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Standards-Setters Hoping To Publish Best Sellers

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Maybe it has not knocked the horror novelist Stephen King or the romance writer Judith Krantz off the charts, but the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has spawned a best seller.

Since 1989, the professional group has sold nearly 180,000 copies of its pioneering standards--Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics--and given away tens of thousands. The project has won national praise, and membership in the association has soared.

In the next few months, several other groups are scheduled to release voluntary national standards in which they have invested thousands of hours. Each is hoping to duplicate the success of the N.C.T.M. and achieve the goal of raising the quality of learning in as many classrooms as possible.

To do so, however, the groups must strike a delicate balance between widespread dissemination and such practical matters as recouping costs and guarding against commercial exploitation.

That balance is made even more difficult because several of the standards-setting projects are federally financed. Some educators worry about limiting access to information the taxpayers paid for, while the professional groups say they need some control to preserve the integrity of their standards.

"We would love to put everything in the public domain for promoting science and education," said Debra Lewin, the publications director for the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, the umbrella group under which benchmarks for physical education are being written. "It doesn't work that way; we have to maintain our costs."

A copyright exists to let "us keep track of what is being done with the material to some degree, not for us to make a big financial gain," said Judith Young, the executive director of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education.

Long before the federal government became involved in the creation of voluntary national standards, the N.C.T.M. developed its own for math. The effort cost the organization more than $1.1 million, including printing costs.

Although N.C.T.M. officials say they did not set out to recover their costs, the investment appears to have paid off handsomely.

After giving away 80,000 copies from its first press run, the math teachers' association has sold 179,000 copies at $25 each.

Though the N.C.T.M. will not say how much it has made from the standards, sales at that price would total roughly $4.48 million. Buyers, however, can get a modest discount if they buy the content and teaching standards as a package.

Moreover, membership has increased dramatically--from about 77,000 in 1989 to more than 105,000 this year.

"Whether we can say it's because of the standards, we don't know," said Eileen Erickson, a spokeswoman for the N.C.T.M.

Not every group, however, stands to gain as much financially as the math association did.

Three of the projects due out in the next two months--geography, history, and civics--have received federal support, which will limit developers' ability to profit from, or control access to, their work.

Neither those nor the other projects receiving federal funds--arts, foreign languages, and science--may profit from the standards, said Janice K. Anderson, the interim director of the Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching in the U.S. Education Department.

However, the department allows the individual groups to own the copyrights, with the proviso that the federal government be given complete access to the standards documents. The groups may also keep the proceeds from the sales.

"That way," said Ms. Anderson, "they can recover costs but they can't make a profit."

The social-studies project, which makes its debut this week, is on terrain more like that of the math standards.

So far the National Council for the Social Studies has spent about $70,000 to develop the social-studies standards and another $30,000 to print the volume.

Martharose Laffey, the executive director of the council, estimates that the group will give away as many as 12,000 copies--to some council members and to leading educators and policymakers. Others will pay $15 to help the organization cover its costs.

The N.C.S.S. does not expect to profit by the sales, but Ms. Laffey said she hopes the effort attracts interest in the organization. "We're hoping that by showing this leadership in our field, that will encourage more people to become members," she said.

Copyright Ownership

That the standards groups would own copyrights made some interested parties uneasy at first, including Jeffrey Thomas, the assistant director of the office of planning and budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"My aim in raising the issue was to try to insure the widest accessibility of the standards as possible," said Mr. Thomas, whose agency has helped pay for some of the projects.

Mr. Thomas said, however, that he is sympathetic to the groups' concerns that, without copyright protection, the integrity of the standards could be violated.

Glen A. Cutlip, a senior policy analyst for the National Education Association, also worried early in the process when he heard the groups discuss selling the publications. Under those circumstances, he wondered then, "how are we going to put these on the desk of every teacher in the United States?"

Both men said reassurances from the projects' leaders have eliminated many of their concerns.

The goal of the organizations preparing to roll out their standards by mid-November is to keep the prices low. Geography, for example, will sell for $9, and civics for $10 to $15.

The groups also say they will be generous in granting permission to copy or excerpt the standards for educational uses, but do not want to see them substantially modified.

"We are saying people can use it," said Charles N. Quigley, the executive director of the Center for Civic Education. "We don't want our name on it if they [significantly] change it."

Computers and Commerce

To guarantee widespread dissemination, the Education Department is requiring that the standards for which it has provided funding be put on the Internet, the free-access global network of computer networks.

Some project directors fear such broad access will cost them control of the standards.

For others there is a second concern--recouping printing costs. Who will buy their document, they ask, when it is available free on the Internet?

The National Geographic Society has loaned the geography-standards project $570,000 to print its standards volume and executive summary.

"If the material were to go on to Internet this year or early next year, I would be somewhat distraught," said Anthony D'Souza, the project director.

That same conflict--between the desire to spread the standards as widely as possible and the need to prevent their exploitation--extends to textbook publishers.

"We would be very disappointed if textbook developers didn't seize upon these as outlines for the development of their books," said Mr. D'Souza.

But, said Ms. Erickson of the math association, advertisers already are claiming their products meet N.C.T.M. standards, though "we don't know if they meet them."

Such claims are a key reason for copyrighting the standards, said Charlotte Crabtree, the co-director of the history-standards project.

The copyright, she said, keeps companies from profiting from the work of thousands of educators and scholars, paid for by taxpayers.

For example, Ms. Crabtree noted, some of the nation's most distinguished historians have donated two years of their time to the project.

"It's the best bargain for taxpayers that you can imagine."

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