At its meeting Thursday, the 15-member [State Board of Education] is expected to scrap a curriculum revision process dominated by teachers and the Texas Education Agency and discuss a new timetable for revising the English reading and writing standards.
Many on the board want to replace a student-centered curriculum that calls on students to use their own attitudes and ethics to interpret texts with teacher-centered instruction that emphasizes the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation.
It was a fight social conservatives on the board lost in 1997, when moderates and liberals adopted the curriculum for all subjects. Now, with social conservatives expected to have a majority on the board for the first time after the November elections, the plan to rewrite the English standards is viewed by some as the opening shot in an effort to put a conservative imprint on the state’s curriculum.
Why does this matter? Well, along with California, Texas is the largest purchaser of K-12 textbooks in the United States and heavily influences the textbook publishing market. In fact, as Diane Ravitch potently argues in The Language Police, almost everything in public education textbooks has been vetted through the approval committees in those two states.
This swing in Texas is going to be very interesting to follow. Will it bifurcate the market? Introduce some competition and innovation? Encourage publishers to get up to speed and try a long-tail approach? Probably not. More likely, it will impose more restrictions and political correctness to the content of textbooks. Textbooks will get thicker and shallower in the name of grabbing as large a market share as possible.
I’m actually a fan of teacher-directed, guided instruction — up to a point. From what I’ve seen the research clearly demonstrates that it works efficiently and effectively in developing specific skills and memory. I worry, though, that the heart and soul of the Language Arts discipline will get gutted out in a misguided rush to cover general and cultural (aka canonical) literacy at the expense of all else.
Textbooks are already crap, and this new development stinks.