Va. Overhauls School Textbook-Approval Process

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    Virginia's Board of Education has approved an overhaul of the state's textbook-approval process as a result of the discovery of a multitude of errors in two state-approved elementary school history books.

    The board voted Thursday to install more safeguards in the review process. It now puts the primary burden on publishers seeking state approval for their books to ensure that their textbooks are accurate.

    The enhanced review procedures also would require that the companies certify that all textbooks are reviewed for factual accuracy by at least three qualified subject matter experts. They also must detail the internal quality-assurance methods they use to ensure the accuracy of the books' content, spelling, grammar and formatting, and the vetting process used to ensure the material is free from bias.

    The changes arose after the discovery by a College of William and Mary history professor of major errors in her daughter's fourth-grade textbook "Our Virginia: Past and Present" by Five Ponds Press. The book included an erroneous contention that thousands of black people took up arms on behalf of the Confederacy.

    A subsequent review by a panel of historians of that book and a Five Ponds Press fifth-grade text, "Our America to 1865," found a voluminous roster of erroneous dates, factual errors and inaccuracies. The historians said they were alarmed and horrified by the number of mistakes and the books' questionable analyses of historical events.

    In addition, they raised questions about balance and emphasis, as well as misspellings and punctuation errors that one reviewer feared could undermine schools' efforts to teach proper language and writing skills.

    The board formally withdrew state approval of the first editions of the two books Thursday. In the event that Five Ponds Press submits corrected second editions of the two books for review and approval, they will be subject to the new process, Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said.

    Under the new review plan, publishers also must also agree to submit a corrective-action plan within 30 days after factual or editing errors are found. After receiving approval from the Board of Education, they must comply with those plans at their own expense.

    The Department of Education also will post a list of textbooks on its website, and allow the public the chance to contact the department if they find errors. The department will give publishers a chance to contest or correct the errors. The board can withdraw the book from its approved list if significant and numerous errors are found.