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Textbooks

    "I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary textbooks."
    -- C. S. Lewis
    The Abolition of Man
     

    Textbooks are a source of instruction on concepts, relationships and factual knowledge. That much, we expect. But textbooks address less obvious needs:

    • they can be a de facto curriculum standard if a school fails to define its own,
    • they serve as a reference for parents to know what their children should be learning,
    • they can provide guidance and helpful tips to teachers,
    • they can provide coordinated work assignments.

    That's what can happen if a textbook is conscientiously actually used, and if the textbook is competently written, developed and packaged. Now we are learning that often, very often, that is not the case.

Overview

  • Textbook Troubles by Rebecca Jones, American School Board Journal, December 2000. Subhead: "Today's textbooks have a lot of razzle-dazzle, but where's the content? 'Open your textbooks, boys and girls, to page 1,276.'" Excerpt: "[Yesterday's] textbooks are long gone, replaced by 20-pound packages of glitz that lure many school officials and state textbook administrators into thinking they're providing students with the best and latest in curriculum materials. But several recent reports criticize these coffee-table textbooks as shallow, dumbed-down products that waste both taxpayers' money and students' learning potential."

  • The American Textbook Council reviews history textbooks and other educational materials. Its stated purpose is to "improve the social studies curriculum and civic education in the nation's elementary and high schools." They provide an outline of the problems with many modeern social studies texts in their Report 2000: History Textbooks at the New Century. The organization also provides a list of the major social studies texts.

  • The Textbook League: an organization dedicated to the problems of school textbooks. Some of their reports carry a particular spin themselves, and in some cases a strong anti-religious bias colors their reviews. But with that noted, the TTL reviews can be an interesting source of comments on many popular texts. For details, see this list of TTL reviews.

  • Library Textbooks Leave Few Homework Excuses By Lisa Black, Chicago Tribune, October 17, 2006. By the time Mesa Schmidt realized she had left her weekend algebra homework at school, it was Sunday afternoon and impossible to enter the building. This time, though, the 13-year-old was able to find the pages she needed on intercepts and linear equations at Lake Villa District Library, which recently stocked three shelves with textbooks supplied by the local school district. ... The school district has lent one copy of each book to the library. The books are held as reference materials only and cannot be checked out. Public libraries in Arlington Heights, Barrington, Park Forest and Skokie have a similar setup with area schools, which librarians say is rare."

  • Find sales reps of textbook companies: Northern Illinois' Educational Representatives Association

  • EMR Research Corner Archives: Articles and popularity rankings of textbooks and supplemental materials, by subject and grade level.

Evaluating Textbooks:
Subjects and Specific Titles

Dumbing-Down

  • Dumb Students? Or Dumb Textbooks? by Diane Ravitch, Forbes Magazine, December 16, 1996. "... Poor verbal scores are the result not of the students' racial, ethnic or gender composition, but of the schools' de-emphasis on careful reading and writing, the near abandonment of basic literacy skills like grammar, syntax and spelling and the saturation of popular culture by television. ... A recent study ... supports the idea that schools have contributed to the lower verbal scores and that ... the biggest decline in the test scores ... was due not to a change in the composition of the test-takers but to a progressive simplification of the language in schoolbooks."

  • How Schools Are Destroying The Joy Of Reading: Heavy Tomes That Are Light Intellectually by Patrick Welsh, USA Today, August 3, 2005 "...The problems with these two tomes are similar to the problems with high school textbooks in most subjects. First, there's the well-documented weight problem. ... Worse is the fact that for all their bulk, the textbooks are feather-weight intellectually. ... Both books are full of obtrusive directions, comments, questions and pictures that would hinder even the attentive readers from becoming absorbed in the readings. Both also are not reader-friendly. There is no narrative coherence that a student can follow and get excited about. ... Such texts bastardize literature and history ... Students are jerked from one excerpt of literature to another, given no chance for the kind of sustained reading that stimulates the imagination."

