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jAZ
05-21-2006, 10:36 PM
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12705167/

A textbook case of failure
Politically driven adoption system yields shallow, misleading materials

By Alex Johnson
Reporter
MSNBC
Updated: 7:05 a.m. MT May 16, 2006


At its core, the economic surge in India and China comes down to brains. The industries driving the region’s challenge to American leadership — communications, information technology, biotech and the like — can’t thrive without a steady supply of highly educated, intellectually flexible workers.

This is where the United States is falling behind. “Most U.S. high school students don’t take advanced science; they opt out, with only one-quarter enrolling in physics, one-half in chemistry,” the National Science Foundation found. The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century concluded that U.S. students were “devastatingly far” from leading the world in science and math.

President Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative put almost every imaginable part of the U.S. education system under a microscope, establishing national standards for teacher training, student testing and basic funding. But glaring in its omission from the program is any significant examination of that most basic of classroom tools, the textbook.


Scandalously bad textbooks
As younger, inexperienced teachers are thrown into classrooms to meet new federal standards, as much as 90 percent of the burden of instruction rests on textbooks, said Frank Wang, a former textbook publisher who left the field to teach mathematics at the University of Oklahoma.

And yet, few if any textbooks are ever subjected to independent field testing of whether they actually help students learn.

“This is where people miss the boat. They don’t realize how important the textbooks are,” Wang said. “We talk about vouchers and more teachers, but education is about the books. That’s where the content is.”


If America’s textbooks were systematically graded, Wang and other scholars say, they would fail abysmally.

American textbooks are both grotesquely bloated (so much so that some state legislatures are considering mandating lighter books to save students from back injuries) and light as a feather intellectually, flitting briefly over too many topics without examining any of them in detail. Worse, too many of them are pedagogically dishonest, so thoroughly massaged to mollify competing political and identity-group interests as to paint a startlingly misleading picture of America and its history.

Textbooks have become so bland and watered-down that they are “a scandal and an outrage,” the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank in Washington, charged in a scathing report issued a year and a half ago.

“They are sanitized to avoid offending anyone who might complain at textbook adoption hearings in big states, they are poorly written, they are burdened with irrelevant and unedifying content, and they reach for the lowest common denominator,” Diane Ravitch, a senior official in the Education Department during the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, wrote in the report’s introduction.

“As a result of all this, they undermine learning instead of building and encouraging it,” she added.

A closed market
The culprit is the system by which many states choose what books their students will read. Because the market is a small one, textbook publishers must cater to the whims of elected school board leaders in the biggest states that buy the most books: Texas and California, which control a third of the national market, the Association of American Publishers estimates.

Few elementary and high school textbook publishers “can afford to spend millions of dollars developing a textbook series and not have it adopted in these high-volume states,” the Fordham Institute said.

So the operating philosophy is one of “superficial compliance with the rules, not a focus on results,” Wang said.


As a result, the politics of the boards adopting the books in Texas and California shape what is, to all intents and purposes, a de facto national curriculum, said Wang, who left Saxon Publishers, where he was president and chairman, in 2001 after he concluded that “this system was really unintentionally hurting the kids.”

Texas and California have both been the focus of campaigns to introduce intelligent design, an alternative explanation of the origin of life that critics dismiss as “creationism lite,” into the curriculum. But from there, the pressures diverge.

In Texas, the Board of Education is dominated by political conservatives who are heavily lobbied by conservative activists, among them the evangelical group Focus on the Family and the husband-and-wife team of Mel and Norma Gabler, whose tireless campaigning for religiously centered teaching materials has made them among the most influential forces in the production of American textbooks.

Texas’ textbooks, which are often adopted by other states that have few alternatives, have included board-ordered passages mandating politically conservative definitions of marriage, abortion and same-sex relationships and instructing students that pregnancies are best prevented by “respecting yourself” and getting “plenty of rest.” They have eliminated any mention of condoms, even though Texas leads the nation in teenage pregnancies.


161 pages of bias guidelines
In California, by contrast, the controlling forces are “social content standards” that insist that the state’s textbooks — even those in math and the sciences — portray ethnic groups, women, the elderly, the disabled and religious groups in precise proportionality to their representation in the population.

Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley, now part of textbook giant Pearson Prentice Hall, developed a 161-page manual titled “Multicultural Guidelines” in 1996 just to navigate the process in California. As summarized in the Fordham Institute report, the manual says company textbooks:


must include illustrations of tall and short people, heavy and thin individuals, people with disabilities, and families headed by two parents, by one parent, by grandparents, by aunts/uncles, and by other adults. When writing about the development of the U.S. Constitution, authors are directed to cite the dubious claim that it was patterned “partially after the League of Five Nations — a union formed by five Iroquois nations.”

