Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cobb Schools: Textbooks

Math texts is ostensibly what this is all about. Or more to point, not ordering new textbooks. The demand, masked as a need, for these textbooks is predicated on the notion that the new curriculum, Common Core, requires new texts. Now no one is contending that two plus two no longer equals four or the Pythagorean Theorem has been disproven or that the definite integral no longer yields the area under the curve. Newton is safe. Cobb County's budget on the other hand is not.

Textbook publication is a major industry, highly profitable with tentacles that reach far and wide. It thrives on churn which provides ongoing revenue streams and silences naysayers who suggest that a text, particularly a math text, need not change by co-opting them into their system. Professors are paid as consultants, editors or "co-authors" though their contributions are unknown and given the number that appear in the front matter of these texts any individual contribution must be quite small. Public school officials in any way associated with the buying process feast at the smorgasbord of perks that publishers lay out before them. So it should come as no surprise that math textbooks are not selected based on proven educational outcomes. If that were the case we'd all be using the original Saxxon texts.

But there is a lot of "learning" whenever new texts are released--it's called "teacher training". As noted earlier math teachers are so on top of their subject matter, so capable in their profession that whenever a text is changed they must be re-trained. And this is an offensively expensive service offered by book publishers.

The academic industry built up around public education could have addressed this long ago. After all are these not the "Pros from Dover" when it comes to teacher education, training and preparation? Are they now AWOL when it comes to "maintenance training"? Also, merely requiring that professors in colleges of education participate in the creation of freely available content for classroom presentation, curricula development and lesson planning as a component of their advancement towards tenure would have displaced publisher materials decades ago. Absent the politically correct multicultural photos and the distracting eye candy on-demand publishing would have been economically viable twenty years ago and today web publishing and ebooks further drive down costs as well as time and effort. As is pointed out oh so often they'll give anyone a blog.

Perhaps this is a good time to point out to the anti-charter crowd who so loathes "for-profit organizations" in public education that these publishers are for-profit corporations and not a branch of PBS. Or not. Or for those so afraid of their local school system being run by outsiders folks in Georgia might be surprised to learn that the content of textbooks has little to do with what anyone at the state or local level wants. At least in this state, because textbook publishers target California, Texas and New York for textbook content, tests and classroom materials. They decide what goes into your classrooms. And if we are to believe the AJC report, the textbook drives the curricula and the classroom presentation and frankly pretty much everything about the students' experience.

Maybe the folks in Cobb County understand what's really going on with this fat-cat industry and have had enough of getting nothing for quite a bit of something. Or maybe they're just broke and can no longer afford to turn a blind eye.