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The State Textbook Committee is undertaking its first evaluation of textbooks for use by Oklahoma public schools since Ryan Walters was elected superintendent of public instruction.

Textbook publishers were invited to present their materials to committee members over three days this week. The committee is tasked with evaluating each submission based on the quality of the materials and how well it aligns to state standards.

The committee’s work is protected by the state constitution, adopted by voters in 1946 by initiative petition. It’s comprised of 13 members, each appointed by the governor. State law requires a majority to be active classroom teachers but reserves two seats for non teachers who are parents of a public school student.

Walters designated Board of Education Member Kendra Wesson to chair the textbook committee.

The committee typically reviews one subject each year on a six-year cycle; this year’s focus is math and some early childhood materials. Approved titles are placed on a centralized list for districts to choose from.

While the process shouldn’t be political, the committee’s work could be influenced by Walters, who has advocated for schools to return to the basics and even teach the Bible. His administration in February cut the words diverse, bias and equity from the state’s computer science standards because he said the concepts are too “woke.”

In May 2022, while he was secretary of education, Walters wrote to textbook publishers to ask them to remove all references to the race and gender concepts banned by House Bill 1775 in order to sell their books to Oklahoma schools. “Critical race theory is not welcome in Oklahoma,” Walters wrote.

While those issues are more likely to surface in 2025 when social studies textbooks are up for review, this year’s evaluation could still ignite controversy if the committee tries rooting out references to DEI, CRT, or social-emotional learning.

That’s what happened in Florida last year, when the state rejected 41% of math materials submitted either because they did not align with Florida academic standards or they included prohibited topics and unsolicited strategies, or both, according to the Florida Department of Education.

As I continue reporting on the state Textbook Committee, what questions, comments or story ideas do you have? Reach out via email or direct message.

— Jennifer Palmer

Recommended Reading

  • Oklahoma public schools are expected to receive a record level of federal funds to support low-income students this year. But whether competitive federal grants are being sought by the state remains unclear. [The Oklahoman]
  • Local school board meetings have become polarized battlegrounds, resulting in not just shouting matches and threats but criminal charges and arrests, in some instances. [ProPublica]
  • It’s been three years since schools received the first installment of COVID-19 recovery dollars, and while it has done some good, many districts have not spent the funds with the urgency intended. [The 74]

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