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By The Skanner News
Published: 16 January 2011

The Board of Education voted Thursday to approve an effort to push Connecticut-based Five Ponds Press to work with school district officials to replace or correct ``Our Virginia: Past and Present'' and ``Our America: To 1865.'' The measure would include seeking possible financial reimbursement from Five Ponds for the cost of the books.

The panel also is calling for a review of all state-approved textbooks published by Five Ponds Press, and to determine whether the two error-filled books should be barred from public-school curriculums.

An evaluation by five historians of ``Our Virginia'' presented Thursday to the board included a page-by-page listing of wrong dates, factual errors and inaccuracies, including a false statement that ``thousands of Southern blacks'' fought on behalf of the Confederacy, and that 12 states seceded from the Union (11 did). In addition, they raised questions about balance and emphasis, as well as misspellings and punctuation errors that one reviewer feared could undermine schools' efforts to teach proper language and writing skills.

The review included pointed remarks from the evaluators, who said they were alarmed and horrified at the number of errors, and at the books' questionable analyses of historical events.

``It is extremely misleading to give the title 'In God We Trust' to the brief section on the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia. That's exactly what Thomas Jefferson did not propose and what the General Assembly did not enact,'' said former Library of Virginia historian Brent Tarter on his nearly 20-page list of errors.

No historians were involved in writing the books, another reviewer noted.

Author Joy Masoff wrote ``Our Virginia'' and ``Our America'' as well as the other Five Ponds books used in Virginia. She had previously said she found the erroneous item on black Confederates on the Internet.

The board also formally voted to overhaul the state's current textbook-approval process. The change would require publishers to certify that all textbooks are reviewed for factual accuracy by qualified subject-matter experts. A proposal on such a plan is expected to be submitted at next month's meeting.

Superintendent Patricia Wright has said she also wants the Department of Education staff to more closely scrutinize textbooks that teachers and others on review committees have recommended for preliminary approval.

The board voiced dismay about the problem, which has drawn widespread attention.

Board member David Johnson said that it was hard to believe there could be so many mistakes in a fourth-grade textbook. He commented that it seemed as if the publisher tried to see how many errors could be included, and then ``exceeded their expectations.''

Education officials say ``Our Virginia'' is one of three approved fourth-grade Virginia history textbooks. The agency doesn't track how many divisions are using it.

Five Ponds Press officials have apologized, saying that the company is revising the books with the help of a historian, and the new books will be available online in a few days.

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