First, kill all the textbooks

William Shakespeare penned the famous line in Henry the Sixth: ?The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers,? setting off a wave of lawyer jokes that continues 400 years later.

Had Shakespeare had the opportunity to witness the infighting and special interest politics of state textbook adoption processes, he might have found a better target for his ire.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Florida lawmakers have introduced a bill that includes, among other things, a provision that would change the state's textbook adoption process.

The [provision] would replace the state's formal review committees?which include lay citizens, teachers, teacher supervisors and a school board member?with a trio of subject-matter experts appointed by the state education commissioner.

School districts would appoint teachers and content supervisors to rate the practical usability of the texts recommended by the state's experts.

Opponents of the bill??Tea Party? conservatives chief among them?are outraged.

"'We the People' should have a say on what textbooks OUR CHILDREN read," Tea Party activist Shari Krass wrote recently in a letter to Scott.

Krass and activists like her believe some texts used by Florida schools are slanted to favor Islam over Judaism and Christianity?

?"This legislation 'ties our hands'?where we will be restricted in our ability to influence our children's education," she wrote.

Of course, battles over textbook adoption seem, on some level, beside the point. If a state has set clear expectations for what students should know and be able to do, why does it need to prescribe the text from which students should learn that content?

If the state wants to ensure that all students are learning the same, rigorous content, wouldn't it be better to assess student knowledge and leave textbook and take state-level politics out of the curriculum game?

In the end, no textbook is perfect. Most are, in fact, bland, boring, and pitched at too-low reading levels. Hardly a recipe for inspiring a deep love of learning. Worse, evidence abounds that statewide textbook adoption processes themselves actually contribute to the dumbing down of textbooks. In 2004, Fordham released a report on textbook adoption where we found that adoption:

consistently produces second-rate textbooks that replicate the same flaws and failings over and over again. Adoption states perform poorly on national tests, and the market incentives caused by the adoption process are so skewed that lively writing and top-flight scholarship are discouraged. Every individual analyst and expert panel that has studied American K-12 textbooks has concluded that they are sorely lacking and that the adoption process cries out for reform.

Those criticisms are likely as valid today as they were in '04. So, if Florida parents, educators and lawmakers want to ensure that students learn the same rigorous content, they should focus on setting clear and rigorous standards, assessing student mastery of the content and skills outlined therein, and then pass a law that gets state bureaucrats out of the textbook game altogether.

--Kathleen Porter-Magee

(H/T to Erik Robelen at Curriculum Matters for the link.)

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