Educational Research Analysts  November 2006 Newsletter  
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California textbooks'
daybreak of reckoning

427 factual errors
stir buzz
No improvement until
adoption process fixed
Democratize textbook
approvals, study says
In the week of September 25, 2006 – climaxing an arduous pioneer venture – we faxed to over 1800 California public middle schools our rating sheet on five new 8th grade U.S. History texts ap­proved for adoption there. We then snail mailed the same info (on page 5 of this newsletter) to 400-plus California Christian middle schools state­wide. Our goals were to influence sales of these books; to win rule changes making text­books up for adoption more available for public inspection; and to show why Cali­fornia, which currently state-approves only K-8 texts, should state-approve high school books too. Never have reviewers gained such access to submit­ted Cali­for­nia sample texts, as this. Never have conser­vatives probed them so deeply, as here. Never have non-Cali­for­nians so fil­led the state with their find­ings, as now. And what we found, California must heed.


We found in California textbooks a higher factual-error rate than in Texas. In 2002 we reviewed four Texas high school U.S. His­tory books whose total page count about equaled these five California 8th grade U.S. History texts. In the Texas books we found 249 factual errors; in California's, 427. Why the difference? California's state textbook approval process curtails public access to submit­ted samples, while Texas' promotes it. (Our press release details this on page 4.) Poor editing is more likely in California because publish­ers know California is less likely to catch or punish it. The factual-error prob­lem is to the point where publishers are virtually daring the state not to act. Not until Californians can check out submitted sam­ples at display centers for thorough home review – starting in May each year as in Texas – will California get a handle on it.
We also found, as our rating sheet notes, that these "final," "corrected" California edi­tions shortchanged big U.S. History topics like the Ameri­can Revolution, con­sti­tu­tional issues, and free-market economic perspec­tives. How did this pass Cali­for­nia muster? Either educa­tion officials liked it that way, or the number of textbooks submitted overwhelmed the review panels (the five 8th grade U.S. History texts alone ran to about 4000 pages and took us eight months to critique). And though Cali­for­nia school districts may "pilot" the new books for a year before choos­ing one, nothing says localities must first read them, so some adopt more or less blindly with­out piloting. Cali­for­nians getting more access to more submit­ted samples soon after their annual filing with the state is the only demo­cratic check and balance capable of monitor­ing pub­lish­er accountability.

the myth of "local control"

The knock on California state-approving high school textbooks is that it would erode local control. But single school districts have zero quality control over textbooks and no market power to improve them. They must take or leave what is. On textbooks, "local control" means "no control." The public school textbook market is an oli­gop­o­ly. A few big publishers dominate. State-approval levels this playing field. It is necessary to textbook reform. Publishers will cater to large states that state-approve like Cali­for­nia. With that market leverage Cali­fornia can reform high school textbooks as well. More­over, unlike single school dis­tricts, California can enact fines to deter publish­ers from sending sub­stan­dard texts into its class­rooms. Had publish­ers sold Texas books with 427 factual errors, a Texas rule levies fines of up to $5000 per error, or over $2 million.
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