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Texas OKs school guidelines after ideological debate

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
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Social conservatives win textbook fight
  • Conservatives on Texas board vote on changes to "balance" curriculum
  • Texas textbook requirements often make it into those of other states
  • U.S. education secretary says there won't be large "ripple effect"

(CNN) -- Changes to social studies curricula introduced by conservative members of the Texas State Board of Education were approved Friday after months of ideologically driven debate.

Three separate votes on amended guidelines for elementary-, middle- and high-school curricula each resulted in 9-5 splits along party lines in favor of the new standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. New standards for the high school economics course passed 14-0.

Debate over the guidelines has drawn scrutiny since conservative members of the board introduced the changes in 2009 in what they considered an effort to bring "balance" to the curriculum.

"What we have is the history profession, the experts, seem to have a left-wing tilt, so what we were doing is trying to restore some balance to the standards," board member Don McLeroy said in March.

Among the approved amendments, according to the Texas Education Agency: discussions of the "solvency of long term entitlements, such as Social Security and Medicare"; and an examination of why "the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase 'separation of church and state.' "

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The board also voted "to add a direct reference to the election of President Barack H. Obama" and to require students to become familiar with the political philosophies of Thomas Jefferson.

What is taught in Texas often is taught in other states because publishers typically tailor textbooks for Texas, one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the country.

However, digital publishing has diminished the state's influence on textbooks nationally and that curriculum is always going to be decided at the local level, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

"Whatever Texas decides, I do not think there will be large ripple effects around the country," he said before Friday's votes. "Textbook companies today have a real ability to customize textbooks and whatever the Texas board decides, I don't think that's going to impact education in other parts of the country."