Wang vividly remembers an encounter he had with the board that approves California’s textbooks when he showed up to testify for a book by Saxon.

“I was relating how well students did on state standardized tests” using the Saxon program, he said. The chairwoman pounded her gavel to interrupt the testimony to point out that quality wasn’t part of the discussion, he recalled.

According to a transcript of the meeting, which took place in 2001, the chairwoman said: “Effectiveness, while certainly something that we all look at as consumers, [is] not a criteria [here] and I think it is important that we keep that in mind. Test scores [are not] part of the criteria.”

“She was only considering whether the books had met the criteria,” not whether they actually worked, Wang said.

Wang, Ravitch and others have what they call a radical proposal: do away with the approval process altogether and let teachers and local school officials choose their own books.

“The system is resistant to the entrepreneurial spirit,” Wang said. “There isn’t a mechanism for encouraging innovation in education because of systems like this adoption process.”

Mr. Kotter
05-22-2006, 08:51 AM
The dumbing down of curriculum, which is demanded by society of our schools due to a radical egalitarian notion of citizenship (in which most parents believe their kids to always be "above average" despite their real capabilities,) coupled with the coerced propagation of a "multicultural" and "diversity" agenda....are the two biggest reasons why it is happening, in case you wanted to know....

Some Europeans have it right, as far as that goes: tracking. Some students are going to be laborers, some craftsman or vocational types, while a third or so will go to "college." Ignoring that reality, while pretending to preserve the dream for wannabes is the driving force behind the trend. Of course, "tracking" and ending "social promotion" are anathema to pedagogues here whose Marxist leanings blind them to the truth.

Cochise
05-22-2006, 08:55 AM
The dumbing down of curriculum, which is demanded by society of our schools due to a radical egalitarian notion of citizenship (in which most parents believe their kids to always be "above average" despite their real capabilities,) ...

Duh, you can't expect anything of anyone, lest you hurt their feelings...

BucEyedPea
05-22-2006, 08:56 AM
The dumbing down of curriculum, which is demanded by society of our schools due to a radical egalitarian notion of citizenship (in which most parents believe their kids to always be "above average" despite their real capabilities,) coupled with the coerced propagation of a "multicultural" and "diverstiy" agenda....are the two biggest reasons why it is happening, in case you wanted to know....


Right on! :thumb:

Sadly, the text book industry that generates these books do get used in private schools. I wasted $35 on one last year. What a piece of propagandist trash!

Mr. Kotter
05-22-2006, 08:56 AM
Duh, you can't expect anything of anyone, lest you hurt their feelings...

Yup, self-Esteem.....another laudable goal, that's been twisted to the point it is meaningless--except for those who actually earn it through their achievements.

jAZ
05-22-2006, 09:17 AM
Yup, self-Esteem.....another laudable goal, that's been twisted to the point it is meaningless--except for those who actually earn it through their achievements.
I will tell you that from my experience, conservative teachers like yourself and liberal teachers both seem to agree that the attempts to guard against criticism have gone to an illogical extreme at this point.

Such issues are rooted in attempts at addressing a acts of mental and physical child abuse on the homefront. I don't think anyone believes that in some cases such care is not warranted. But a policy of "don't use red ink, it's traumatic" is but one example of how such a soft-handed approach can go to an extreme.

Everything in life seems to boil down to balance.

jAZ
05-22-2006, 09:29 AM
I'll put aside the issue of egaliterianism for another day as it is more related to a discussion of classroom dynamics rather than textbook dynamics.
...coupled with the coerced propagation of a "multicultural" and "diversity" agenda....are the two biggest reasons why it is happening, in case you wanted to know....
You seem to have your political blinders on today. It's not just "a multiculturalism and diversity agenda" that's driving this. But I'm sure that's all your political filters allow you to absorb from this article. The idea of religious monoculturism including attempts to institutionalize aspects of popular Christian beliefs into Texas school books is the flip side to the same coin.

What's interesting is the nature of this beast. It's a systematic failure of markets (that's for you buceyedpea :thumb: ) and in a way a systematic failure of democracy.

On the Democracy-failure side of things, both just about every states education policies are subjected to the whims of the people, who attempt to legistlate their view of morality into the textbooks.

On the market-failure side of things, the economies of scale of the text book industry place almost all of the power of influence on textbook content in the hands of two states (Texas and California).

