AUSTIN, Texas – Texas' school board approved new history textbooks Friday for use across the nation's second-largest state, but only after defeating six and seeing a top publisher withdraw a seventh -- capping months of outcry over lessons some academics say exaggerate the influence of Moses in American democracy and negatively portray Muslims.
The State Board of Education sanctioned 89 books and classroom software packages that more than 5 million public school students will begin using next fall. But it took hours of sometimes testy discussion and left publishers scrambling to make hundreds of last-minute edits, some to no avail. A proposal to delay the vote to allow the board and general public to better check those changes was defeated.
"I'm comfortable enough that these books have been reviewed by many, many people," said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican and the board's vice chairman. "They are not perfect, they never will be."
The history, social studies and government textbooks were submitted for approval this summer, and since then, academics and activists on the right and left have criticized many of them. Some worry they are too sympathetic to Islam or downplay the achievements of President Ronald Reagan. Others say they overstate the importance of Moses on America's Founding Fathers or trumpet the free-market system too much.
Bitter ideological disputes over what gets taught in Texas classrooms have for years attracted national attention. The new books follow the state academic curriculum adopted in 2010, when board Republicans approved standards including conservative-championed topics, like Moses and his influence on systems of law. They said those would counter what they saw as liberal biases in classrooms.
Friday's 10-5 vote, with all Republicans supporting the books and Democrats opposing them, was the first of its kind since 2002. The books will be used for at least a decade.
Mavis Knight, a Dallas Democrat, said she couldn't support books adhering to the 2010 academic standards.
"I think it's a disservice to the students when we have a particular bent in which we present things to them," said Knight, who is retiring and attended her last board meeting.
Texas is such a large state that textbooks written for it can influence the content of classrooms materials sold elsewhere around the nation -- though that national clout may be waning. A 2011 state law allows school districts to buy books both on and off the board list. Technology, including electronic lessons, has also made it easier for publishers to design content for individual states.
The final vote was supposed to be tame, but an effort earlier in the week to give preliminary approval collapsed, with board members raising concerns about a series of issues, including Moses, Muslims and Common Core, a national set of curriculum standards in math and English that's forbidden by Texas law.
That delay prompted a decision Friday by one of the nation's largest educational publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to withdraw a proposed "United States Government: Principles in Practice" high-school book that included a total of five textbook and software products. The company said in a statement that its materials were a "national program" and did not meet 100 percent of Texas' academic standards.
The board later voted down six proposed books and classrooms tools offered by another publisher, WorldView Software, after experts and activists raised numerous concerns. WorldView tried to change its texts or provide justifications for them, submitting 466 pages late Thursday for a single book and packet of electronic classroom materials, World History Studies.
Republican member Geraldine "Tincy" Miller said the board "sent a message" to publishers unwilling to make edits in a timely fashion.
But others bristled.
"What we saw today shows very clearly that the process the State Board of Education uses to adopt textbooks is a sham," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning group. "This board adopted textbooks with numerous late changes that the public had little opportunity to review and comment on and that even board members themselves admitted they had not read."