OUSD and Parents Address Concerns About New History Textbooks

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(Tristan Shaugnessy, Photographer)
Cover illustration for one of the social studies textbooks the OUSD Board agreed to purchase in June; this one comes with controversy from the parents.

    On June 7, the Orinda Union School District’s (OUSD) Board of Trustees agreed to purchase new K-5 history textbooks for the upcoming school year after more than an hour of intense debate.
    At the meeting, some Orindans expressed concern with the proposed materials, calling selections inaccurate and racist. Residents suggested that instead of purchasing the books for three years, as originally proposed, the Board should approve only a one-year contract and begin looking for other options immediately.
    David Schrag, the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, however, said such a proposal would not give teachers enough time to learn the material. “Anything shorter than three years would be really tough for our teachers,” he said.
    Current K-5 history textbooks were adopted in 2006 according to the meeting’s agenda. The June OUSD Board discussion came after a year of change for California schools with shifting protocols in place in response to the pandemic and calls for response to Black Lives Matters concerns.
    At the high school level, the state’s department of education said in a press release that California would be the first in the country to offer a teaching model for high school ethnic studies courses. The statements said that this action would help bring the “voices of marginalized communities” into the classroom in the hopes of promoting “racial justice.”
    OUSD began the current selection process for a new history textbook in 2019. Schrag said at the June meeting that the district had only four state-supported options from which to choose. After a committee of teachers from every grade level reviewed these materials, he said they agreed that the now approved textbook, myWorld Interactive K-5, was the best text from the pool.
    After the selection committee chose myWorld Interactive, the materials were piloted in classrooms across the district during the 2020-2021 school year. But at last month’s meeting, a handful of parents said that they were dissatisfied with what their children were being taught, noting that some historical events were described incorrectly and/or insensitively.
    One parent said her child was penalized on a quiz for describing forced labor as “conflict” instead of “cooperation,” and another person, a teacher, said that she counted over 500 errors in the textbook, something Schrag dismissed. Others said more general things about the text being too white-focused at the expense of other narratives.
    Addressing concerns, the Board agreed that the district would work on creating a set of supplemental materials for its social studies curriculum, something that Schrag said is very common and important when teaching history.
    “It’s upsetting. It’s disturbing. I wish it were different,” said the Board’s Vice President, Carol Brown. “And meanwhile, again, I just think it is critically important that we offer uniform supplementation to this curriculum.”
    Explaining what this might look like in an interview, Liz Daoust, the Board’s president, said the District would try to increase the amount of professional development offered to its teachers in social studies.
    Daoust also mentioned possibly forming a committee comprised of teachers, parents and administrators to focus on creating additional history materials to be used at all OUSD schools.
    When asked if it was feasible for OUSD to write its own texts instead of using the ones recommended by the state, Daoust said that, while possible, it would be time-consuming and difficult. She said that energy would be better spent focusing on training teachers and designing lesson plans that correct the issues inherent in using the state textbook.
    In addition, Schrag said in an email that if the District wrote its own text, it would lose out on useful tools included in the state textbook, like digital activities, materials adjusted for students at different reading levels and workbooks. “It is much more than a single textbook for all students,” he said.
    As for alternative texts, Schrag said at the meeting that it would be a number of years before the state updates its history options. According to the California Department of Education’s website, new instructional materials for social studies will be adopted November 2028.
    Saying that OUSD is “beholden” to California’s content standards at June’s conference, Daoust suggested that community members share concerns with state officials. “There is advocacy that can be done at the state level with the Department of Education,” she said.

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