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Fla. Leaders Urge Multi-State Effort To Improve Texts

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Political leaders in Florida, including Gov. Robert Graham, are moving to carry out an unusual mandate contained in a major state education bill that calls for the creation of an interstate consortium "to enhance the quality of instructional materials."

In a strongly worded letter sent this month to chief state school officers, legislators, state board of education members, representatives of the National Education Association, and publishers nationwide, the Florida leaders point to the "pervasive" influence of textbooks and other classroom materials on the educational process and say that their state's school-improvement efforts "have been impeded repeatedly by the declining quality of the instructional materials available for our students' use."

The letter--signed by Governor Graham, Curtis Peterson, president of the Florida Senate, Jack D. Gordon, chairman of the Florida Senate Education Committee, and H. Lee Moffitt, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives--invites the recipients to attend a conference next month to explore the feasibility of setting up the consortium of leaders from a number of states as a way to influence the classroom-materials industry.

Noting that Florida can have only a limited effect on the industry if it acts alone, the officials urge other states--especially California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia, which constitute the preponderance of the high-school textbook market--to join in an organized campaign to upgrade instructional materials.

"We can bring the power of the marketplace to bear on publishers and effect major changes in the manner in which they prepare, evaluate, and market instructional materials," the officials write.

Publishing Issues

According to the letter, issues that will be discussed at the March 19-20 meeting at Florida State University in Tallahassee include the economics of the publishing industry; the strategies used to define quality; the identification of resources and processes that can be used to develop standards or criteria for evaluating materials; the effect of educational technology on instructional materials; and various states' procedures to develop, evaluate, adopt, and improve instructional materials.

In addition, attendees will discuss who should be held accountable for the quality of textbooks and whether the consortium, if it is established, should continue its work on a permanent basis.

The idea for the consortium was introduced by Senator Gordon as part of the Raising Achievement in Secondary Education Act, a major reform measure that was introduced in the Florida legislature last year and passed in June, according to Linda Z. Harris, a legislative analyst for the Senate Education Committee.

The act authorizes the legislature to enter into an agreement with other states to improve instructional materials.

On the agenda of the two-day conference are such speakers as Phyllis Blaunstein, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education; Patricia Albjerg Graham, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University; John Slaughter, past chairman of the National Science Foundation; Steven Willoughby, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; Ira Aaron, president of the International Reading Association; Steven Tchudi, president of the National Council of Teachers of English; and Donald Eklund, vice president of the school division of the Association of American Publishers.

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