Alabama State Board of Education approves K-3 reading textbooks after yearlong delay
The Alabama State Board of Education approves minutes during its regular meeting on February 9, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama State Board of Education Thursday approved a list of textbooks for reading instruction following a public comment period that included comments about demons and Norse gods in wedding dresses.
The 7 to 1 approval came after a yearlong delay over what board members and Alabama State Department of Education officials described as concerns over certain passages in one textbook. Those concerns were not made clear.
The two textbook series, published by McGraw-Hill and Amplify, both get high grades from education professionals. Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts has met expectations all expectations for K-2 according to Ed Reports, which reviews textbooks for “text quality,” “usability” and “building knowledge.”
But a handful of conservative activists spoke out against the books on Thursday. Several those who addressed the Board objected to stories in Amplify textbooks. Others felt the textbook approval process was not transparent.
The concerns echoed similar comments made by movements of conservative parents speaking at school boards around the country.
Melissa Gates, who identified as a mother and a member of the Eagle Forum, a conservative organization, spoke out against the Amplify material. Gates said the books were “to indoctrinate our children with DEI [Diversity Equity and Inclusion], SEL [Social Emotional Learning], woke agenda and grooming our little ones.”
She did not provide specific examples.
Gates told the board members to remember that they are responsible for the children of Alabama and cited Proverbs 14:12 (“There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”).
“I believe this is demonic,” she said.
Malinda Williford, who said she was representing families in Baldwin County, said she had concerns about the Amplify material, claiming the book had a story of the Norse god Thor is in a wedding dress. She also claimed “90%” of illustrations including people of color and a lack of material about nuclear families.
Alabama Reflector has not seen either textbook and cannot confirm these claims.
Another public speaker, Cathy Odom, who identified herself as a resident of Mobile County told the board that the process has not been transparent. She told the board that the vetting process for the books was unclear and that there should be more than five locations to view books.
There are ten viewing sites in the state.
Odom also expressed concerns with the content. She told the board that she was troubled by the inclusion of “LGBTQ+” information and what she considered advanced vocabulary in K-3 reading materials. She said to the board that she wished that there was more information about the founding fathers and had concerns about America being referred to as a “democracy” rather than a “republic.”
“And, I thought personally there was too much Black history,” she said.
Under Alabama law, textbooks need to go through the textbook committee for adoption. The 23-member committee, which includes teachers, reviews bids on textbooks submitted by publishers.
Reading textbooks face an extra level of scrutiny. They also need to be approved by the Literacy Task Force to ensure they meet the requirements set out by the Alabama Literacy Act and teach the “science of reading,” including phonics.
All textbooks submitted by publishers are put on display at five locations across the state. The textbooks that the committee finally endorses – McGraw-Hill and Amplify, in this case– are kept confidential under the law until they are voted on. If the list is not approved, it is never made public.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey confirmed that McGraw-Hill and Amplify were the approved books after the afternoon work session.
Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, urged the board members to vote to approve the textbooks in his public comment. He told the board that local districts needed the decision for their own local review processes.
“The literacy taskforce made up of reading experts from across Alabama has gone through multiple rigorous review processes that in their recommendations are fully aligned to the science of reading and meet the requirements of the Alabama Literacy Act,” he said. “As the facilitator of supporting them, I can assure you thorough does not begin to describe the detailed process and long days of work they committed to this goal on your behalf. “
Local school districts have the final say in which textbooks to use. They can choose to use either book and pay for it with their share of state education funds. If they want to use another one, a district can purchase it with money raised from local sources.
The Board in February 2022 delayed approval of a new reading textbook for K-3 students. Amplify was the only textbook on that list, and state officials said they received complaints over certain lessons, according to Trish Crain of Al.com. The specific objections were not clear.
Stephanie Bell, who represents State Board of Education District 3, was the only board member to vote against the recommendation. Bell said she heard many concerns about the books, including what she described as the inclusion of Nordic myths in the books and said they were not suitable for children at that grade level.
Teachers are not required to use every story in every textbook as part of their developing a lesson plan, but Bell said that she had concerns about newer teachers being that discerning.
“Others may disagree, but I have a hard time voting for a recommendation where I have a major problem with a textbook,” she said.
After the work session, Mackey told reporters that he knew that the process sometimes frustrates people because they cannot see the recommendations. He said he does believe that process works.
“I think it’d be a sad world if I as state superintendent got to pick what everybody got to read,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to add how many viewing sites are in the state.
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