Study: School Textbooks Offer 'National Curriculum'

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - The school textbooks put out by the "big four" publishers offer a one-size-fits-all approach to education, according to a new study by the Center for Education Reform (CER).

The problem, according to the study, stems from the fact that textbooks are often geared to the needs of only three states: California, Texas and Florida, because these populous states purchase textbooks on a statewide basis and account for 30 percent of the K-12 market.

In fact, more than 20 states play a large role in picking the books used by every classroom in the state. Because of these market incentives, new or smaller textbook companies are capturing only 30 percent of the $3.3 billion market, the study says.

"The result is an increasing trend towards texts that are long on visual gimmicks, short on factual information and homogenized in content," said CER president Jeanne Allen.

That's because textbook manufacturers allegedly cater to controversial education trends, like multi-culturalism or "whole language" approach to learning, a way of teaching that, as one supporter put it, "stresses the flow and meaning of the text" rather than the "rules and repetition of phonics."

It's having a "trickle down effect, weakening the classroom instruction by teachers who are more often than not reliant upon these books for a de facto lesson plan," said Allen.

Parents and teachers need more control over which textbooks are chosen, according to Allen, as well as "an increased emphasis on the importance of content rather than political correctness."

Virginia is one state that thinks it's found a solution to what CER calls the "textbook conundrum."

The state evaluates all textbooks sent by publishers to the Department of Education, giving each book a "score" based on how closely it matches learning requirements on the state-wide Standards of Learning (SOL) test.

Local schools, armed with the state's evaluation, then get to buy whatever textbooks they want-or not.

"Some of the school divisions that had the highest text scores in the state or the best improvement in the states had actually kept their old phonics text books and either didn't buy the new ones or didn't use them," said Cheri Yecke, deputy press secretary for the Virginia Department of Education. "They said, 'You can't tell on us.'"

"When California embraced whole language learning in the late 1980s, that had a ripple effect," Yecke explained. "Even if you were not a whole language state, you ended up having that as your choice of texts."

"What we have found," said Yecke, "is that superintendents who have chosen to stay on the path of what's tried and true and research-based have had more success in raising student achievement."