Textbook Publishers Come Under Fire From Former Contributor

By Erik W. Robelen — February 23, 2012 2 min read
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A provocative new blog post offers a sharp critique of the current state of educational publishing, with the author—a former longtime contributor to textbooks—explaining why she’s abandoned that work and believes the quality of curricular materials has declined precipitously. (Hat tip to Robert Pondiscio from the CoreKnowledge blog for alerting me to this through a Tweet this morning.)

“Over the last few years, I’ve stopped developing and writing educational books; there’s no longer any satisfaction in the work, no demand or appreciation for a product well crafted, no way to make a decent living or produce something that I feel proud to have my name attached to,” writes Annie Kheegan in her Chronic Sense blog. The blogger said she worked for more than 20 years in educational publishing as a product developer, writer, and editor of curriculum materials for grades K-8.

The problem, Keeghan says, is the result of what she calls the “new normal” among “too many educational publishers": a severe lack of oversight of the quality of materials and apathy to do anything about it. She highlights the recent consolidation of the industry and describes an environment in which publishers rush their products to market before the competition, even if they’re deeply flawed. She also contends in her blog post, titled “Afraid of Your Child’s Math Textbook? You Should Be,” that the balance between the budgets for marketing and product development has widened rapidly.

(Keeghan does not criticize all educational publishers, though she suggests those doing right are in the minority.)

Keeghan says the work of writing and editing textbooks is far less attractive than it used to be because of changes to the pay structure (e.g. less money) and the extreme demands to produce materials under very tight timelines. As a result, she says, many of the most talented people have abandoned this work.

This new indictment of educational publishing comes on the heels of a new book that I recently blogged about that also takes aim at problems with publishing, as well as the adoption and purchasing of curricular materials.

Keeghan’s blog post already has generated more than three dozen comments, so it’s clearly striking a chord with some readers.

In closing, she says parents should take a close look at the materials their children bring home, and that educators should beware.

“Look at what you’re purchasing,” she says. “Don’t be satisfied with the classic ‘thumb through’ and don’t take those marketing materials or the sales pitch at face value.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.