The state Board of Education rejected an entire series of science textbooks Friday on the grounds that the books failed to explore controversial topics such as evolution and human reproduction.
The rejection, the first ever made by the board because of textbook quality, was praised by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig. Calling the vote “historic,” Honig said the action would send a “strong message” to publishers.
Honig noted that California spends about $100 million a year on school texts and wields a strong influence over publishing standards.
“The reality is that we are establishing a policy for the rest of the country as well,” Honig said.
New school textbooks are reviewed and approved by the state board in seven-year cycles. This year, with Honig pushing hard for higher quality texts, a state education review panel found much to criticize in the 13 series of textbooks being considered for science classes in elementary and junior high schools.
In July, the panel, made up of school officials and teachers, recommended the rejection of all the texts. They concluded that “no single textbook series was judged to be excellent in all respects” and all had “systematically omitted” coverage of topics like evolution and human reproduction.
School officials complained that in some texts, the treatment of evolution amounted to one picture of a giraffe and a brief passage explaining his long neck.
In the area of human reproduction, the panel urged publishers to “expand the anatomical and physiological knowledge provided to students in Grade 5-8 texts.” However, they also cautioned against “inclusion of activities which should more appropriately be conducted with parents or medical personnel.”
On Friday, the nine-member Board of Education unanimously endorsed the finding of the panel and gave the book publishers until February to beef up their skimpy accounts of evolution and sex.
Honig predicted the same sort of confrontation will arise with publishers on other subjects.
“This is not just a science issue,” he said, noting that many history texts do not cover, for example, the “religious nature of our early history " or the “totalitarian character” of the Soviet Union.
When new history books are scheduled to be approved, Honig said, the board will insist that those and other controversial topics be included.
“The question is, are we going to allow publishers to water down texts or are we going to set standards and demand quality?” he asked.
Publishers’ representatives at Friday’s meeting said they were disappointed by the board’s move, but most said they would seek to comply with the decision.
California accounts for about 11% of the U.S. textbook market, and the representatives said few publishers want to be excluded from such a lucrative market. They predicted the revisions probably will become the standard national text.
“We want to produce quality textbooks, and we will continue to participate in the process,” said Jack Earle, a representative of Prentice-Hall, who had two of the 13 series that were not approved.
Several publishers’ representatives, who refused to be identified, complained after the meeting that making changes in the books will be costly and difficult.
“We need more lead time if they are going to do something like this,” one said.
However, the chairman of the science textbook panel said his group had distributed clear guidelines on what was expected more than three years ago.
“The board had approved a curriculum framework which told them what we wanted, and we also distributed a more detailed statement to them,” said Bob Douglas, a school administrator from Plumas County who headed the 45-member science review panel.
Honig had suggested in an earlier meeting that many publishers had “ducked” evolution, fearing complaints from creationists and religious groups.
On Thursday, several advocates of “creation science” criticized the textbook panel for seeking to teach evolution “as a fact, rather than as a theory.”
Two board members, John Ward from Long Beach and Angie Papadakis from San Pedro, said they agreed that the books “have too much evolution already.” However, after urging the book panel to screen out “dogmatic” statements in behalf of evolution, both voted along with the rest of the board in ordering the books revised.
The revised books will be sent back to the board for approval before they can be used in California.