Education

Book Binding

October 01, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Are textbook lists too limiting? Some lawmakers think so.

As a teacher, then an associate superintendent, in the Gadsden Independent School District in New Mexico, Cynthia Nava says she saw firsthand how the state’s system of selecting textbooks frustrates educators struggling to address students’ individual needs. New Mexico is one of 22 so-called textbook- adoption states, where districts can use state money to buy only instructional materials that appear on an approved list. “The state now has a standards- based curriculum, and it is less important than it used to be to have statewide textbook adoption,” argues Nava, currently a state senator in New Mexico. “We shouldn’t be so insistent on telling [teachers] every step of the way how to get students to meet those standards.”

Nava has introduced a bill in the legislature four years running to eliminate New Mexico’s book list. The senator plans to reintroduce the bill in the 2004 session if the materials rules are not reformed when the state’s public school code is rewritten this year. “I don’t plan on giving up,” she says.

Nava is not alone in attacking the tyranny of “the list.” Legislators in several textbook-adoption states are proposing changes to allow greater flexibility. In California, for example, teacher complaints have prompted state Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg to suggest revamping the process. Of the thousands of instructional materials produced during the past few years to help elementary school teachers, just two reading series have earned the state seal of approval for use in California’s K-6 classrooms, she says. Such limited choice, teachers argue, hogties their efforts to find innovative ways to meet students’ needs. “We have to give teachers a lot more say in curriculum decisions,” says Goldberg.

Changing the policies won’t be easy. The prevailing attitude among many officials in adoption states is that the advantages to statewide selection of textbooks far outweigh the drawbacks. A centralized system, proponents argue, offers greater guarantees that all classrooms have access to textbooks reflecting the state’s academic content requirements. Such policies often also ensure the existence of pots of state money earmarked for instructional materials, and, they say, inherent cost savings come from purchasing textbooks en masse on a regular schedule. In addition, scrutiny of texts at the state level can free local educators from the tedious task of reviewing and evaluating materials on their own.

“In Florida, we have an efficient system and a very fair system,” says Marci Buchanan, who oversees instructional materials for the Alachua County district. The adoption system, she says, gives districts more leverage with publishers, who provide teachers with professional development and other services along with replacement books. “You are not buying just a textbook; you are buying a comprehensive curriculum system,” she argues.

From the publishing industry’s standpoint, adoption policies help ensure funding, in turn improving textbook quality. States selecting new textbooks on a regular cycle, industry representatives argue, allow publishers to devote resources to making high-quality texts in one or two subjects at a time, knowing that districts will have the money to buy them. “Adoption systems work, by and large, because states either totally or substantially help local districts pay for the textbooks,” says Stephen Driesler, executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers.

That argument may no longer be reliable. In tight fiscal times, state textbook money is often threatened. Texas lawmakers, for example, recently cut their state’s book budget. And some dispute the purported cost savings in state-level selections. As a member of several textbook-selection committees in California and Michigan at different points in his career, English teacher Bill Younglove says he has “felt the pressure of being hounded by publishers’ agents” to buy, even as districts maintained sufficient stocks of other suitable books.

Teachers in Florida have leveled similar complaints, leading state representative Dennis Baxley to promote a pilot program that would allow districts to direct more textbook funds to materials they choose or to negotiate with publishers and used-book dealers themselves. “We know all the benefits to being an adoption state,” he says. “But we need to ask, ‘What can we do to make the system a bit more flexible?’”

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)