Buying books

In The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption, Chester Finn and Diane Ravitch argue for local control, rather than having textbooks chosen at the state level.

Textbook adoption is a fundamentally flawed process: it distorts the market, entices extremist groups to hijack the curriculum, and papers the land with mediocre instructional materials.

We do not believe the adoption process can be set right by tinkering with it. Rather, legislators and governors in “adoption” states should devolve funding for and decisions about textbook purchases to individual schools, districts, or even teachers.

Instructional materials are key parts of the domain where we should rely on front-line educators to make the best decisions for their pupils. That means that textbook selection and purchasing decisions should be made as close as possible to the teacher, ideally by the teacher herself. If that’s not practical, then they should be made by the school or district.

They also call for abandoning “social content” guidelines and readability formulas.

Update: Here’s Diane Ravitch on Gadfly.

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  1. It certainly would give parents more choice if teachers had more options.

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    I once saw an US history textbook being considered for Texas 5th graders. I went looking for a copy of the preamble to the constitution and was amazed to find it didn’t even have the constitution. Also, not mentioned were Thomas Jefferson, FDR and most of the other presidents. There was two pages on Maya Angelou and a host of other politically correct garbage.

  3. mike from oregon says:

    What is “social content”??? A euphemism for politically correct?? Could someone help me with this? Please?

  4. The test book selection process has been a joke for a long time. If you go to the following link you will find an article taken from the book “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman” by the late physicist Dr. Ricahrd Feynman. Please note this took place in 1964.

  5. It’s so much better to be able to pick your own textbooks, like we do at the university level. Of course, then the amazing amount of sucking up that textbook reps do to k-12 state textbook committees has to be diffused to local or teacher level. Maybe then authors would write books that “sell” to the larger audience instead of a few crazy people on textbook committees.

  6. “Social content” does mean politically correct. Every group gets a mention. GI Joe must be balanced by Rosie the Riveter; labor unions must be praised but so must businessmen (in California).

  7. Chester Finn for president!

  8. Zippy The Pinhead says:

    I attended a Catholic high school and had to purchase all of my texts. Some were resellable, but many were not.

    When I taught in K-12, in southern California, I was appalled by a number of issues connected with the texts we were forced to use:
    1) The cost of the texts. All of the books were printed in four+ colors with color pictures. So much money was wasted buying the most expensive printing scheme, no doubt in part so that students could daydream while looking at ridiculous PC shots of multi-ethnic groups of kids sitting around smiling at their Texas Instruments graphing calculators (in the math texts) or similar rot.
    2) The number of texts which were lost/stolen/vanished without a trace. The district was reimbursed for these by parents in only a very small minority of the incidents in which the texts disappeared.
    3) The poor quality of the texts. For “algebra” we used the Course I/Course II texts by McDougal/Littell, which absolutely blow. There is a paucity of examples in most sections, and there is often little correlation between the examples and the problems given in the problem sets. In some cases, it seemed the authors were determined to play hide-the-ball with concepts. Instead of graduated exercises, they would have a handful of problems and apparently expected the students to master concepts after doing just a handful of problems.

    Were I the czar of education in California, I would require every parent to buy their own kid’s texts. The texts would be soft cover, printed in one or two colors tops, and would cost a few dollars per copy.

    Publishers would be happy; they could sell new books continuously. Teachers would be happier; they could pick and choose whatever books they wanted. Parents might piss and moan a little, but hey… people only tend to value what they pay for.