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Texas Assesses $860,000 in New Fines For Textbook Errors

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The Texas State Board of Education voted last month to assess $860,000 in new fines against publishers for 147 uncorrected mistakes in textbooks purchased by the state.

The board's action marks the second time this year it has fined publishers for errors in textbooks. In January, the board fined publishers $647,000 after more than 3,700 errors--many of them factual--were found in history textbooks up for adoption.

"We've been on their backs and we're going to to stay on their backs until all the errors are corrected,'' said a state school-board member, Will Davis, an Austin lawyer.

The latest round of fines stems from mistakes in 27 new editions of textbooks that were already certified by publishers to be error-free. They include some of the history textbooks that came under criticism several months ago as well as texts in pre-algebra, geometry, physics, English, and office skills. The list also included one learning system, which includes other educational materials, such as workbooks.

Although no official breakdown was available from the Texas Education Agency last month, school-board members said many of the uncorrected errors were not factual.

One frequently cited factual error in a physics textbook maintains that police "radar guns'' measure speed in kilometers, when such devices are calibrated in miles per hour.

Over all, however, said Carolyn Crawford, the school-board's chairman, the mistakes were not as blatant as those found in earlier versions of the history books, when texts had claimed, for example, that Sputnik was the first intercontinental ballistic missile launched by the Soviet Union. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)

"These errors are not going to cause substantial misunderstandings,'' she said. "But our concern is that publishers had said they would make these corrections in their books.''

"How is it that even these corrections don't get picked up as they [the books] are printed?'' she added.

A Considerable Threat

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At its July 10 meeting, the board voted 10 to 1 to buy the books, despite the errors, and to assess 10 publishers $3,000 for each factual error and $1,000 for each technical error in their textbooks.

The dissenting vote came from Jane Nelson, a board member from Double Oak, who has objected to spending "taxpayers' dollars on textbooks that have errors in them.''

If publishers decline to pay the fines, the board may decide to bar them from the next scheduled round of textbook adoptions, Ms. Crawford said.

That threat carries considerable weight as the state, slated to buy more than $131 million in textbooks for the coming school year, is generally considered to be the third-largest state purchaser of textbooks after New York and California.

In addition, the board has ordered the publishers to bear the cost of adding errata sheets to the textbooks.

Most of the publishers have not contested the fines for errors. They pointed out, however, that some of the errors were counted twice--once in the teacher edition of the books and once in the student editions. Other items listed as errors were simply changes the publishers themselves had requested early on and then decided against carrying out, they say.

Joe Bill Watkins, a lawyer who is representing several of the publishers in the negotiations, said they questioned both the necessity and the expense of adding errata sheets for minor technical errors--particularly those in teacher editions. If school districts are required to paste in the sheets, the cost to publishers will be 50 cents a book, the school board said.

"One of the things that has to be looked at is the cost of perfection,'' Mr. Watkins said. "This kind of extreme scrutiny--not for major errors of fact--is enormously expensive and publishers have already spent a lot of money in the last several months.''

"The main thing is,'' he added, "it really does prove the proposition that perfection is impossible.''

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