Letters To the Editor:

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Congratulations to Vincent Rogers for his Commentary ("School Texts: The Outlook of Teachers," Aug. 3, 1988).

In the midst of this long spell of textbook bashing, Mr. Rogers has shown that common sense is, unfortunately, not very common at all.

His look at the use of textbooks by teachers is a refreshing departure from the sensationalized reports done by so many of the self-styled "experts" on the topic.

Responses from the 100 teachers Mr. Rogers surveyed parallel those of the 800 social-studies teachers who make up the adviser-responder schools network of the National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools.

Although our report will not be out until late in the year, preliminary tabulations of our surveys of these teachers show agreement with Mr. Rogers's group that teachers should play a major role in textbook-adoption procedures and that textbooks have improved over the last several years.

The surveyed teachers also value textbooks that contain useful exercises and review materials.

And, like Mr. Rogers's group, they are not blind admirers of all textbooks chosen by their school districts. One teacher describes a state-history book as very poor, while another calls the same book "an embarrassment."

And a high-school American-history textbook rated one of the best by most of its reviewers is characterized by teachers as "packed with too much content," "good for teachers, lousy for student use," and "excellent as a reference book."

But the most revealing data we have collected are responses to questions concerning teachers' use of supplementary materials. The preliminary tabulations suggest that perceptions of the role textbooks play in social-studies instruction could be exaggerated: Our findings show that teachers simply do not rely on textbooks to the extent generally supposed.

What we need are more studies like that done by Mr. Rogers and further examination of textbooks, supplementary materials, and teachers' use of them.

Fay Metcalf Executive Director National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

I read with interest Vincent Rogers's Commentary.

I can express only amazement at his report on the gap between what current critics say about textbooks and teachers' perceptions of textbook quality.

As a researcher who has spent much time studying textbooks, I must concur with colleagues who characterize these books as superficial and poorly written materials.

An examination of teachers' guides shows that textbooks have indeed changed--for the worse. Materials common in current basals--including detailed lesson plans, scripts for teachers to read, and worksheets--are a recent phenomenon.

Mr. Rogers reports that teachers find textbooks "beautifully illustrated." Do these illustrations serve any instructional purpose, or have teachers come to equate prettiness with instruction?

My research has found that many illustrations in texts have little or no relation to content. Indeed, texts are in danger of becoming picture books: A recent study I conducted found that, on average, 30 percent of the content pages of a textbook consisted of illustrations, many of them having little to do with the content of the book.

Rather than concern ourselves with making "balanced judgments" about textbooks--that is, taking the opinions expressed by Mr. Rogers's teachers at face value--we should see these findings as an indication of how far we have to go in educating teachers about the quality of a tool they use daily.

Arthur Woodward Research Associate University of Rochester Rochester, N.Y.

To the Editor:

In reading the Commentary by Vincent Rogers, I wondered if the author and his colleagues had looked at any of the textbooks in question or simply responded on the basis of reports they had read.

The essay suggests they had looked only at the reports. If they had, in fact, looked at the texts in question, would they have concurred with the critics?

In workshops I have conducted for elementary- and secondary-school faculties, teachers have, when shown examples, readily picked up on the typical criticisms aimed at texts.

Such experiences empower teachers to question the strongest force in American education.

The inability of teachers to see the gross shortcomings of many texts poses a major challenge for preservice and inservice education.

Teachers are rightly gaining more say in textbook decisions. But unless they advocate the kinds of changes suggested by recent critics and validated by research, publishers will conclude that the market is not ready and will not make the necessary improvements.

And because their teachers don't see the limitations in commercial materials, students continue to be plagued with poor texts.

Randy Schenkat Special Needs Consultant Independent School District 861 Winona, Minn.

To the Editor:

I read with great concern your article detailing California Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig's condemnation of three publishers of student-recognition books ("'Honor Roll' Directories a Scam, Honig Charges," Aug. 3, 1988).

I wish to note that our publication, Who's Who Among American High School Students, was not one of the organizations named in Mr. Honig's warning.

As the publisher of Who's Who, I support valid concerns regarding the ethics and value of any program involving students.

We object, however, to the generalized criticism cited, which characterizes all programs in the same negative manner.

For 20 years, we have urged the education community to establish uniform standards that would enable educators, parents, and students at the high-school and college levels to evaluate the relative merits of any recognition program, be it sponsored by a for-profit or nonprofit organization.

In 1978, our Committee on Ethics, Standards, and Practices, a group of distinguished educators, created standards for our program that could be used to evaluate all recognition programs.

These standards, sent to more than 20,000 high schools each year, have served as guidelines for criteria developed by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, the American School Counselors Association, and the state principals' associations of Iowa, Colorado, and Wisconsin.

We do not claim that recognition in Who's Who will help a student get into the college of his choice.

Nevertheless, it is inaccurate to say that colleges place no value on this honor. We regularly survey admissions officials and have found that, at many colleges, admissions personnel evaluate such recognition much as they do other honors, awards, and activities.

The article quoted the negative views of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Readers should note, however, that nassp sponsors the National Honor Society, the largest student-recognition program in the U.S.

Nassp has continually blocked efforts to develop uniform standards for student-recognition programs, even while some of nassp's key executives have criticized this evidently self-serving position.

Recognition in Who's Who entails no financial obligations. While honorees and their parents have the option of purchasing their own Who's Who directory, free recognition is guaranteed through the 15,000 complimentary copies distributed to libraries, high schools, and colleges nationwide.

I founded Who's Who Among American High School Students in 1967, a time in our country's history when teen-agers were much maligned as a group. It was and still is my goal to see that bright, hard-working young people receive the positive reinforcement and recognition they deserve.

Paul C. Krouse President Who's Who Among American High School Students Lake Forest, Ill.

Vol. 08, Issue 01

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