Education: December 2004 Archives

Textbook payola


Donald Luskin posts a message from reader Jameson Campaigne about corruption in textbook purchasing decisions. Some excerpts:

At a meeting of the nuns who chose elementary reading texts for the diocese schools in Chicago some decades ago, the head honcho nun praised a look-say basal reading series that nearly destroyed American literacy, and a voice from the back of the room quipped, "C'mon Sister, we know they buy you a new car every year!" ...

The cartel even conspires to prevent competition by lobbying through state laws which say, roughly, no state money can be spent on a textbook series with a copyright older than "X" years. In other words, a tried-and-true textbook series which really teaches kids how to read -- like that of the small firm Open Court, which consequently was forced to sell its superb program to McGraw Hill -- has to be scrapped or completely revised every "X" years, at the cost of $20+ million, an amount only the giants can afford.

The reasonable desire for every child to have his own textbook, combined with a belief that newer is better, provides fertile ground for textbook profiteers. Campaigne makes the point that centralized purchasing decisions make a publisher's job easier: Instead of having to convince someone in every school district to buy its books, it can target its marketing campaign (and possibly bribery) on a handful of individuals in each state. He advocates eliminating federal involvement in education and reducing the state role to administering tests and providing funds in the form of vouchers, so that parents can reward the schools that perform best. Campaigne quotes Wheeler's Law: "The way to get rid of corruption in high places is to get rid of the high places."

Textbook publishers don't make any money if schools are content with the books they have. It becomes essential for the publisher's bottom line to encourage new research revealing that their previous edition is inadequate and must be replaced. Universities are happy to receive funding to conduct such studies and to reach the conclusions desired by their sponsors. The mainstream media turns a blind eye to all this because many media conglomerates include a textbook publishing division.

Parents and children just want something that works.

Hat tip to Ace of Spades, who linked to that article, commenting on President Bush's failure to communicate clearly on this issue:

But Bush has this tendency to speak in shorthand, and it gets him into trouble. This person actually supported Bush's call to return to older, more effective ways of teaching children to read, but because he didn't make a very strong effort to explain what phonics was, this person thought he was calling for some newfangled and untested pedagogy. When in fact he was doing the opposite: calling for a rejection of the newfangled pedagogy, now tested and found wanting, and calling for a return to the old ways of teaching reading, the exact methods she favored.

Bush is the Great Miscommunicator, alas.

For speaking in shorthand, no one could beat Bob Dole, who chose to deliver all his 1996 campaign speeches in Senatese. It's easy to forget that not everyone is working from the same frame of reference.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Education category from December 2004.

Education: November 2004 is the previous archive.

Education: February 2005 is the next archive.

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