Textbook-free schools share experiences, insights

Arizona's Vail School District, one of the first districts in the nation to move to an all-digital curriculum, used its textbook money to buy laptops—forcing the teachers to learn how to instruct differently.

Nearly one year after a pilot program that put Virginia’s fourth, seventh, and ninth grade social studies curriculum on an iPad, Virginia state officials say they have learned much from the implementation.

The program, which is a collaboration between education publishing giant Pearson and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), was spawned from VDOE’s “Beyond Textbooks” initiative, which encourages schools to “explore the potential of wireless technology and digital textbooks to enhance teaching and learning.”

Now a year into the program, many challenges and benefits have emerged.…Read More

New computer games promote civics education

The iCivics program is based at Georgetown University Law School.
The iCivics program is based at Georgetown University Law School.

An “unintended consequence” of the No Child Left Behind initiative has been a decrease in civics knowledge, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said May 26 in promoting an expanded version of a web site that uses computer games to put a fun spin on learning about government.

The federal education program appropriated funds “based on good test scores in math, science, and reading,” she said, but it did not distribute money for history or civics.

She made the remarks at a conference where she was promoting iCivics.org, a new web site designed to remedy civics ignorance among middle-school students. Launched on May 24, iCivics.org is a rebranded, expanded version of an earlier site called OurCourts.org.…Read More

Texas board swamped with criticism over curriculum plan

Conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education were defiant May 19 as a parade of critics came before them, most urging a fresh rewrite of new classroom social studies guidelines and a delay of a scheduled vote to adopt them, reports the Associated Press. Critics—including the president of the NAACP, a former U.S. education secretary, and the committee that wrote the draft guidelines being edited by the board—complained that the proposal has become a vehicle for political ideology, has watered down the teaching of the civil rights movement and slavery, and reveals a lack of historical knowledge from the board. The standards will guide how history and social studies are taught to some 4.8 million public school students over the next 10 years. “Of course it’s political,” Republican David Bradley said to one critic who complained that the process was too focused on politics rather than history. “So what’s your solution? Would you support a benevolent dictator?” A record 206 people had signed up to testify at the May 19 hearing. Officials have indicated they’ll proceed with the vote, scheduled for May 21. The standards, which will form the basis of state tests, also could be used by textbook publishers who develop materials nationwide, because Texas is one of the nation’s largest textbook markets…

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Texas curriculum vote stirs conflict

The conservative slant that Texas curriculum may take could influence curriculum in other states.
Observers are conflicted as to what effect the conservative slant that Texas's curriculum might take will have in other states.

Some historians are decrying the proposed changes to Texas’s social studies curriculum for next year, saying many of the changes do not accurately reflect United States history.

But the potential injection of conservative ideals into the social studies, history, and economics lessons that will be taught to millions of Texas students for the next decade might not have as much of an effect on the rest of the country’s curriculum as some opponents fear.

“It’s a bit of an urban myth that the Texas curriculum automatically hops state borders. I think the media accounts have been exaggerated,” said Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division for the Association of American Publishers. “Nearly all states expect or require publishers to align to their state standards.”…Read More

Texas board resumes work on social studies curriculum after notable election

Texas’ state education board, rocked by primary elections that could push the influential panel’s far-right leanings toward the center, is set to take its first vote on a new social studies curriculum that could reverberate in classrooms nationwide, reports the Associated Press. The board—long led by social conservatives who have advocated for ideas such as teaching Texas children more about the weaknesses of evolutionary theory—has worked on, and squabbled about, the social studies standards for months. The board’s ultimate decisions could affect textbook content around the country, because Texas is one of publishers’ biggest clients. A three-day meeting beginning March 10 is the first since voters in last week’s Republican primary handed defeats to two veteran conservatives, including former board chairman Don McLeroy, who lost to a moderate GOP lobbyist. McLeroy, a 10-year board veteran, has been one of the most prolific and polarizing members. The devout Christian conservative has been adamant on several issues, including that the Christian influences of the nation’s Founding Fathers are important to studying American history…

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