Texas & the Textbooks

A friend e-mailed this article from the local paper:

Six publishers submitted drafts of their textbooks to the TEA hoping to get in line for selection of the next generation of math books that will be used in Texas public schools next fall.

One publisher, Houghton Mifflin, left more than 86,000 errors in books, 79 percent of the total.

(AP –“School Textbooks Rife With Errors”)

Not that Houghton Mifflin was alone; in the six 109,263 errors were found.

Much has said about the committee which chooses textbooks for Texas schools – and little of it good. Much has also been said about the competing ways in which the big buyers (California and Texas) affect these texts. For instance, the Gabler’s power was mythic. While these competing forces may have watered down the texts (all claiming, of course, to do the opposite), these policies would seem less likely to affect math texts. I suspect this quantity of mistakes reflects a lack of respect for the discipline – that often seems true in literature. Of course, it doesn’t respect teachers who choose among the final six, nor students learning these skills.

I work in a fuzzier area; some biographical facts are wrong, but don’t go to the core of our work. Of course, a silly bias often permeates the introductions. Norton is much better than its competitors; still it claims immigration in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was because large manufacturers wanted willing workers to keep salaries down. Somehow they manage to ignore the lure of land, the desire to get away from oppressive & class-ridden societies, the freedoms offered here. Their statement isn’t false, however; it merely indicates a politicized & ill-informed primacy. Fortunately, the literature they include is argument enough – Willa Cather’s My Antonia demonstrates not just how hard it was for immigrants but why they were willing to take on those hardships and, ultimately, how many became successful in their new land.

9 thoughts on “Texas & the Textbooks”

  1. “(Norton) claims immigration in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was because large manufacturers wanted willing workers to keep salaries down…Their statement isn’t false, however”…I think it may be false. It’s well-known that railroads encouraged immigration: they could benefit both from providing transportation and from land sales. I’ve never heard of “large manufacturers” doing this. Any examples?

  2. The educational monopoly is in its Brezhnevite phase of drooling senility.

    It needs to be totally destroyed by market forces.

    Creative destruction is the only solution.

    Mere tweaking won’t do it. The entire educational establishment is a gangrenous limb on the American body-politic. Amputation, not a pedicure.

    Golden days are ahead once we pass through the period of wrenching adjustment.

  3. I agree, but what is the catalyst?

    Saw an interesting analysis that it was the Saudis who dropped the Soviet Union by expanding production in the mid ’80s and cratering oil prices which was the hard rock against which the Reagan build-up was pounding.

    Who will be our Saudis?

  4. David,
    My text is at school & I’ll check it Monday to see if there are any references, though I’m sure they aren’t within the text of the intro itself.

    I groused about this in the coffee room and the historians there seemed to accept it as a cause – but they saw it as maybe seventh or eighth or lower. The railroads were big advertisers of American land in Europe but chain migration was also a big factor. (That’s why almost all the Italians in this area are from Sicily and a fairly small area of Sicily at that. The Czechs can trace letters that were published about this area in newspapers in the nineteenth century.) Then there are the religious groups that proliferated in Europe and came here because of the freedom. Of course, as my historian colleague pointed out, the reason manufacturers wanted immigrants was because they needed a flow of workers – the immigrants would work for a while, save up their money, and go to where they could buy land or start a business or in some other way make their way independently of the factory owner. They wouldn’t have needed this flow if it weren’t that the workers kept moving onward and, generally, upward.

  5. Textbooks for public schools are something that could be generated using the software open source model. Since the State pays the cost of the physical textbook regardless of who creates the content it doesn’t really matter how the content gets put together. A few such projects already exist and there is no reason they could not be adopted.

    All it would take would be wiki devoted to the project. We would probably need to restrict initial input and editing to formal academics and teachers. The state could require all academics who are state employees to contribute. Then the initial version could be opened to general comment. Finally, the board could approve the book.

    In the open source model, dozens and sometimes hundreds of people work on only one small part of the overall work. Such specialization makes errors easier to catch. Developing the text to the end stage in software will reduce the need to reissue correction volume.

    All in all it would be cheaper and most likely more accurate.

  6. Why do things like math textbooks need to be updated anyway? There is a multi-billion dollar industry built on peddling the latest and greatest text books. Of course the sales pitch is given to the schools that your scores are low, just try this new style math and everything will be better. Dupes in the education establishment think teaching math in new creative ways will improve their students scores. Instead, they should be focusing on the tried and true while saving the money on textbooks.

  7. Updating is also a way of including everything & the kitchen sink that others do to improve your competitive position. And, of course, reducing used book sales. I tend to doubt conspiracies but it is a bit like once the blue laws went, store hours went longer and longer. At some point, I assume, the marketplace restores itself to sanity – but it may take a while.

  8. There’s a lot more behind this story that no one is asking about. Where did the number of errors come from? Were the errors counted in the same way? What counts as a single error? Watch the news. I think you’ll see more about this.

    About updating math textbooks, it is based solely on states changing their standards. Recently states have been demanding textbooks that cover their standards alone — and taught in the way they want them taught. Gone are the days of a single math textbook for the nation. The same is true of other subject areas.

    When you are trying to teach a topic in a way that the state prescribes — vaguely — it can lead to lot of “errors.”

  9. I was brought to your site by a Google search, and chanced upon this comment:

    “Mrs. Davis Says:
    . . . Saw an interesting analysis that it was the Saudis who dropped the Soviet Union by expanding production in the mid ’80s and cratering oil prices which was the hard rock against which the Reagan build-up was pounding.”

    I’m not sure what what Mrs Smith means by “the Saudis who dropped the Soviet Union” or by “cratering oil prices,” but I might be able to figure these things out if Mrs. Smith’s desire to communicate with the world had included a reference to the article or book she had been reading with such interest. I know you folks can’t possibly edit every comment, but is there no way to encourage people to give credit to the author (probably under-paid and otherwise under-rewarded) when they find something stimulating and want to bring it to the attention of others? Or is this just one more failure to cringe at and blame on our education system?

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