Virginia school board withdraws approval of two history textbooks

March 24, 2011

The Virginia Board of Education on Thursday withdrew its approval of two textbooks that were found to contain numerous errors.

Historians appointed by the state found dozens of errors in “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” a fourth-grade Virginia social studies textbook, and “Our America to 1865,” a fifth-grade text on U.S. history.

The errors discovered in the books, both published by Connecticut-based Five Ponds Press, also prompted the board to revise its textbook approval process. On Thursday, it voted to require publishers to vet their books with independent experts before they are submitted to the Department of Education.

Publishers now will have to provide a list of authors and their qualifications, along with proof that at least three relevant experts vouch for the content’s accuracy.

The Washington Post reported in October that “Our Virginia” included a controversial assertion that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War. The assertion is often made by Confederate heritage groups but is rejected by most historians. The book’s author, Joy Masoff, is not a trained historian.

School districts are not obligated to remove the books even though the state has withdrawn its approval. Many districts, including Fairfax and Arlington counties, withdrew the books from classrooms. Loudoun County, where the books are still in use, has not decided how it will respond to the board’s vote, according to spokesman Wayde Byard.

Fairfax schools are using an online version of the textbook, which has been revised. by the publisher.

Five Ponds Press announced that it would provide corrected hard copies of the books two textbooks at no cost in time for the 2011-12 school year.

Those books will be considered under the state’s new approval process, which, in addition to requiring independent experts to verify texts, forces publishers to submit a “corrective action plan” to the Department of Education within 30 days if errors are found in a book.

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Nairobi since 2014. He served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.
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