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By Barbara Forrest

HB 116 by Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe) will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, May 30, 2013.  The following e-mail went to all members of the committee on May 28. Some additional hyperlinks have been added to this post. Only the hyperlinks that are visible in full were included in the e-mail to the committee.

Dear members of the Senate Education Committee,

I urge you to vote against Rep. Frank Hoffmann’s HB 116, which will virtually eliminate effective state oversight of the textbook adoption process. The selection of textbooks has been effectively managed by the professional staff of the Dept. of Education and the Board of Elementary Education as required under current law (LA Rev. Stat. 17:352 and 17:415.1). The current selection process has ensured that taxpayer-funded textbooks and other materials are of uniform quality and reliability as determined by teachers and other experts on the textbook adoption committees. This process is not broken, so it should not be “fixed.”

First, I would like to address a misconception about the bill that is apparently being promoted by Supt. John White. Ms. [name deleted], Sen. Appel’s constituent, e-mailed Sen. Appel asking him to vote against HB 116 and communicated this information to me. In his response to Ms. [name deleted], Sen. Appel stated that Supt. White assured him that HB 116 is intended only to enable local school districts to purchase e-books. According to Sen. Appel, “Currently the Department of Education prepares a list of recommended books and the Districts order them. This will remain the same but the mechanism will be opened wider to encompass eBooks.”

However, contrary to Supt. White, current law already permits local school districts to purchase e-books subject to state oversight, as for print textbooks. Below are the relevant sections of LA Rev. Stat. 17:8.2 (http://www.legis.la.gov/lss/lss.asp?doc=727086&showback=Y).

§8.2.  Electronic textbooks and instructional materials

E.(1)  A city, parish, or other local public school board may purchase electronic textbooks and other instructional materials, media, or content, and their means of distribution or access, as it deems are necessary and appropriate to fulfill their educational mission and to address state content standards and school and district accountability system requirements.

(2)  Such purchases shall not be subject to or limited by any textbook adoption cycle established by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the state board shall not restrict the amount or percentage of state or local funds a city, parish, or other local public school board may expend for the purchase of electronic textbooks, instructional materials, or other education related media or content, or their means of distribution or access.

HB 116 is the product of Rep. Hoffmann’s desire to circumvent the state textbook adoption process in the wake of his and the the Louisiana Family Forum’s failure to block the adoption of new biology textbooks in 2010, as my recent letter to the Advocate documents in detail: http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/6002099-123/letter-hb116-promotes-creationism. Rep. Hoffmann’s statement to the Time-Picayune this year (March 14, 2013) confirms that his goal is to do away with the state textbook adoption process: “The Department [of Education] can still make recommendations but there won’t be an adoption committee that says ‘you have to buy one of these books’” (http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/03/education_creationism_louisian.html).

Below are four major problems that warrant your rejection of HB 116 [emphasis added]:

P. 2, ll. 25-28: “The state Department of Education shall offer a review service of textbooks and other instructional materials to evaluate their alignment to state content standards in the subjects of English language arts,mathematics, science, and social studies.”

Problem: HB 116 would repeal LA Rev. Stat. 17:352 and 17:415.1, referenced above, which provides for the current process of using textbook adoption committees made up of qualified teachers and experts in relevant fields who are selected by the professional DOE staff. Under HB 116, DOE will be allowed merely to “offer a review service.” Whoever controls the review process in DOE will determine the content of the reviews. Given the well-publicized politicization of the Dept. of Education, the review process could be done by political appointees rather than professional staff with backgrounds in the relevant subject areas.

P. 3, ll. 1-4: “The governing authority of each public elementary and secondary school may purchase textbooks and other instructional materials that have not been recommended by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education or reviewed by the state Department of Education.”

Problem: This part of HB 116 could undermine the quality of learning materials by permitting school boards to purchase not only creationist textbooks but other materials that deviate from scholarly standards for history and all other subjects. Under the stealth creationist Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), HB 116 would give school boards a green light to purchase creationist textbooks and other materials such as those published by the Discovery Institute, the out-of-state think tank that helped write the LSEA and recently sent its staffer, Joshua Youngkin, to the Senate Education Committee meeting to oppose repeal of the LSEA. Concerning social studies, Louisiana school boards, like some school boards in Texas, could purchase materials that teach children that racial diversity is traceable to “a curse placed on Noah’s son in the biblical story of the flood,” a myth that was used for centuries to justify racism (http://www.tfn.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issues_religious_freedom_bible_courses). The purchase of such materials would put scarce public dollars into the private pockets of people who would willingly use Louisiana children to promote their own agendas.

P. 3, ll. 19-22: “The governing authority of each public elementary and secondary school shall adopt rules and regulations that ensure that all textbooks and materials of instruction under consideration for adoption are thoroughly screened and reviewed as to their content prior to adoption.”

Problem: HB 116 will completely localize the textbook adoption process and jeopardize the quality of children’s learning resources. Louisiana has roughly 70 school districts according to the Dept. of Education (http://www.louisianaschools.net/lde/uploads/17776.pdf). The passage of HB 116 means that there could be 70 different sets of rules and regulations for textbook adoption. School boards like the Central Community School System, which recently adopted its own creationist “Academic Freedom” policy, could approve the selection of substandard creationist textbooks to be purchased with public dollars. (I have thoroughly documented the situation in Central. See http://lasciencecoalition.org/2012/12/12/creationist-conniving-in-central-part-one/ and http://lasciencecoalition.org/2012/12/28/creationist-conniving-in-central-part-two/.)

P. 4, ll. 1-6: “The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education shall establish rules and procedures for supplying, through the local public school governing authority, textbooks and other materials of instruction for children participating in any home study program approved by the board when available.”

Problem: This part of HB 116 would repeal the section of current law requiring that home-school materials be “approved by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.” Since HB 116 virtually eliminates effective state oversight of textbook selection, school boards could use public dollars to purchase creationist and other substandard learning materials for use by home-schoolers. The Discovery Institute is presently advertising its new intelligent design creationist curriculum, “Discovering Intelligent Design,” for private schools and home-schoolers. Since this out-of-state creationist think tank was so heavily invested in passing the LSEA and actually sent Youngkin to Louisiana to argue against its repeal, they would certainly relish the prospect of raking in taxpayer dollars by getting their “curriculum” into the hands of Louisiana home-schoolers via local school boards. [Update May 29, 2013: See Youngkin’s letter to the Advocate.]

I respectfully ask that you not allow HB 116 to expand the use of Louisiana public schools — and public dollars — to promote creationism, revisionist history, and whatever else this bill might usher in through local school boards.

Sincerely,

Barbara Forrest

Louisiana Coalition for Science

 

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