  • Glorifying Ignorance by William J. Bennetta, The Textbook Letter, September-October 2000. "Dumb teachers demand dumb schoolbooks, and all of the major educational publishers have produced books that such teachers will buy -- books in which factoids substitute for concepts, slogans substitute for explanations, and pedagogy is often reduced to inane gimmicks which look like didactic devices but which, in fact, don't require teachers or students to know anything or learn anything. These pseudopedagogic gimmicks include questions and exercises which impel students to bray opinions about matters that they don't understand, to specify 'solutions' to problems that lie far beyond their comprehension, or to vent their juvenile emotions as if emotions were equivalent to knowledge."

  • Caution: Textbooks Are Hazardous to Your Child's Mind by Gary Hull. "Modern textbooks are one more symptom of our culture's growing rejection of the central role of reason in human life. Unless we start to grasp the urgent need to develop the individual child's conceptual ability, our schools will be turning out an ever-increasing number of students who simply do not know how to think."

  • "Schoolbook Simplification and Its Relation to the Decline in SAT-Verbal Scores" August 2001 (web page, also available as a PDF document). Asks this question: "Are schoolbooks easier and has education been affected?" and concludes: "Yes".

Bulk and Glitz

  • Textbook Size Expands to Include Extras by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 1997. One of the quotes in this article: "There is incredible demand for watered-down, dumbed-down, fluffy textbooks that can be comprehended by the dullest student."

  • Study: School Textbooks Offer 'National Curriculum' by Christine Hall, May 22, 2001. "The school textbooks put out by the 'big four' publishers offer a one-size-fits-all approach to education, according to a new study by the Center for Education Reform (CER). ... 'The result is an increasing trend towards texts that are long on visual gimmicks, short on factual information and homogenized in content,' said CER president Jeanne Allen."

  • Poor textbooks add to schools' slide by Roger Arnold, Dallas News, January 21, 2002. "The fact is, many textbook publishers care very little about the content of the books they publish. Many of the editors at those companies spend most of their days thinking up and designing catchy logos and labels for their books. Much more time is devoted to how the book looks than to what the book says."


    Huge textbooks
    can stop a bullet?
  • In 2006, Bill Crozier, a candidate for Oklahoma state superintendent of education, suggested that students might be able to defend themselves from armed school intruders by using their massive textbooks as shields. In his own home video demonstration, he demonstrated how a 9mm bullet fired from a Glock handgun penetrated only about two-thirds of the way through a typical modern textbook.

  • Jumbo Textbooks by C.F. Navarro, Ph.D: "Students today don't have it that easy. Their textbooks are so large that they have trouble getting them into their lockers, and so heavy that they need sturdy backpacks to lug them around. The average textbook used in city public schools today is about twice the volume and thrice the weight of the ones we had when I was in high school. ... So ponderous are textbooks today that they can cause serious injury. Jan Richardson, president of the American Physical Therapy Association warns parents that when kids sling their heavy backpacks over one shoulder 'they can strain shoulder and neck muscles and cause a temporary curvature of the spine.' Now, one would think that modern textbooks are so much larger because they contain a lot more information than did those in the past. But they don't. Many any of them, in fact, don't cover their subject as well as the old books did. The sole reason for their jumbo size is that they are overloaded with extraneous material. ... Another problem with this and other modern textbooks is their exorbitant cost. ... Public school officials are ever looking for ways to improve education and cut costs. They could do both at the same time by adopting textbooks with fewer frills and more substance."

