Publishers Asked To Join Effort To Improve Schooling
Port Chester, NY--Publishers of elementary- and secondary-school textbooks can and must play an important role in helping schools raise standards in the classroom and should work quickly to institute changes in their products, educators told members of the Association of American Publishers' school division here last week at the group's annual meeting.
"Textbooks remain the major determinant of curriculum, ... the major influence on what exactly is taught in the classroom," said William Honig, California's superintendent of public instruction. "[They are] an important ingredient in any reform proposal."
"We have a real opportunity, but I don't think it's going to stay around long. We have to jump on it right away," Donald A. Eklund, vice president of the school division, told the representatives of 39 publishing houses who attended the meeting, which was entitled "Schools in Crisis: A Search for Solutions."
"It's a very healthy climate," agreed Gordon M. Ambach, commissioner of education in New York State. "The number one issue is that we have to pull up the standards," he said, adding that "this is where you [the publishers] have an extraordinarily important role."
Ninety-five percent of a student's study time is spent with textbooks, according to the publishers' group. And the need for higher quality in those materials has been alluded to by a number of those calling for raised standards in the schools. In consequence, Mr. Honig suggested to the book publishers, "You've got a direct stake in us carrying this off."
Mr. Ambach echoed that notion, calling for a cooperative effort between educators and publishers. "It is essential for those of us in education and those of you in publishing to be working together," he said, at a time when there are both calls for tightened standards and more opportunities for individual teachers to develop curricula.
But the publishers, many of whom said they support the move to strengthen requirements, reacted cautiously to such comments. Their major concerns, some said, are that meeting new curriculum guidelines takes time and that the "marketability" of new materials must be taken into consideration.
"There's a difference between recommending and implementing," said an executive from Esquire Inc.
In-Depth Surveys of Teachers
Others said significant changes in their products will not be made before in-depth surveys of those who use their materials--namely, teachers--are conducted to determine whether they would use books designed to meet higher standards. Such surveys, some suggested, could take two to five years.
Another publisher said his company would have to conduct such studies even though he thinks it is easier to market books that meet stricter standards.
But another participant disagreed. "I've never heard of a selection committee saying they wouldn't buy a book because it was too easy," he said, adding that, in his view, books that are too difficult might not sell.
The current yearly expenditure nationally for textbooks for elementary and high-school students is approximately $1 billion.
To be successful, ideas for changes in current textbooks and other teaching materials must be discussed with teachers, many publishers said. A representative from D.C. Heath and Company said the firm will try to assess the positions of teachers, many of whom choose textbooks and few of whom, he noted, were represented on the commissions that have made recommendations for stricter standards.
Mr. Honig said he recognized publishers' marketing concerns but added that educators and publishers "have no choice" today but to meet calls for stiffer requirements. Educators, he said, must work to win professional and public support for the reform movement.
That legitimacy, Mr. Honig suggested, will come in part from researchers like Jeanne S. Chall, professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of the reading laboratory there. Ms. Chall, who spoke on the role of research in achieving excellence in education, advised the pub-lishers to work with educators to make textbooks more difficult. Re-ferring to a recent study of the reactions of children to various textbooks, she noted that "the children liked harder things" in books, and they did better at them.
Superintendents who discussed their recommendations for excellence included Ruth B. Love, general superintendent of schools in Chicago, who stressed the need to raise standards as soon as possible. Time is short, she said, and "within a couple of years, the window [of opportunity] will close."
Publishers, she said, should produce materials that motivate students. "Let's teach all the kids as though they're brilliant," she suggested.
Samuel B. Stewart, superintendent of schools in Ridgewood, N.J., agreed, saying that educators should "build an instructional system in which all students achieve at higher levels" and "establish a framework of excellence in our schools."
But Anthony J. Alvarado, chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, pointed out that excellence is not enough. "We are proceeding diametrically opposed to how we should be proceeding," he said. "Excellence must go hand in hand with equity so that all students benefit."
"How is an increased expectation ... going to help the students who are not now making it?" he asked. "How do you deal with the problems that young people have with an academic curriculum?"
Publishers, Mr. Alvarado suggested, will support recommendations to raise standards because academic books are easier to publish than are materials that deal with such important student concerns as work. If excellence and equity "are not married together in terms of a total plan of improving standards, we will end up the poorer for it," he said.
Educators attending the conference offered the publishers a number of other suggestions. Among them:
Publishers should teach teachers to provide computer instruction, suggested Irwin Kaufman, director of mathematics in the New City Public Schools. Texts, by themselves, are useless unless teachers are trained in their use, said Mr. Kaufman, who approves mathematics and computer materials for the city's 1,000 schools. In addition, he recommended that the publishers produce mathematics books that encourage reasoning and thinking skills, which, he said, were lacking in current materials.
Ruth Greenblatt, principal of King Street School, an elementary school here, recommended that the publishers produce guides for teachers to help those who are not confident in certain subject areas, such as science.
Publishers should also address "thin" markets in which profits are not always high, and publish for gifted, handicapped, disadvantaged, and minority students, Ms. Greenblatt said.
Many educators recommended education-publishing parternships. "We need to work together so that materials are developed to meet the recommendations of these reports," Ms. Greenblatt said. The classroom teacher should be part of a continuous evaluation team because they know best what goes on in the classroom, suggested Joyce Coppin, superintendent of Community District 16 in Brooklyn.
Publishers' reactions to the sug-gestion for such partnerships varied. While some agreed with the need to work with educators, others seemed amused at the recommendation. "What do they think we've been doing all along?" asked one executive, adding that his company and many others currently conduct teacher surveys to determine what is needed in the classroom.
Other publishers said they considered calls for partnerships and increased reforms just another swing of the pendulum in which educators call for new reforms every number of years.
The division's closing speaker, Fred M. Hechinger, president of the New York Times Company Foundation and longtime education columnist for The New York Times, said he was optimistic about this year's excellence recommendations, as opposed to those of the 1950's and 1960's.
Current reports, he said, have a better understanding of the role of the teachers and the knowledge that "in the classroom, teachers have unlimited power."