Texas and California Plan Joint Adoption Of Science Textbooks

By Peter West — July 31, 1991 7 min read

Arlington, Tex.--Exerting economic muscle to advance science-education reform nationwide, officials from California and Texas have agreed to “send a common message” to educational publishers by jointly adopting science textbooks.

The unprecedented action, which is expected to begin with 7th-grade texts in 1994 and expand to other grades in later years, is aimed at combining the two largest school-textbook markets to create a demand for upgrading science materials.

The two states, which represent 19.4 percent of the national textbook market, spent roughly $378 million on textbooks in all disciplines in 1990.

If publishers respond to the joint call, the action could have a strong influence on books sold in other states as well, and could lead to substantial changes in the way the science is taught, officials from the two states said.

“We see this as Texas and California agreeing on the need for national reform in science education,” Thomas Sachse, California’s director of science education, said at a meeting held here to brief publishers and educators on the plan.

James Collins, director of science for the Texas Education Agency, added that the joint effort was also aimed at sending a signal that educational materials are an essential ingredient in such reforms.

“We need the publishers,” Mr. Collins said. “Let’s face it, they’re an important player in the reform effort.”

While educators hailed the move as a step toward improved materials, some observers questioned whether it could achieve its ambitious aims.

Noting that Texas and California have been prescriptive--and often conflicting--in their demands for instructional materials, publishers and analysts said they were skeptical the two states could reconcile their ideologies to produce a common reform framework.

“This is a case where two vastly different states are trying to reach a compromise,” said Harriet Tyson, the author of A Conspiracy of Good Intentions, a 1988 book that criticized state textbook regulations. “If they do reach a compromise, it might compromise all good intentions out of it.”

‘Less Is More’

The call for a joint adoption was set in motion earlier this year by William Kirby, Texas’ former education commissioner, and Bill Honig, California’s superintendent of public instruction, at a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers, according to officials.

The two men, who were criticizing what officials described as the “sad state” of instructional materials in science, agreed in principle to search for common ground in the instructional frameworks of both states at a single grade level.

Their accord reflects the fact that the two states are among the nation’s leaders in efforts to change the way science is taught.

Both are hosting pilot sites and participating in the two major national reform projects, the Scope, Sequence, and Coordination project of the National Science Teachers Association and Project 2061, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The two states are also reforming curricula in their own schools.

Texas is moving to revamp its science curriculum with a “hybrid” program that combines features of the two major national reform movements as well as locally generated ideas into a 7th-grade course dubbed “Science I.”

The course will be the first of four sequential new courses that are expected to be introduced over the next decade in the Lone Star State.

“This new program was built by the teachers,” Mr. Collins said. “It was not a top-down development.”

California, meanwhile, is embarking on a restructuring of science education in grades K-8.

All of the reforms, officials stressed, emphasize the value of paring away lengthy “laundry lists” of vocabulary in order to emphasize the themes and concepts that underlie scientific thought.

“We’re very serious about the aphorism ‘Less is more,”’ Mr. Sachse said.

Changing the Message

As part of their reform efforts, California and Texas have also attempted to use the leverage of state textbook adoption to persuade publishers to redesign instructional materials to match their curricular goals.

Some 20 other states also employ the practice, under which state officials evaluate materials and decide which ones schools can purchase. In California and Texas, local districts can buy books that have not been approved statewide, but they cannot use state funds to do so.

In the past, California and Texas officials said, their conflicting priorities often served to confuse publishers and encourage the publication of inferior textbooks.

In 1989, for example, California mandated that science textbooks include material on evolution, while the Texas Board of Education voted to require discussions of both evolution “and other reliable theories” of the earth’s origins.

Critics argued that differences about evolutionary theory could drive a wedge between the partners as they scramble to adopt materials that conform to both mandates.

“That would be the critical issue in Texas and California coming together,” Ms. Tyson said. “It is a broad, far-reaching issue and it infuses all of modern biology.”

Mr. Sachse of California argued before the publishers, however, that an important thrust of the new initiative is the sweeping away of the fragmentation that previously has characterized science teaching.

“I think we’ve given the wrong message as states in the past,” he said.

By collaborating, he added, the two states could exert leverage from the fact that they are both holding state adoptions for middle-grades science textbooks in 1994.

At the same time, the effort could cause a ripple effect throughout the country. At least 17 states will be adopting science textbooks between 1992 and 1994, Mr. Sachse pointed out.

“This is a tremendously important time,” said Mr. Collins of Texas.

The national implications of the joint venture were underscored by the presence at last month’s briefing here of representatives from at least 15 states or territories, ranging from New York to American Samoa.

‘Something New’

To help bring about the collaborative adoption, a team of teachers and specialists from the two states has spent months pinning down where the various schemas overlap in order to define the common core of material in chemistry, biology, physics, and earth and space sciences that the publishers will be expected to include in their submissions.

They also held the two-day meeting here late last month to brief publishers, state officials, and heads of the major science-education organizations on trends in science-education reform.

During the meeting, officials described the potential changes in teacher-training, staff-development, and student assessment that the collaboration may augur.

To accomplish such changes, the officials urged the publishers to be more flexible in how they arrange information around central themes laid out in reform documents.

“We want you to get away from that traditional approach,” Mr. Collins said. “Give us something new.”

While the discussions tended to focus on textbooks, both Mr. Sachse and Mr. Collins indicated that publishers should widen their horizons to consider submissions of such instructional materials as videodisks and computer software.

Texas set a precedent in the acceptance of electronic media as equivalent to printed texts last fall when it adopted a videodisk product developed by Optical Data Corporation, of Warren, N.J., for use in elementary-school science courses.

“We expect that instructional materials will take many forms,” Mr. Sachse said.

Although textbook publishers were much in evidence at the meeting, representatives of Optical Data, Videodiscovery Inc., and the Texas Learning Technology Group--all of which deal primarily with electronic media--also were in attendance.

No ‘Sure Guarantee’

Many science educators present here hailed the initiative as a positive step toward building a much-needed national consensus on reform.

“I have the impression that you’re going to take this seriously and give it your best shot,” said Bill G. Aldridge, NSTA’s executive director.

But some publishers were cautious about what they were being asked to do, citing several factors as potential pitfalls for the new arrangement.

In addition to questioning whether they could produce books that would pass muster in the diverse states, the publishers warned that the call for innovation could run headlong into state mandates for textbooks, which they claim have impeded reforms.

Mr. Collins acknowledged that the new texts will be held to the same standards as their predecessors; successful adoptions in Texas would have to include the “essential elements” mandated by the state board of education.

“The reality is,” said Thomas Shirmang, the Southwest regional director for Scholastic Inc., “that you go into a school district [with a textbook] and they’re going to ask you, ‘How do you correlate with the essential elements?”’

Publishers also argued that the agreement changes the rules under which they are accustomed to operating rather late in the game.

“The books for California are done,” said Richard Monnard, vice president of the school division and director of math and science for Holt, Rinehart & Winston. “I’m in color proofs for the California book.’'

State officials countered, however, that some publishers were demanding something that they could not give.

“I think the publishers want a sure guarantee they’re going to get an adoption,” said Victoria Bergen, Texas’ deputy commissioner for curriculum and program development.

A version of this article appeared in the July 31, 1991 edition of Education Week as Texas and California Plan Joint Adoption Of Science Textbooks