However, like so many other school decisions in Texas, textbook choices ultimately vary from district to district.
The state does approve certain instructional materials. Periodically, the State Board of Education (SBOE) announces it will accept bids for textbooks and other materials in needed subjects. The SBOE issued its most recent proclamation just earlier this month, calling for materials for science, technology, and some career and technical courses.
The SBOE is made up of elected members that write the Texas curriculum, officially known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The Texas Education Agency (TEA), led by governor-appointed Commissioner Mike Morath, is tasked with determining how much of the TEKS the instructional materials cover. The commissioner gives each textbook, software package, or other learning tool an individual grade. Instructional materials can only be adopted by the SBOE if the TEA determines that they score 50 percent or higher, showing that they cover at least half of the relevant TEKS for their subject.
However, the state-adopted materials are optional. School districts and charters — together called local education agencies (LEAs) — can decide to use unapproved materials.
For teaching core subjects, according to the Texas Education Code, LEAs “may consider” materials adopted by the SBOE. Other options include materials only adopted by the TEA commissioner, materials developed in-house at the district or charter, or “open education resource instructional materials made available by other public schools.”
The TEA also allots each district or charter a particular sum of money for instructional materials that the LEAs have broad leeway to spend. The TEA records these purchases on this webpage, and the current daily report for purchases that include materials unapproved by the state is linked here.
Especially in light of a new law the legislature passed last year meant to stop critical theory inculcation, social studies can potentially be more controversial than other core subjects. However, while that law regulates classroom instruction and teacher training, it does not stop LEAs from using their allotments to buy instructional materials not approved by the state.
Texas LEAs have placed 3,278 orders for social studies materials in the 2021-2022 school year. A little more than half of those orders were for materials created by a publisher on the list of state-approved materials. Overall, schools across Texas have placed orders for at least 1,500 different social studies textbooks, software packages, or other materials unapproved by the state in this school year alone.
The sheer political breadth of Texas naturally manifests in the tone of these materials. On the one hand, Arlington ISD has requested money to buy two copies of “Queer (In)Justice;” on the other hand, Texas College Preparatory paid $28.80 for a book by Hillsdale College Press called “American Heritage: A Reader,” to serve 25 students.
Health is often another controversial subject. The SBOE underwent hours of public testimony and discussion last November before rejecting instructional materials for health that distinguished gender identity from biological sex. Similar to Florida, the SBOE allowed some publishers to remove objectionable parts from their materials and considered the revised versions.
But regardless of the SBOE’s actions, the most recent report shows 313 disbursement requests from LEAs for money to buy health materials. Just 94 of those requests were for materials by a publisher on the list of state-approved materials.
The TEA does loosely regulate how LEAs spend their allotment, but the agency’s rules do not include any conditions relating to the content of the materials themselves.
In any event, decisions about which textbooks to put in the classroom are largely made at the local level in Texas. While statewide education policy continues to make waves in the news from here to the other end of the Gulf Coast in Florida, school districts and charters are positioned low enough to ignore the tempest.
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