  • Should We Be Alarmed by the Results of the Latest U.S. History Test? Yes! By Diane Ravitch. Excerpt: "The dullness of history textbooks is legendary. I am involved right now in a study of history textbooks, and I must say that I have trouble reading them because of their jumbled, jangly quality. I also have trouble lifting them because they are so heavy and overstuffed with trivia and pedagogical aids. With one or maybe two exceptions, most textbooks put more emphasis on visual glitz than on the quality of their text. By the time that these books emerge from the political process that is called state adoption, they lack voice and narrative power. They lack the very qualities that make historical writing exciting. Our history textbooks are distracting, and I don't know how students learn anything from them"

  • What Harry Potter Can Teach The Textbook Industry by Diane Ravitch. Excerpt: "Whereas [children] hunger to get a Harry Potter book of nearly 900 pages, they can barely tolerate the equally large books that are assigned in school. What does Harry Potter have that the textbooks don't? ... In contrast to the gripping tales told by Rowling and Tolkien, our history textbooks skim lightly above the surface of events, ignoring the fact that history is first of all a story. ... The drama of history and biography is sacrificed ... Clashes of good and evil have been banished, replaced by pedestrian prose and thumbnail sketches."

  • Here is one teacher's comments about having served on his school's science textbook committee:
       Every textbook submitted for consideration (including those of the "big 3") was bloated, padded with useless flashy graphics, and constructed in a flimsy fashion.
       They seem to be designed to appeal to the casual viewer, such as those that inhabit selection committees. There was much oohing and aahing over the attractive graphics and flashy layout, but little attention paid to the actual content of the book. We ended up choosing the least of the evils, ... and since then I have waded through factual errors, muddy text, useless illustrations, etc. Then I get to watch my students lugging these monsters around. Anyone notice that textbooks have nearly doubled in size over the past few years?
       Unfortunately, there seems to be little impetus to publish better books. If a publisher were to produce a concise, well-written, and reasonably-sized text it would fail, as it isn't flashy enough to compete with the "Tokyo by Night" variety of textbooks.
    "They look like no other book in the world."
  • A letter titled Students' Writing Skills in the Los Angeles Times (May 24, 2003) is from a teacher who blames textbooks in part for the poor ability of students to read and write: "The textbooks themselves are part of the problem. They are filled with color and graphical content, icons and discontinuous text boxes. They look like no other book in the world. They mimic Web pages. Open them and take a look. Ask your teenage sons and daughters, or your neighbors' children, how much reading they are doing in their content-area texts. Be prepared for the troubling answers."

Errors in Textbooks

  • Earth Daydreams, Textbook Fantasies by Malcolm A. Kline, February 07, 2005. Excerpts:
    "To get an idea of just how factually inaccurate classroom lectures can be, just take a look at the books that accompany them. Textbook reviewers in California and Texas, the largest markets for this product, did just that and found widely-used texts desperately in need of fact-checkers. ... Simi Valley Unified, which was required to use the Houghton-Mifflin offering Oh, California!, a purported state history. The book ... contains some real gems:
       * Columbus started off from Portugal. [No, he sailed from Spain.]
       * The Pony Express started at Fort Kearney, Nebraska. [The real starting point: St. Joseph, Missouri.]
       * Malibu and Santa Monica are somehow in the San Fernando Valley. [This would make surfing difficult.]
       * The transcontinental railroad went south of Lake Tahoe. [Actually, it went north of it.]
    Not to be outdone, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (HRW) managed to cram enough inaccuracies in science and history textbooks to give critics in two states writing cramps correcting the publishing house's errors. Start with the California edition of Earth Science, a high school textbook. ... Over 40 teachers along with their schools' names appeared in [book,] however, they all missed the date of discovery of the Rosetta Stone by a century, they thought that gold dissolves in hot water, they believed there was a dinosaur walking around ancient New Mexico weighing 200 thousand pounds, and they stated that magnetic compasses point to geographic north."

  • The Great American Textbook Scandal by David McClintick, Forbes Magazine, October 30, 2000.