I'm not really sure of a way around the race to the middle (and apparently the bottom) when it comes to publishing watered down, and seemingly flacid textbook content.

Mr. Kotter
05-22-2006, 09:55 AM
...The idea of religious monoculturism including attempts to institutionalize aspects of popular Christian beliefs into Texas school books is the flip side to the same coin.

....On the market-failure side of things, the economies of scale of the text book industry place almost all of the power of influence on textbook content in the hands of two states (Texas and California).

I'm not really sure of a way around the race to the middle (and apparently the bottom) when it comes to publishing watered down, and seemingly flacid textbook content.I agree about the flip side to the same coin; I'm speaking of what I've experienced, and researched....and while conservatives are guilty in some areas of the country, the over-whelming political bias of the educational establishment, nationally, makes the problem more accute on the left, IMO.

As for TX and CA driving this, you are also right (damn, twice in one thread!). However, with technology....and new printing techniques, the more successful textbook companies are, finally, beginning to produce books which are more "regional" in flavor....so hopefully, there is a solution in the works. FWIW, I realize in the minds of some, that may not be a solution; however, I'm convinced large parts of the country will opt for rigor and content, over politics--at least large parts of the Midwest will. The left coast, Northeast....and, yes, jAZ, parts of the Bible Belt will continue to politicize the whole process though.

unlurking
05-22-2006, 10:34 AM
All right, gimme vouchers so I can start my own school!

The way to fix the market issues as Mr. K said, is to use technology. Require laptops for every student, and provide all textbooks in PDF. At this point, you have just eliminated a vast portion of the cost for textbooks (printing and distribution).

Personally, I would pay $700 for my childs laptop without hesitating if it were for school. They have gotten incredibly cheap. Unfortunately, the only way to do this would be to have a voucher system (at least for me). I cannot afford a good private school at the moment (where you could mandate a laptop requirement), and this is not something you could do in a public school.

Hell, I'd donate my time and some hardware/software to help build an infrastructure for the school to support a fully electronic environment. I'd love to have a way for my son to submit homework online from home as soon as it's done. One of the stupid problems we run into is that we check is homework every night, but half the time we find it in his notebooks the next day because he "forgot" to turn it in.

BucEyedPea
05-22-2006, 11:10 AM
I agree about the flip side to the same coin; I'm speaking of what I've experienced, and researched....and while conservatives are guilty in some areas of the country, the over-whelming political bias of the educational establishment, nationally, makes the problem more accute on the left, IMO.


I agree with you Kotter, that education has been, for the most part, dominated by the left. Even before the Dept of Education, the left literally owned every state legislature lock-stock-and-barrel, as well as afterwards. They virtually control the NEA who has a lot of say and power as to what goes on in the schools. Sad that in a allegedly "free" society that we all should be educated to think one way.

Even if Fed funds only account for 7% of the budget (or some such amount) that 7% is used to control, even bypassing the states, local areas. The local areas WANT the money so they accept the controls. Govt always uses the money angle to get in to control. Govt regulates what it funds.

As far as all books being online, being a typography instructor, I can't say I think that's the whole way to go as reading on a screen is actually hard on the eyes. It's easier to read from a book, or on paper. But I can't recommend it for budding readers as a whole solution.

vailpass
05-22-2006, 11:33 AM
Don't worry. Kalifornia is working to correct that problem right now by focusing the time, energies, and money of their elected state officials to ensure that homosexuality is promptly featured in their public shcool text books.

I'm sure we can all agree that this is an important and necessary way to spend our efforts in order to keep our children from falling farther and farther behind their global peers.

jAZ
05-22-2006, 11:43 AM
Kalifornia is working to correct that problem right now ....
Don't forget <img height=2% width=2% src=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/5/55/Christian_cross.png/150px-Christian_cross.png></img>exas!

RaiderH8r
05-22-2006, 03:34 PM
Yup, self-Esteem.....another laudable goal, that's been twisted to the point it is meaningless--except for those who actually earn it through their achievements.
The schools now: It is all about self-esteem in the schools now.
Build the kids' self-esteem, make them feel good about themselves.
If everybody grows up with high self-esteem, who is going to dance in our strip clubs?
What's going to happen to our porno industry?
These women don't just grown on trees.
It takes lots of drunk dads missing dance recitals before you decide to blow a goat on the internet for fifty bucks.
And if that disappears, where does that leave me on a Friday night with my new high speed connection?

penchief
05-22-2006, 09:40 PM
They've always sucked arse.

Ever read H.G. Wells, "The History of the World?"