Sorting Out the Textbook Tangle – Letters To The Editor

Sorting Out the Textbook Tangle: submitted by Annette Loy

I am writing about the recent debate over the appropriateness of the content of new mathematics textbooks in Jefferson County Schools.

Citizens from the Empower Jefferson group (VITAL POLICY – Empowered Jefferson Organized to Advance Conservative Public Policy in Jefferson County, Tennessee, Nov. 21, 2022) appeared before the school board causing a delay in math textbook adoption because there was a concern that some of the content would be detrimental to students.

The concerns were eventually eliminated or dismissed based on misinformation or misunderstanding as demonstrated by the Jefferson County School System. What followed was a period of confusion and disruption that resulted in the adoption of textbooks being delayed for several weeks.

Textbooks adopted for use in Tennessee’s public schools are subject to a strenuous process. There are many places along the way where objectionable material is analyzed and corrected.

Protesting a single page, section or concept presented in a textbook – and claiming a lack of opportunity to have any say on our textbooks – reveals a lack of understanding about our textbook adoption process in Tennessee.

Empowered Jefferson appears to be a clone of a national movement called Moms for Liberty. This group has been very active in Middle Tennessee and elsewhere. Their method is to choose a facet of the school program, such as textbook adoption, and cause dissent, delay, expense and wasted time through persistent agitation.

Paige Williams, in an Oct. 31, 2022, New Yorker article titled “Right-Wing Mothers public Fueling the School Board Wars,” describes what these groups are doing.

These groups are not interested in improving education. They are anti- school. I think it is important for parents and citizens to understand the rigorous process by which textbooks are selected.

The textbook adoption process starts when the Tennessee General Assembly creates a Textbook Commission. Next, the State Board of Education approves the state list of textbooks and instructional materials after receiving recommendations from the commission. The board reviews and approves plans by publishers to correct all factual and editing errors found in the textbooks.

After this process is complete, the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission prepares and recommends a list of standard edition textbooks for use in the state’s public schools. The state board then approves the process and time frame for state review of textbooks. State Textbook Advisory Panels advise the commission on textbook and instructional materials selections.

The Tennessee Department of Education provides administrative assistance to the commission. The Department of Education facilitates public access, and opportunity to comment on, all materials bid for state approval.

School districts are required to adopt from the state lists after review by local review committees.

There are many more steps involved along the way. More complete information is available on the Tennessee Department of Education website.

The textbook is only one of many sources of instruction. The most important element in the classroom is the teacher. Citizens who really care and are seeking to be supportive of the public schools should focus their attention on making sure that the classroom teachers are well-educated, well-trained, have a good support system, and are well-paid. High-quality teachers can make informed decisions about the appropriateness of materials presented to their students. A dedicated, capable, and professional teacher will use textbooks in a thoughtful and informed manner.

Become knowledgeable by studying the Annual Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury report titled “How Much Tennessee Public Schools Spend Per Student.” This report reveals the complex structure of funding and the many challenges to delivery of a quality instructional program.

A WalletHub analysis compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across two key dimensions: quality and safety. They evaluated these dimensions using 32 relevant metrics. Each metric was graded, with a score of 100 representing the highest quality of public K-12 education. Tennessee ranked 27th on quality, and 46th on safety. Obviously, there is room for improvement in the public schools in the state of Tennessee.

Igniting a noisy public argument over a page in a textbook won’t help improve our public education.

“Letters To The Editor” do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Jefferson County Post nor any of its employees.  The Jefferson County Post does not underwrite any of the facts or situations mentioned in the letters.