Outgoing SBOE member Michael Soto will be missed.
Soto, the Trinity University English professor who was knocked off in this year’s Democratic primary by the little-known Marisa Perez, spent much of his two years on the board grappling with frustration over the state’s cumbersome textbook mandates.
So, in his final months in office, he quietly rewrote the board’s rules governing the adoption of instructional materials.
Those changes, coupled with a 2011 state law that let some oxygen into the room for school district curriculum planners, could mean that textbook publishers will no longer view Texas as the rich, crazy uncle they need but wish they could avoid.
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Soto says.
“I wanted to encourage school districts to think creatively about how they used their instructional materials,” Soto says. “And I wanted publishers to have significantly more freedom to be creative and still remain a part of the state adoption process.”
Ultimately, that meant more deleting than writing; scratching nonsensical rules such as the one that mandated textbook publishers to mention a required element of the state curriculum three times.
“I would ask my colleagues, ‘Why are we specifying how many times something has to be mentioned?’ They said, ‘Three times is better than one, because students will encounter it more and be more likely to remember it,’” Soto says. “So I said, ‘By that logic, why not require it 50 times?’”
Before Soto’s rule changes, if a school wanted to buy a teacher’s manual from a publisher, it was obligated to also shell out money for textbooks. Soto eliminated that requirement, enabling publishers to tailor their products more precisely to the needs of individual districts.
Soto also threw out the board’s onerous old mandate that all electronic instructional materials be platform-neutral, automatically ruling out innovative material in Android, iPad, Kindle, Windows or Mac formats.
The result of this work, made possible by the passage of SB6 in 2011, is that textbook publishers can now bypass the state approval process and sell their wares directly to school districts, which ought to reduce the need for them to kowtow to whatever creationist/alternate history whims the SBOE might be indulging. That’s a big deal. I still don’t know what motivated Marisa Perez to run for this office – as far as I know, she’s still never clearly articulated a reason for her decision – but I sure hope she can come close to living up to the standard Soto set while on the board, because they need all the help they can get. Thanks for your service, Michael Soto.