State Board of Education approves supplemental online materials

Allison Harris

For the first time, Texas public schools will be able to supplement science textbooks with state-approved online materials.

The State Board of Education, with one member absent, unanimously approved supplemental online science texts recommended by Commissioner of Education Robert Scott.

The 92 texts, which cover fifth grade through high school, will be available for schools to order Aug. 8, said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman.

“School districts will be able to access this information as soon as schools starts, whereas if they were printed books, it would be months before they get those in their hands,” Marchman said.

Some elements of the materials were only tentatively approved, contingent on the companies that produced them making changes. One product includes a diagram that compares embryos of different animals that former board chair Gail Lowe pushed to have replaced with photographs, and a Holt McDougal supplement requires the rewording of eight contested statements — including some that involve arguments for and against evolution — to Scott’s satisfaction.

UT mathematics professor Lorenzo Sadun said the decision about the Holt McDougal text signaled a less conservative board.

“On most issues, the religious right can only summon six votes and they don’t rule the board anymore,” Sadun said. “They played it politically very badly by allowing the new members to form alliances with the moderates.”

Sadun said allowing online supplements could reduce Texas’ influence over textbooks in other states.

“If some people in Texas want something in particular and you have some niche publisher supplying it, that doesn’t mean that the mainstream publisher has to supply it,” Sadun said.