  • History as She is Wrote by Terry Graves, August 23, 2004. "...Here are some more textbook stunners: ... Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo. ... In the 7th century, Cordoba, Spain was an Islamic city, the Grand Mosque was already built, and the Crusades were in progress -- all incorrect by one to four centuries. ... A picture of a compass shows east and west reversed. ... Six orders of birds are listed, all of them fictitious ... Memorizing the value of pi is an example of deductive reasoning. ... All [these] are from textbooks that major publishers like Prentice-Hall and Glencoe/McGraw-Hill have been selling by the tens of millions to public elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the United States. ... These professionals have their own organization: NASTA, which stands for, one of its web pages tells us, National Association of School Textbook Administrattors [sic]. ... NASTA's level of concern over textbook errors is almost below sea level -- the agenda for its summer meeting includes that topic as one of eleven to be covered in one three-hour session, and only one of the respective state reports from the last two years mentions it, and that only in boilerplate as something it would be nice to avoid. ... Why are public school textbooks so bad? ... 'Publishers now employ more people to censor books for content that might offend any organized lobbying group, than they do to check the correctness of facts.'"

  • 2002 Social Studies Textbook Review from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, July 2002: detailed reviews and rankings for a number of major social stidies textbooks for middle schools through high schools. Includes listings of factual errors, and responses from textbooks publishers.

  • States Setting Strategies To Reduce Mistakes in Textbooks by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, June 2, 1999. Excerpt: "In a recent review of textbooks proposed for adoption in California, a panel of mathematicians found hundreds of errors. ... It was their pervasiveness that surprised state officials most. 'It was shocking,' said Cathy Barkett, the administrator of the curriculum-frameworks and instructional-resources office. 'In one 200-page text, 50 of the pages had errors.'"

  • Economics Texts Misleading, Too School Reform News, September 2001

  • "Book Report", a segment of the ABC magazine show, "20/20", aired April 2, 1999. "Sam Donaldson reports that there are a number of mistakes found in some of the most widely read textbooks in America."

  • Errors in science textbooks:

    • Middle-School Texts Don't Make the Grade by John Hubisz (a professor of physics), Physics Today, May 2003. This important article starts out, "Thousands of teachers are saddled with error-filled physical science textbooks that fail to present what science is all about."
      A number of letters in a later issue of Physics Today confirmed the points made by Dr. Hubisz.

    • Middle School Physical Science Resource Center - a website developed by Dr. John Hubisz to offer positive solutions for some of the problems that his research uncovered in science textbooks. Dr. Hubisz says, "This web site is for anyone with an interest in Middle School physical science textbooks, resource materials, teaching, training, and so on."

    • A Textbook Case of Junk Science by Pamela R. Winnick, Weekly Standard, May 9, 2005. "But then there's lots that's puzzling about the science textbooks used in American classrooms. A sloppy way with facts, a preference for the politically correct over the scientifically sound, and sheer faddism characterize their content."

    • Review of Middle School Physical Science Texts, Physical Sciences Resource Center, American Association of Physics Teachers. "This review of middle school physical science texts ... reviews and critiques the physical science in Middle School (grades 6, 7, and 8, although some schools called Junior High designate grades 7, 8, and 9) science textbooks with regard to the scientific accuracy, adherence to an accurate portrayal of the scientific approach, and the appropriateness and pedagogic effectiveness of the material presented for the particular grade level. The author noted such things as readability, attractiveness, quality of illustrations, and whether material such as laboratory activities, suggested home activities, exercises to test understanding, and resource suggestions where considered appropriate."

    • Judging Books by Their Covers, a chapter from Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman In the linked chapter of one of his books, the Nobel laureate and extraordinarily interesting Feynman recalls his experiences serving on California's textbook adoption agency. It's greatly worth reading the this chapter online for both its insight and humor! (Or get the whole fascinating book!) Excerpt:
      "... What finally clinched it, and made me ultimately resign [from the California State Curriculum Commission], was that the following year we were going to discuss science books. I thought maybe the science [books] would be different, so I looked at a few of them. The same thing happened: something would look good at first and then turn out to be horrifying. ... But that's the way all their books were: They said things that were useless, mixed-up, ambiguous, confusing, and partially incorrect. How anybody can learn science from these books, I don't know, because it's not science."

