After criticism in regard to factual errors removed it from classrooms last school year, a fourth-grade Virginia history textbook gained reapproval by the State Board of Education on Sept. 22.
Factual errors were discovered in “Our Virginia: Past and Present” by a College of William & Mary history professor whose child brought the book home from school. In March, the Board of Education voted to remove its approval of the book and another book published by Five Pond Press — “Our America to 1865.”
At that time, the board agreed to reconsider approval of the books if the publisher corrected the errors. In June, Five Pond Press submitted a second edition of both books with reviews. Initial review began in July, followed by a 30-day public comment period, during which time eight comments were submitted. Most of the feedback focused on credibility of the textbooks because of the initial errors, as well as remaining errors found in the book, according to state education staff.
The Board of Education voted 8-1 on Sept. 22 to reapprove the textbooks for classroom use.
“Getting these books right is something that requires enormous time and Five Ponds Press has had the benefit over this year of having that extra public scrutiny looking at their publications, looking at their documents, helping them make them better,” said Board of Education member K. Rob Krupicka of Alexandria. “They need to — and every other publisher needs to — learn from these last 12 months and recognize how critical it is that they have third-party review, aggressive third-party review and multiple third-party reviews of their textbook… you can have experts look at things and you can still find problems.”
Complaints about the Five Pond Press textbooks caused the Board of Education to review and make changes to its textbook approval process.
Final copies of the two textbooks were not available to the board during its regular meeting Sept. 22, but state education staff members said they would review the final text to make sure errors were corrected.
“West Virginia will not show up on the map until after the Civil War, I trust?” asked the Board’s Vice President David M. Foster of Arlington.
Board member Winsome E. Spears of Stephenson was the lone vote against reapproving the books. During last week’s meeting, she questioned why the board was not being asked to review and approve supplementary material for these textbooks produced by Five Ponds Press.
Staff said the board does not review this material, which is not a required additional purchase by school systems. Several board members suggested a future discussion on whether it should approve supplementary material as classroom materials become more technology based.
Early complaints about “Our Virginia: Past and Present” focused on the textbook's claim that thousands of blacks fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, "including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson."
Historian Ronald Heinemann, a professor teaching at Hampden-Sydney College, was asked by the Fairfax County school system to survey the book for errors.
"There were almost too many errors to list," he said at the time, adding many key dates in the textbook were wrong.
"They have America going into World War I in 1916, instead of 1917," he said. The book also lists President Ulysses S. Grant taking office in 1870, when the 18th president took office in 1869.
"I came up with 50 [errors]," said Heinemann, adding a colleague of his found more than twice that amount, but included errors that could be interpreted wrong.
Fairfax County Public Schools purchased copies of the Virginia history book, but not the American history textbook.
“Since we were made aware of the errors last year, schools were instructed to use a corrected online version of the book,” said Paul Regnier, Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman.