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Posted at 3:16 PM ET, 01/13/2011

Va. orders history textbook review -- finally

By Valerie Strauss

The Virginia Board of Education has finally taken the first step toward removing two new elementary school history textbooks found to be filled with errors, and reviewing other texts published by the same company and approved for use in state public schools.

My colleague Kevin Sieff reported last fall that there were errors with the books, and since then, more have been found.

Some school districts have decided not to use the books, and now the state panel is taking action to make sure no Virginia schoolchildren do.

The two books were published by Five Ponds Press; one is a fourth-grade Virginia studies book titled “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” and the other is a fifth-grade U.S. history textbook titled “Our America: To 1865.”

The author, Joy Masoff, is not a trained historian but has penned other works including "Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" and "Oh Yikes! History’s Grossest Moments."

As a result of the controversy, a bill was recently introduced in the Virginia Legislature that would overhaul the state's textbook adoption process.

Here is the release issued by the Virginia Department of Education:

"The Virginia Board of Education today directed Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright to outline a process for the board to determine whether two error-filled elementary history textbooks published by Five Ponds Press should be removed from the list of textbooks approved by the board for use in the commonwealth’s public schools.

"The board also asked Wright to obtain a review by qualified experts of all Five Ponds textbooks on the state-approved list and seek potential remedies from the Connecticut-based publisher for school divisions that purchased the grade-four Virginia-studies book "Our Virginia: Past and Present", and the grade-five United States history textbook "Our America: To 1865".

"The state superintendent also was asked to present a plan for improving the commonwealth’s textbook review process to ensure that textbooks are reviewed by qualified experts for factual accuracy before they are submitted to the Virginia Department of Education for review.

"The board’s directives to Wright were in the form of a motion made by board member David M. Foster of Arlington. The text of the motion — which was approved unanimously — is as follows:

"MOVED that the Board of Education direct the Superintendent of Public Instruction:

1. To initiate on the Board’s behalf a process to consider withdrawal of its approval of the textbooks “Our Virginia: Past and Present” (first edition) and “Our America to 1865” (first edition), published in each case by Five Ponds Press; and

2. To seek remedies from Five Ponds Press to help school divisions which have purchased those textbooks in replacing and/or correcting such textbooks as soon as possible, including pursuing any available assistance from and/or remedies involving the publisher; and

3. To obtain a review by qualified experts of any other textbooks published by Five Ponds Press that have been approved by the Board of Education; and

4. To present to the Board of Education for first review at its February 2011 meeting a detailed proposal to revise the Board’s process for approving textbooks for purchase by school divisions to ensure that all textbooks approved are factually accurate, incorporating in such proposal a process for prior certification by publishers that each textbook submitted for approval has been reviewed for factual accuracy by qualified experts in the subject matter, and that the publisher will promptly remedy at its expense any substantial factual errors discovered thereafter.

"Our Virginia: Past and Present" and "Our America: To 1865" were approved by the Board of Education in March 2010. The list of history/social science textbooks approved also included Five Ponds Press textbooks for kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade."

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 13, 2011; 3:16 PM ET
Categories:  History, Textbooks  | Tags:  errors in textbooks, five ponds press, history textbooks, textbook controversy, textbook errors, textbooks, textbooks and errors, virginia board of education, virginia history, virginia textbooks  
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From experience, I suspect that there are NO good history texts--this year's edition differs from the previous edition only in the color and size of the chapter titles, except where a larger font means some text has to be dropped to make room for the titles. The "authors" listed on the cover may have turned in a manuscript following an outline they were given, and then the editors (who may or may not know any history) went through adding exercises there is not time for or are impractical and making sure the text emphasized certain aspects, used words appropriate to the grade level, and never, never, raised a controversial point. The school may only buy enough texts to be used in class, so the teacher has to assign a lot of worksheets, since no one can take a book home. The teacher also has to be ready to cut short a lesson on any given day to make room in the schedule for a pep rally or other assembly. And the teacher might never have studied any history beyond the high school level her/himself (and may have only agreed to teach history to keep from being laid off).

An accurate textbook is a start--but only a start. Students will learn more history when the country decides it is as important as algebra or even football.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 14, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse

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