A Note From the Editor About Our Survey on Textbooks

A note to readers from Education Week Editor-in-Chief Scott Montgomery.

A Note From the Editor About Our Survey on Textbooks

On Monday afternoon, we published a blog post about a survey that sought to explore educator perceptions about how well the textbooks they use reflect the experiences of people of color. In publishing this blog post, Education Week made some significant mistakes. I’d like to explain our errors and apologize for our lack of precision and care on a matter so important and sensitive.

We’ve updated the blog post, including re-interviewing sources, which you can now read here.

The blog post reported out the response to a question the EdWeek Research Center posed to a nationally representative sample of educators: “To what extent, if any, do the textbooks used in your district, classroom, or school accurately and fully reflect the experiences of people of color?”

Here’s how educators responded:

• 6 percent said ‘none’

• 23 percent said ‘a little’

• 49 percent said ‘some’

• 22 percent said ‘a lot’

Here’s what we did wrong.

First, we combined the ‘some’ category and the ‘a lot’ category into a single group, erroneously concluding that both responses reflected an affirmative view that textbooks do well enough on representing people of color. This led us to a bad headline that said: “Do Textbooks Adequately Reflect People of Color? Most Educators Say Yes.”

This was a poor characterization of the results that very likely overstated the number of educators who are comfortable with the way their textbooks reflect the experiences of people of color. The ‘some’ category is broad and imprecise, and we were wrong to interpret it as a positive answer to the question.

Second, we failed to put these results in context. There’s little doubt that textbooks generally do not “accurately and fully” reflect the experiences of people of color and anything we write on the subject should call out that fact. Many reports have been written on this subject, and the textbook industry has mobilized in many places to respond to the issue. At Education Week, we’ve reported on this topic in many ways over many years.

By failing to note this reality, we presented unchallenged the idea that textbooks adequately reflect the experiences of people of color because  -- as our headline incorrectly concluded -- ‘most’ educators think so. This was a damaging oversight on our part because it gave added life to the destructive notion that racism in textbooks is a conquered problem.

To fully understand our results, we needed to make clear the known record of how textbooks often treat people of color. We also should have included demographic data on the educator workforce and our survey respondents, both of which are overwhelmingly white.

We also should have been more precise with the language of the survey question. We should have asked about the degree to which textbook content reflected the experiences of people of a specific racial or ethnic group. Instead, we asked about “people of color,” which unintentionally sent the wrong message that the many different racial and ethnic groups who might conceivably fall into that category are not distinct when in reality they have many different experiences and cultures.

I know some readers have been critical of us for even raising the question. If we know textbooks fail this test, why did we ask about it at all? We believe it’s valuable to understand how educators view issues, even when there’s consensus about them. The gap between perception and reality can be useful to identify on the road to improvement. But to do that, we must be careful with our instrument of measure and thoughtful in portraying our findings. We failed in both respects on this story.

I want to be clear that these mistakes were collective. No one individual was singularly at fault, but ultimate responsibility belongs to the Editor-in-Chief, who oversees all our content and who has written this note. As a result of this blog post, we are changing the way we review survey questions with our Research Center to assure that these important questions are presented with a level of precision that yields results we can all understand. We also are reviewing our editing process for publishing stories about these findings.

We devote significant resources to understanding the views and perceptions of the professional educator audience we serve. We take care and pride in all of our work, but especially in this. I regret that we failed to live up to our own standard here and I assure you we will do better.

I want to end with a note of thanks. Since that blog was posted, we have heard from many readers and we have followed the conversations that have occurred on social media with us and about us. We appreciate the serious, thoughtful way you challenged our work, and not just because you were right. We promise continued vigilance, and I want to encourage the same of you.

—Scott Montgomery, Editor-in-Chief