, and gives the board a choice as to how materials will be reviewed, recommended, selected and adopted.

According to the draft revised policy available online, the District will propose a hybrid approach in which the Board has the right to “consider, review, and adopt state instructional materials submitted for adoption,” and also has the right to “consider, review, and adopt instructional materials that are not state adopted.”

Details about the proposed composition of the Instructional Materials Review Committees and qualifications of and process for selection of committee members are also included in the draft policy statement.

Much is at stake
There is nothing more important to the future of our community and to the education of Collier’s children than the decisions our School Board will make in the coming weeks and months.

  • Will our School District continue to select instructional materials from those vetted by the State Department of Education, implement their own local program, or – as recommended by the District – implement a hybrid of the two options?
  • Who will select the members of the textbook review committees?
  • How many will there be?
  • What qualifications must they have?
  • Must their decisions be unanimous, or will a majority- or super-majority vote of committee members be sufficient?

If you care about the future of our community, take the time to become informed. Read the draft proposed policy that will presented at the January 20 Workshop. Carefully consider the choices our five School Board members will be making, and – importantly – let your voice be heard.

The District’s School Board Workshop takes place on Tuesday, January 20, at 5:30pm at the District Administration Building, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples (get directions). I hope to see you there.


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