    • Avoid Misconceptions When Teaching about Plants by David R. Hershey. The author, who holds a Ph.D. in plant physiology, illustrates in one subject area how textbooks and teaching materials can introduce misconceptions through oversimplifications, overgeneralizations, or misidentifications.

    • "Science Myths" in K-6 Textbooks

    • Warning to Middle-School Teachers: Science Texts Unreliable by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, September 2001. Subhead: "Study finds popular science textbooks riddled with errors"

    • "Biology Textbooks Get A Failing Grade" by David L. Chandler, The Boston Globe: Excerpt: "Confused about the exact meaning behind this week's reports on the human genome project? Don't bother consulting a biology textbook to clear things up. It won't help. According to a new study of 10 widely-used current high school biology textbooks, not a single one is acceptable overall."

    • Textbooks Flunk Out by David L. Chandler, Boston Globe, May 17, 1999. Subhead: "When science books are put to the test, it's hard to decipher fact from fiction." Excerpt: "When electrical engineer William Beaty was working on the design of an electricity exhibit for the Boston Museum of Science, he decided to check out some elementary school science textbooks in search of good ways to communicate fundamental concepts on the subject. Bad idea. What he found was a morass of misconceptions, mistakes and misinformation in one text after another."

    • Science Textbooks Fail Students by Kate Wong, Scientific American. "Year after year, standardized tests indicate that American students fall behind their peers in other countries when it comes to science and math. If the results of a new study are any indication, part of the problem may be their textbooks. According to the report, examinations of some of the nation's most widely used middle school physical science textbooks revealed numerous errors and inappropriate lessons."

    • Know much about science books? Many are rife with errors, says new study by Mary Lord, U. S. News, January 22, 2001.

    • As a sidebar to an article about textbook errors, Science News published (March 24, 2001) this article about Introductory Physical Science, a "middle-school science book [that] is one of the few that win widespread praise."

Political Correctness and Bias

  • Thin Gruel: How the Language Police Drain the Life and Content from Our Texts by Diane Ravitch, American Educator, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Summer 2003. This is an excerpt from Ravitch's book, "The Language Police". The final paragraph concludes, "By the end of the 1980s, every publisher had complied with the demands of the critics, both from left and right. Publishers had established bias guidelines with which they could impose self-censorship and head off the outside censors, as well as satisfy state adoption reviews. Achieving demographic balance and excluding sensitive topics had become more important to their success than teaching children to read or to appreciate good literature. Stories written before 1970 had to be carefully screened for compliance with the bias guidelines; those written after 1970 were unlikely to be in compliance unless written for a textbook publisher. So long as books and stories continue to be strained through a sieve of political correctness, fashioned by partisans of both left and right, all that is left for students to read will be thin gruel."

    There are two excellent sidebar articles:

  • The full treatment of the disembowelment of textbooks in the name of political correctness is Diane Ravitch's groundbreaking and influential book, "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn" (click for more info from Amazon). There have been many reviews written of this important book, for example, one by Henry Kisor in the Chicago Sun-Times.

  • Book Smarts by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, May 19, 1999. "For the young pupil who daydreamed of exotic places and heroic deeds early in this century, a schoolbook could quench the imagination. Back then, history textbooks were plump with lively narratives about the glorious conquests of brave explorers and the noble struggles of the nation's founders to create a new republic. ... They ... led children on exciting expeditions through uncharted territory and to chance meetings with Indians in the vast wilderness. They exposed them to the great orations of Roman statesmen, the wonders of scientific discoveries and modern inventions, and the patriotic fervor that bound great men together to form a government of, by, and for the people. It would be hard to find such passion in modern textbooks. Today, scholars, teachers, and parents decry books that they say are dull and lifeless, devoid of context, and prisoners of 'adoption' processes that value political correctness over quality."

