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Honig Urges 'Radical' Text-Adoption Guidelines

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Michael FallonSpecial to Education Week

Sacramento--Bill Honig, California's state superintendent of public instruction, has asked the State Board of Education to approve guidelines that would require publishers to develop elementary-school reading textbooks that are "worthy of being read" and that stress "critical thinking" and reading for comprehension.

In the textbooks that have been published in recent years, Mr. Honig told the state board this month, "we've taken out the emotional power of the language [and] shortened the sentences."

"We've relied too much on readability-skills development and not3enough on content. ... You can't teach sophisticated skills unless you have sophisticated stories. Reading textbooks have drifted away from that."

Calls Proposals 'Radical'

Mr. Honig gave the board a draft of what he termed "fairly radical" proposals for changing the standards under which reading textbooks would be adopted statewide in 1987. He also proposed new standards for the state's mathematics-textbook adoption in 1986.

Commercially developed basic reading textbooks, according to the report, "account for over 90 percent of how time is spent during reading periods in elementary classrooms; therefore, the influence of textbooks is a crucial factor."

Critical-reading ability is "fundamental to our democracy, which depends on an informed citizenry that is in touch with the ideals of this nation," the report said.

'Rich Literary Heritage'

In the report, Mr. Honig proposed, among other standards, that:

"Student texts will contain ... a major inclusion of works that expose students to a rich literary heritage in continuous, connected prose with examples of such length that the discourse is not fragmented."

"Student texts will stress critical thinking with a consistent emphasis on reading for comprehension throughout."

"Student study materials will provide ... opportunities for writing activities (complete sentences leading to longer compositions) and opportunities for creative, thoughtful extension of concepts and skills beyond one-word responses."

Mr. Honig said the proposed standards for the mathematics textbooks include greater emphasis on problem solving, applications of higher-order practical skills, and instruction in using electronic calculators.

Conference Planned

The state superintendent said he had invited educators from other states to attend a two-day conference in San Francisco beginning on June 1 to consider the proposed California textbook standards and other ways to upgrade textbooks.

"If they agree to the concepts [of the California plan] and buy into them, that extends the power of the marketplace," he said.

Francie Alexander, director of the office of curriculum framework and textbook development in the State Department of Education, said that invitations had been sent to representatives from 22 states as well as to nationally known experts in reading and mathematics.

At a March conference sponsored by Florida legislators, Mr. Honig had attempted to form a "multi-state consortium" with Florida and New York to create a market for more challenging and rigorous instructional materials.

But because the California chief's actions were viewed as premature by representatives of the other 19 states participating in the meeting, they in effect tabled the move and asked the Council of Chief State School Officers to set an agenda for continuing the discussion of textbook improvement. (See Education Week, March 28, 1984.)

The council, along with the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Association of American Publishers, is currently working to set model guidelines for textbook selection and to assist states in adapting their existing guidelines to the proposed models. (See Education Week, April 18, 1984.)

State Support

Mr. Honig's proposal has drawn broad support within the state from teachers, school administrators, and parents, Ms. Alexander said.

Mr. Honig told board members he would ask them to vote on the plan next month so that he can resolve any scheduling problems involved in working with other states and give textbook publishers ample opportunity to revise their reading materials.

The state education department plans to use federal Chapter 2 funds to train teachers in the standards proposed for the reading texts, Mr. Honig said.

Ms. Alexander said that if the reading textbooks that publishers submit meet the standards, they should be adopted. "We have to create a market for these materials by training teachers to select and use the materials," she said.

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