Text­book fol­lies

Out of the ruckus, a chance for Vir­ginia to re­think its Stan­dards of Learn­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE REV­E­LA­TION that some Vir­ginia his­tory text­books are rid­dled with fac­tual mis­takes is more than em­bar­rass­ing. It’s shame­ful that such shoddy schol­ar­ship could have passed a state re­view process and gone un­de­tected for so long. More sig­nif­i­cantly, it raises the ques­tion of how use­ful the state’s much vaunted Stan­dards of Learn­ing re­ally are. Af­ter all, if the sys­tem can’t get the easy things right, what does that say about its abil­ity to deal with the real chal­lenges of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion?

A re­view of his­tory text­books be­ing used in some Vir­ginia class­rooms, in­clud­ing Fair­fax County’s, re­vealed dozens of er­rors. Among the mis­takes: wrong date for Amer­ica’s en­try into World War I, in­cor­rect tally of states that joined the Con­fed­er­acy, gross un­der­state­ment of ca­su­al­ties at the bat­tles of Bull Run. “I ab­so­lutely could not be­lieve the num­ber of mis­takes— wrong dates and wrong facts ev­ery­where,” said Ron­ald Heine­mann, one of the his­to­ri­ans who re­viewed Five Ponds Press’s “Our Vir­ginia: Past and Present.” Re­view­ing an­other of the pub­lisher’s books, his­to­rian Mary Mi­ley Theobald con­cluded the mis­takes were “just too shock­ing for words.” The un­usual re­view of the books fol­lowed the dis­clo­sure by The Post’s Kevin Sieff in Oc­to­ber that “Our Vir­ginia” in­cluded the state­ment (quite in­cor­rect) that thou­sands of black sol­diers fought for the South dur­ing the CivilWar.

Per­haps the mis­takes shouldn’t have come as a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing the author is not a trained his­to­rian and has pro­duced works in­clud­ing “Oh, Yikes! His­tory’s Gross­est, Wack­i­est Mo­ments.” One fac­tor in the pop­u­lar­ity of this par­tic­u­lar pub­lisher, clearly, is low cost. Vir­ginia’s su­per­in­ten­dent of pub­lic in­struc­tion, Pa­tri­cia I. Wright, moved quickly to deal with the fall­out, or­der­ing guide­lines on how to deal with the mis­in­for­ma­tion and promis­ing a tighter state re­view process, in­clud­ing a re­quire­ment that pub­lish­ers pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion on the ac­cu­racy of their prod­ucts. She should also give se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion to Mr. Heine­mann’s sug­ges­tion to drop the sus­pect texts as soon as pos­si­ble.

Part of the state’s predica­ment with the text­books stems from the fact that its Stan­dards of Learn­ing re­quire a spe­cial­iza­tion of in­struc­tional ma­te­rial not avail­able on the na­tional text­book mar­ket. With most other states sign­ing on to the com­mon core stan­dards, more de­bate is needed about whether Vir­ginia’s in­su­lar pur­suit of its own stan­dards is still in the best in­ter­ests of its stu­dents.

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