  • "Textbooks: Where the Curriculum Meets the Child", by George A. Clowes, interview with Gilbert T. Sewall, School Reform News, September 1, 2004. Excerpt: "With the shift to presenting history from a multicultural point of view--where all cultures and values, including American, are treated as equally valid--history textbooks that present U.S. history to students in a positive framework are becoming less and less common. When combined with "dumbing down" on writing and skimping on content, the quality of U.S. and world history textbooks has become an issue of major concern to many Americans."

  • Political correctness vs. common sense: Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content, 2000 Edition, Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division, California Department of Education "Achievements. Whenever instructional material presents developments in history or current events or achievements in art, science, or any other field, the contributions of women and men should be represented in approximately equal numbers."

  • Schoolbooks Are Flubbing Facts: Texts Filled With Errors and Political Correctness by Alison Gendar and Douglas Feiden, New York Daily News, December 21, 2002. This is an excellent article with dozens and dozens of specific references to textbook problems. It summarizes: "The world of 21st century textbook education is a learning laboratory in which agendas, ideologies and errors all too often trump balance, accuracy and fairness."

  • Aiming for Diversity, Textbooks Overshoot: Publishers use quotas in images to win contracts in big states, but they may be creating new stereotypes; Able-bodied kids pose in wheelchairs by Daniel Golden, Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2006. "Photographer Angela Coppola ... estimates that at least three-fourths of the children portrayed as disabled in Houghton Mifflin textbooks actually aren't. 'It's extremely difficult to find a disabled kid who's willing and able to model,' she says. ... To meet their ratios, publishers not only use able-bodied models as disabled, but, on occasion, people of one minority group as another. Sometimes, publishers exclude depictions of important historical figures who don't help them meet their numerical goals. And while publishers say they try to mirror the national or school-age population, their racial targets reflect neither, understating whites and overstating minorities. In 2004, according to federal estimates, non-Hispanic whites made up 67.4% of the U.S. population and 59.9% of the school-age population. Under McGraw-Hill Co. guidelines for elementary and high school texts, 40% of people depicted should be white, 30% Hispanic, 20% African-American, 7% Asian and 3% Native American, says Thomas Stanton, a spokesman for the publisher. Of the total, 5% should be disabled, and 5% over the age of 55. Elementary texts from the Harcourt Education unit of Reed Elsevier PLC should show about 50% whites, 22% African-Americans, 20% Hispanics, 5% Asians and 5% Native Americans. Of the total, 3% should be disabled, says Harcourt spokesman Richard Blake."

  • Sacrificing Truth on the Altar of Diversity by Jeff Jacoby, August 31, 2006. "You're a publisher of children's textbooks, and you have a problem. Your diversity guidelines -- quotas in all but name -- require you to include pictures of disabled children in your elementary and high school texts, but it isn't easy to find such children who are willing and able to pose for a photographer. ... How can you meet your quota of disability images if you don't have disabled models who are suitably photogenic? Well, you can always do what Houghton Mifflin does. The well-known textbook publisher keeps a wheelchair on hand as a prop and hires able-bodied children from a modeling agency to pose in it. It keeps colorful pairs of crutches on hand, too -- in case a child model turns out to be the wrong size for the wheelchair."

  • Textbook Politics by Collin Levey, Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2002. "It was only a matter of time until blatant politicization of the elementary school curriculum provoked a counterreaction, and now it has."

  • See the section of this website on political correctness and bias in social studies in particular.

  • See the section of this website on "enviromania", the obsession in many textbooks for enviromental issues, often with a highly skewed politically correct perspective.

How Textbooks are Chosen

  • Overcoming Structural Barriers to Good Textbooks by Harriet Tyson, National Education Goals Panel (NEGP). A solid introduction to the business of textbook publishing and adoption.

    State Adoptions

    In 22 states, notably not including Illinois, textbooks are adopted on the state level rather than by individual districts. This adds a whole new layer of bureaucracy imposing its own notions of dumbing down, fluff and glitz, and political correctness.

