New Georgia law aims to increase transparency on textbooks

2:38 p.m Wednesday, June 28, 2017 Education
Gwinnett County school officials display textbooks and other materials they planned to use in some courses in September 2016. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM

A new law takes effect next week in Georgia that requires public school districts and the state’s education department to post information online in a visible location about proposed textbooks and other instructional materials they’d like students to use.

The law was spearheaded, in part, by two Gwinnett County grandparents frustrated by their effort to review textbooks the school district wanted to use for some English/Language Arts courses in 2014. The couple, Ken and Judy Craft, said it was difficult to find some of the materials on the school district’s website because they couldn’t find identification numbers for some materials. The Crafts also said the timetable was too short to review the materials.

“The difficulties we had … led us to seek a legislative fix that would help all counties,” said Judy Craft.

The Crafts and others raised concerns about some of the materials once they read them and said Gwinnett made some changes based upon their suggestions.

Most states don’t have such guidelines, experts say. Some states like Tennessee and Virginia have rules that require its education departments to make materials available for review and seek the public’s feedback. Gwinnett, like some other Georgia districts, displays proposed materials at its district headquarters in addition to its website.

Georgia’s new law requires an unspecified period for public comment about the proposed materials. It does not specify how long the materials should be posted. Lawmakers wanted to give school districts some flexibility regarding how long the items should be available for public viewing, the Crafts said. Still, state education leaders believe the guidelines will make the textbook selection process more transparent.

“We anticipate that these changes will provide more flexibility for Georgia’s districts and schools, allowing local leaders to more easily select appropriate instructional materials that work for their students and have direct input from their communities,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said.

Georgia’s law also doesn’t specify penalties for school districts that do not follow the new rules. Ken Craft said he and others may ask state lawmakers to write rules that punish districts for not displaying their proposed materials. Ultimately, he said, it will be up to parents to make sure school districts are sharing information with the public.

“Parents have to get involved,” he said.

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