Educators Call On Textbook Publishers To Consider Reform Effort's Omissions

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Port Chester, NY--The school-reform movement has helped give a dramatic boost to the textbook industry, 1983 sales figures released at a meeting here last week indicate.

But whether the invitation issued publishers last year by educators--to join in a concerted effort to improve the content of schooling--will also prove educationally profitable remains uncertain, comments by educators and industry representatives attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers' school division suggest.

Publishing executives at the meeting noted that precollegiate textbook sales increased by 13.5 percent in 1983--the largest increase in six years. They attributed that growth largely to the school-reform movement. "Part of that 13.5-percent increase is a recognition by educators that newer books reflect higher levels of content," said Albert Bursma, senior vice president of D.C. Heath and Company.

But educators invited to the meeting to help the publishers assess the implications of the reform movement for the textbook industry suggested that the major reform recommendations now commanding the most national attention fail to address the nation's educational problems adequately. And they urged publishers to look more closely at the issues surrounding equity, technology, and student diversity before rushing to change their materials.

"We wanted to see what representatives from academic areas thought because we feel this [education-reform movement] is going to require different materials from publishers at all levels," said Donald A. Eklund, vice president of the schools division. "Many publishers are very confused about where they will go."

Equity Not Addressed

Milton Goldberg, executive director of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which produced "A Nation at Risk," argued that both the reform reports of the last few years and the subsequent debate over educational improvement failed to address adequately the issue of equity.

"Diversity of population may require diversity of approaches, but it shouldn't lower our expectation that all children can ultimately perform more successfully," he said.

Asa G. Hilliard 3rd, Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education at the School of Education at Georgia State University, agreed, noting that "the equity issue was not addressed because it was not considered."

In addition, he pointed out, the issues of segregation, dropout rates, and teacher-certification tests are not addressed in most reform reports. Such issues were discussed, Mr. Hilliard added, in a report by the National Alliance of Black School Educators, whose task force he chaired. (See Education Week, Nov. 28, 1984.)

The University of Georgia scholar also contended that instructional materials inadequately represent cultural diversity, including the Afro-American culture. "We believe that schools have failed us miser-ably here," he said.

To remedy that situation, he suggested that publishers ensure that classroom materials reflect the experience of all cultures and publish ancillary materials to augment existing texts.

Language-Arts Books

While a number of reform reports have dealt with the subjects of mathematics, science, and English, pointed out Jane Christensen, associate executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, they have paid scant attention to language-arts textbooks.

Ms. Christensen told the publishers that English teachers want more good literature, instructional materials that give students the opportunity to respond, more higher-order thinking skills in texts, and the elimination of readability formulas.

Publishers, she suggested, should build bridges to professional education organizations' research groups to become informed about their findings. Then, she said, they should test that research with a group of teachers before deciding whether to incorporate it into their materials.

Threat Seen in Standards

Two major changes recommended in a number of national reform reports received substantial criticism by educators at the conference. Both Zalman Usiskin, professor of education at the University of Chicago, and Ronald Anderson, professor of education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, expressed concern that recommendations to upgrade requirements and increase curriculum standards would harm non-college-bound students.

Increasing graduation requirements "will not bring the college-bound into the curriculum," Mr. Usiskin said. "They're already there."

Mr. Anderson, who is also the director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Research in Science and Mathematics Education and has studied 69 science-education recommendations from national reports, predicted that such changes will have a "dramatic" negative impact on students who are not bound for college.

Future Markets

Other educators looked past the reform proposals to future markets the publishers might begin to consider.

Theodore R. Sizer, professor of education at Brown University and author of Horace's Compromise, said that while the education-reform movement presents publishers with a genuine opportunity, the major profits in school publishing remain in substantial single items with large sales. "This pattern is reinforced now," he said, "by the movement in American education toward even more powerful state control of curriculum."

Mr. Sizer advised publishers to look instead at the potential markets created by advances in home-based education and the education of increasing numbers of students who are choosing to take the General Educational Development test to gain high-school certification.

'Vast Impact'

Mary Alice White, director of the Electronic Learning Laboratory at Teachers College, Columbia University, told publishers to be aware of the "vast impact" the technical revolution will have on the nature, content, and psychology of the learning process.

Such a revolution, she said, will ultimately provide students with alternative learning environments and offer the opportunity for the development of a "curriculum of individual choice."

Calling many publishers "too print-bound," she urged the executives to broaden their perception of the computer as a learning tool. And she challenged them with the question: "Why don't you invent software that is so compelling people will buy computers in order to use it?"

Further, Ms. White asked the publishers to ask themselves who, in a society that is heading for "info-glut," is developing a curriculum to help students evaluate the quality of that information.

'Missing the Boat'

Marc Tucker, the newly appointed director of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, disagreed that there is a computer revolution in schools but acknowledged that, if the climate of opinion changes and the ratio of computers to students increases, textbooks will have to be rewritten to account for the use of computers.

At that time, he said, the curriculum will be viewed as a whole package comprising both print and computer material. But Mr. Tucker added that he was unsure whether publishers would take note of this trend. "Many publishers, I think, are missing the boat," he said.


Summing up the two-day conference's discussions, Howard D. Mehlinger, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University, cautioned that unless the current reform debate is long-lived and educators incorporate its recommendations into the curriculum over a significant period of time, it is unlikely to have a long-term effect on the publishers or their products.

"That is why these publishers are talking to people in the schools,'' Mr. Mehlinger said. "Ultimately, the policymakers aren't going to buy very many books."

Vol. 04, Issue 19

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