  • The Textbook Adoption Mess -- And What Reformers Are Doing To Fix It By Melissa Ezarik, District Administration, March 1, 2005. This meaty article uncovers all manner of problems in state-level adoptions. In a nutshell summary, one one veteran of textbook adoption battles is quoted, "That's when I really began to realize that the adoption process is not about results. ... I don't think any of [the committee members] asked if the program actually works in the classroom or not. ... [Instead, it's about] playing the game, playing the politics, kissing the right rear end."

  • Textbook Adoption: A 'Mad, Mad World' that Hurts Schools and Students by Robert Holland, School Reform News, December 1, 2004. Excerpt: "A major school reform organization has condemned government-run textbook adoption for generating dumbed-down texts that harm students and schools across the nation, even though the process is used in only 21 of the 50 states. The report recommends devolving decisions about textbook purchases to individual schools, districts, and teachers. In 'adoption' states, a central textbook committee designated by the state education bureaucracy selects the textbooks schools may purchase with public money. The reviewers often enforce so-called sensitivity guidelines by demanding publishers change wording and content. Because of the size of their combined market, the adoption states effectively dictate textbook content nationwide, given the vested interests of the publishers in selling their wares as widely as possible."

  • The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption (full report, as PDF), Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, September 2004.

  • Judging Books by Their Covers, a chapter from Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman. Feynman was a scientific superstar, the truest embodiment of a "modern Renaissance man", and a sensational, powerful and colloquial lecturer. Considered to be the second greatest physicist of the 20th century (after Einstein), tapes and books of this Nobel laureate's works and lectures are still extremely popular. In the linked chapter of one of his books, Feynman recalls his experiences serving on California's textbook adoption agency. It's greatly worth reading the Judging Books by Their Covers for both its insight and humor! Excerpt:
    "... What finally clinched it, and made me ultimately resign [from the California State Curriculum Commission], was that the following year we were going to discuss science books. I thought maybe the science [books] would be different, so I looked at a few of them. The same thing happened: something would look good at first and then turn out to be horrifying. ... But that's the way all their books were: They said things that were useless, mixed-up, ambiguous, confusing, and partially incorrect. How anybody can learn science from these books, I don't know, because it's not science."

  • "The Textbook Conundrum: What are the Children Learning and Who Decides?" (PDF) This important report from the Center for Education Reform tackles the question of statewide reform head-on. "Major findings note that, while each state has specific academic standards, textbooks tend to be geared to the needs of only three specific states -- California, Texas, and Florida -- because these states engage in a statewide adoption and account for 30 percent of the K-12 market. Because of these long-standing practices, new or smaller textbook companies have little chance against the 'Big Four' publishers who control 70 percent of the industry. The result is an increasing trend toward texts that are long on visual gimmicks, short on factual information, and homogenized in content, and this result is having a 'trickle down' effect, weakening the classroom instruction by teachers who are more often than not iant upon these books for a de facto lesson plan."

  • In her masterful book on political correctness in textbooks, The Language Police, Diane Ravitch argues for the elimination of state textbook adoptions as the single most needed remedy for the problem.

Escalating Costs

    Those heavy, bulky, glitzy books are also expensive to produce and distribute. Whereas it's relatively inexpensive to stocl a school with direct and effective programs in math from Saxon or Singapore, for example, the much bulkier books from Scott Foresman Addison Wesley are far more expensive and have less evidence of effectiveness.

