Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spare Time And Evolution

Since there is no news on the Peace Corps front (patience... flexibility), I found myself wandering back to items in the political sphere again.

From another web log I was directed to an article written by Tamim Ansary who claimed deep experience in the educational textbook arena for K-12 education. It was published in the November 2004 issue of Edutopia under the title, "The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor". The copy of that article is online still, and sheds a bit of light on what, at the time, was the process of publishing a textbook in the United States.

This passage is the striking information:
"In textbook publishing, April is the cruelest month. That's when certain states announce which textbooks they're adopting. When it comes to setting the agenda for textbook publishing, only the twenty-two states that have a formal adoption process count. The other twenty-eight are irrelevant -- even though they include populous giants like New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio -- because they allow all publishers to come in and market programs directly to local school districts.

Adoption states, by contrast, buy new textbooks on a regular cycle, usually every six years, and they allow only certain programs to be sold in their state. They draw up the list at the beginning of each cycle, and woe to publishers that fail to make that list, because for the next seventy-two months they will have zero sales in that state.

Among the adoption states, Texas, California, and Florida have unrivaled clout. Yes, size does matter. Together, these three have roughly 13 million students in K-12 public schools. The next eighteen adoption states put together have about 12.7 million. Though the Big Three have different total numbers of students, they each spend about the same amount of money on textbooks. For the current school year, they budgeted more than $900 million for instructional materials, more than a quarter of all the money that will be spent on textbooks in the nation."
In effect, three states call the shots as to what gets in and stays out of curricula for the nation's students. Of these three, only Texas administers their purchasing agreement for all grades which obviously covers high school textbooks as well as elementary programs. Hence, if you can sell it in Texas, you hit the mother-lode for your sales figures and you can sop up bonus money by pitching the textbooks to the other states who don't follow the adoption process.

The author details the process by which the Texas Board of Education reviews textbooks submitted, and the open hearing process whereby the public may question and comment on the textbooks. It has been through this (and the conservative make up of the Texas Board of Education) that the curriculum held in the hands of students in the Lone Star State have received watered down versions of science for quite some time. Just as recently as March 2009 the Board succeeded in adding language which will require students to "examine all sides of the argument." Clearly a dive for creationism in the classroom at all costs by the board, several of whom are very vocal about their support (any statement by Barbara Cargill on science makes her views perfectly clear).

This is not to put aside Ansary's view on the flawed system of textbook publication in this age, with diluted facts and subtle self-censorship on the part of producers, but to highlight what places the stress on science education almost across the board: a fifteen member panel and vocal activists with little background in the sciences insisting that political and religious views be foisted onto the masses.

To be honest, they are playing the game fair and square (as fair and square can be in Texas). I wonder if colleges and universities might make it known that fewer scholarships for math and science will be issued to native-taught Texans for the foreseeable future; that if given the choice, maybe a student from Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania will have the background suitable for a rigorous education in the honest-to-goodness sciences more than a Texas senior would.

Then again, that probably wouldn't bother some Texans in the slightest. And that is a true shame for the next generation.