Publishers Advised To Monitor Trends

By Anne Bridgman — January 29, 1986 5 min read

Textbook publishers have a short-term opportunity to capitalize on the new interest in curriculum and instruction generated by the reform movement, according to a leading authority on trends in schooling.

Emphasizing the role of the textbook could be “a way to continue the momentum of reform without huge increases in money,” Michael W. Kirst, professor of education at Stanford University, advised publishers at the annual conference of the Association of American Publishers’ school division.

But other speakers, including one governor, also warned the publishers to stay alert to a number of trends whose long-term impact on their industry is far less certain.

Particular bellwethers to watch in the coming decade, they were told, include increased numbers of minorities and immigrants in the public schools, the growing need for child care, and a new interest in preparing students for a more economically competitive national workforce.

The 92 publishers, who last year saw expenditures for elementary- and secondary-school instructional materials continue to increase, met here to consider the market outlook and the dynamics of change in the schools.

Curriculum and Instruction

''The publishing industry will fare better than others if the curriculum-instruction-reform issue can be kept at the center,” Mr. Kirst told the group.

There are no indications that the current cycle of reform will be reversed in the short run, he said. In the long run, however, several factors could influence whether those reforms continue.

Mr. Kirst pointed to two possible trends-an increase in the dropout rate as a result of more stringent high-school standards and a growing need for day care-that could change the focus of the reform movement and subsequently affect the publishing industry.

“The dropout issue could swing the cycle back to retention,” he said, a potentiality that could require further alterations in the content and tone of textbooks.

And child care, which Mr. Kirst predicted will become a “major state issue” within the next decade, could begin to crowd out K-12 expenditures that publishers rely on. He also noted that preschool education, which has become increasingly popular, is an area in which few publishers have developed materials.

In addition, since much of the action on reform has taken place at the state level, Mr. Kirst said, publishers should watch the forces outside education that influence shifts in state policy.

Today’s Schools

Harold L. Hodgkinson, scholar-in-residence with the American Council on Education, advised publishers to “learn to look at today’s schools [or] you’ll never be able to make textbooks for tomorrow.”

Among the trends that will affect the schools, he said, are the rise in the number of minorities, including immigrants, in urban districts. Publishers, he said, cannot continue to present textbooks that feature only Caucasian characters when children who use those books live in cities that are 45 percent to 85 percent minority.

The changing shape of the American population will also have an effect on the schools, Mr. Hodgkinson said. In 1983, he said, there were more Americans over age 65 than there were teen-agers-a statistic, he noted, that will hold true for the next 40 years.

This population characteristic will have a large impact on the amount of money available for such items as textbooks, he said. Retirees will contribute less to the local tax base, and the large proportion of voters with no direct, personal stake in the schools will be less likely to support new tax levies or bond issues.

The composition of the American family, Mr. Hodgkinson said, will also affect the schools and should be reflected in the way publishers portray the family in their textbooks. Today, he noted, only 7 percent of U.S. households consist of a working father, a nonworking mother, and two or more school-age children. By 1990, half of all families will be headed by a single parent.

Languages, Computers

The publishers were advised to prepare for new and different kinds of instructional materials in the following areas:

  • Foreign Languages. LaBarbara Gregg, assistant superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools, said inner- city districts will be introducing foreign-language instruction into many elementary schools, as recommended in the report, “A Nation at Risk.”

Gov. Rudy Perpich of Minnesota, speaking of the components of his “Access to Excellence” reform plan, also stressed the importance of foreign- language instruction at the elementary- schoollevel.

The Governor told the publishers that 139 schools in Minnesota that did not offer language instruction last year are providing it this year.

  • Preparation for the Workforce. Floretta Dukes McKenzie, superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools, asked publishers to develop textbooks that “help us prepare kids for the world of work.” It becomes increasingly difficult, she said, to keep children in school if they cannot see the connection between education and life after high school.
  • ”The Realities of Today.” Robert F. Chase, an executive-committee member of the National Education Association, told publishers that teachers “need textbooks that reflect the realities of [society] today.” Teachers, he added, need to help students deal with the problems they face on a daily basis.
  • Improved Teachers’ Manuals. Several educators asked the publishers to help instructors use textbooks as effectively as possible. Textbook firms, said Ms. Gregg of Detroit, should include clear objectives in teachers’ manuals.
  • Computers. William S. Lofquist, a publishing analyst with the U.S. Commerce Department, said that schools will continue to purchase computers, but he predicted that the rise in numbers will not mean less money for other instructional materials. “Books and computers,” he said, “can easily co-exist in the nation’s classrooms.” For that reason, he said, publishers would be wise to add software divisions to their companies.
  • Mr. Lofquist also predicted that improved book-manufacturing technology in the next decade will permit publishers to produce “customized” versions of the same text for different states or cities. Such special editions currently are economically prohibitive for most publishers, he said.

    Other speakers at the conference cited vocational education, sex education, and international education as areas that are ripe for expansion in the next five years.

    A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 1986 edition of Education Week