  • Why Do Textbooks Cost So Much? by Charlotte Allen, April 4, 2008 "You've just started your freshman year in college, so one of your first stops is the campus bookstore to pick up your textbooks. ... Your textbook-bill total for the semester is now $475.60 for just four books ... -- and that doesn't include optional study guides, the lab manual you might need for chem class, or the photocopied handout packet your English teacher says she'll be passing out at your expense. Why the sky-high prices for basic textbooks? ... In September 2006 an advisory committee to the U.S. Education Department issued a lengthy analysis of the economic forces that possibly lead to high textbook prices. They included
    • inelastic demand (student who want to pass their courses have to buy the books);
    • an oligopolistic supply market in which only a handful of publishers (including Thomson, McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, and Houghton-Mifflin) dominate,
    • high production costs that create barriers to entry by possible competitors with the Big Four;
    • the fact that college bookstores, which typically charge some of the highest retail prices, tend to be profit centers for their universities;
    • the fact that professors typically receive free comp copies of the books they assign their classes and thus often don't know how much the books cost;
    • and the further fact that the professors who author textbooks have a financial stake via royalties in assigning the books to their captive classes."

  • Textbook Publishers' Pumped Up Pricing Exposed by Jim Brown, February 7, 2005. "A national student activist organization says college textbook publishers continue to rip off students by using all kinds of gimmicks to inflate the costs of textbooks artificially. A new report released by the National State Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRGs, accuses the college textbook publishing industry of using several ploys to drive up prices. PIRGs spokesman David Rosenfeld says the most common gimmick used by the publishers is to produce new editions of the same textbook with little or no significant difference in the content. ... Rosenfeld says many textbook publishers also 'bundle' textbooks with CD-ROMs, workbooks, and supplemental materials, which serves to drive up the cost of the textbooks and make them harder to resell."

  • Study: Textbook Prices Soar for Students, Extras, new editions drive college students' textbook costs to $900 a year (also available here) by Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press, April 8, 2004. "College freshman Amy Connolly ... judges the newest Calculus 101 text by what's inside: a CD-ROM, flashy color photographs and a bubble-wrapped study manual. All those extras bring the price tag to $126, she says. 'The textbook companies are adding bells and whistles that students don't need -- it's making the cost of education unaffordable,' said Connolly... Fifteen members of Congress have asked for an investigation into the pricing policies of U.S textbook publishers. The Government Accounting Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, has given the request high priority..."

  • Wildly escalating textbook costs have already become a major issue in California: Two Bills Take On Textbook Prices: Investigation Showed High Costs By Jessica Portner, Mercury News, Feb. 22, 2003. This article points to examples of textbook costs doubling or even tripling, much faster than "teacher salaries, computers and other costs." In another example, a price increase on a single book (a sicth grade English text) cost the state of California an additional $2 million.

  • School board officials' ties to lobbyists draw criticism by Jessica Portner, San Jose Mercury News, December 16, 2002: "Two California school board officials who have helped steer the state's textbook selection process established personal financial relationships with lobbyists for the publishing industry, raising questions about whether they lacked the objectivity to control escalating textbook costs."

  • Campaign for Affordable Textbooks: a student and faculty organization pressing for solutions to spiraling textbook costs.

  • SwapSimple.com: From a story in the Chicago Tribune, June 11, 2006, "Elliot Hirsch, 28, and two of his childhood buddies from Wilmette, Ill., Eric Haszlakiewicz and David Goldblatt, got sick of paying high prices for their college textbooks and then selling them back to the bookstore at rock-bottom prices. Once they graduated, they decided to do something about it. It's taken a few years, but they created a business, SwapSimple, with a Web site (swapsimple.com) that not only cuts out the middleman but also lets you trade texts virtually free."

  • eBay Prohibits Textbooks for Homeschool Teachers: Lumps them with illegal drugs, bootleg recordings, prompting avalanche of complaints from customers World Net Daily, August 27, 2006. "eBay did offer a recourse for further concerns: 'We appreciate the fact that you may disagree with eBay's decision to establish this policy. If you would like to see these policies change ... you may want to submit your feelings by completing the form at the following URL.' But there also are other auctions that do allow the sale of homeschool texts. One location, which does require purchasers to be 18, is Schoolbookauction.com. Another one is Homeschoolbid.com and observers said there are many more available through an Internet search."

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