Revise the State Textbook Process to Provide Greater Local Control

The state textbook process should be significantly revised to provide local districts with more flexibility to use and purchase textbooks.

Texas is one of 22 states that has a process for state approval of curricular materials, principally textbooks. 1 In the publishers lexicon, Texas is closed territory. Centralized textbook adoption policies mean that local public school districts in most cases, must purchase basic textbooks for every grade and subject area from lists approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Since 1929, the SBOE has been assisted in its work b y the State Textbook Committee, an advisory group that reviews and recommends which books should be placed on the state adoption list. Local districts order textbooks from the list. The state then purchases and distributes to the schools.

Other states that operate a centralized adoption process are located mostly in the South and Southwest. In open territory states mainly in the East, Midwest and Far West publishers sell directly to school districts or to individual schools. Historically, arguments in favor of state adoption policies have centered around four basic themes:

(1) volume purchases will lead to lower prices;
(2) state adoption guarantees that selections will be done by experts, whereas local adoption can result in the adoption of poor textbooks;
(3) state adoption assures uniformity and lowers the costs associated with a mobile population (students who move will not need remedial education); and
(4) uniformity at the state level is needed to establish minimum educational standards throughout the state. 2

In the late 19th century, there was a widespread perception throughout the South that teachers were incompetent and easily swayed by textbook agents. 3 Quality textbooks chosen by state experts were seen as a way to mitigate this problem.

Ironically, more recent arguments suggest that state control is important for textbook, not teacher, quality. The theory suggests that publishers must be regulated in order to prevent textbooks that are publicly perceived as error-ridden from being allowed to reach the textbook market.

Under the current system, which was revised extensively in 1989, 15-member proclamation advisory committees write proclamations in each subject area. Proclamations are bids for textbooks that outline for publishers the material that texts should cover for adoption in Texas. The Texas Education Agency s (TEA) Curriculum Development Division provides background research for the committee members. The division also supervises nominations to the committees, conducts backgroun d work on nominees and develops a list of recommended members.

The proclamation committees are appointed by SBOE and are comprised of one representative from each SBOE region and include classroom teachers. Currently, 11 proclamation advisory committees are at work on 11 different subject areas. The proclamations are based on the essential elements for each grade as defined by SBOE. Books are replaced on a six-year cycle.

Once the proclamation committees write the proclamations, the bids for textbooks are issued by the TEA, and publishers submit textbooks for adoption to the state textbook committees (a group of independent subject-area committees). The committees review the textbooks for accuracy and adherence to the proclamations. Once approved, the textbooks are sent to SBOE for a public hearing and for adoption. No more than eight books can be adopted for each subject at any grade level.

Once adopted by SBOE, sample textbooks are sent to school districts where they are examined by local school officials and book orders are placed. Districts, through their textbook coordinators, order the books they desire from the TEA s Textbook Administration Division. Classes are entitled to receive books to cover 110 percent of enrollment for the first year of adoption.

A state textbook depository in Austin replaces lost or damaged books by refurbishing them to extend their life span and save the state money. The depository, which has a 20-person staff, also redistributes surplus current-adoption textbooks, Brai lle books and large-type books.

Increasing Textbook Costs
A major concern with textbooks is their escalating costs. Texas will spend more than $270 million for textbooks during the current biennium, and SBOE s proposal for textbooks in 1994-95 is over $280 million. Most of the cost increases for the next biennium are attributed to the high price of reading textbooks being adopted during the current cycle. While costly, proponents of the new readers say that they are the most thorough reading texts ever de veloped. The price tag for the readers also buys staff development and training for teachers and more comprehensive measures of assessing student reading achievement.

Another reason textbook costs are increasing is that more color pictures are in texts to make them visually appealing. Often, publishers and educators claim that these additional costs are necessary because today s television and computer knowledgeable students will be bored by conventional textbooks. The resulting textbooks may contain 30 percent illustrations, many of which can be of dubious educational value. 4 Also, textbooks are revised frequently to show purchasers that they are receiving better and more up-to-date books. The philosophy that newer is better certainly applies to the textbook publishing industry.

Because the concept of essential elements is unique to Texas, publishers claim that they incur additional costs to develop both pupil and teacher editions of textbooks for the Texas market. However, TEA staff refute this asse rtion, stating that when Texas textbooks are compared with those in other states, the differences in pupil editions are relatively minor. The major differences are in the teachers editions, where text material is correlated with the essential elements.

Several publishers representatives and a state board member interviewed by the Texas Performance Review attributed at least some of the escalation in textbook costs to the creation of the proclamation advisory committee structure. In essence, committee mem bers are asked to design the ideal textbook without considering cost as a factor. As a result, publishers seek to meet the specifications with no cost-regulating guidelines. The SBOE is considering several alterations to the current process to help control costs. Publishers could be brought into the process earlier to help determine more accurate cost projections for proposed proclamations. Another alternative is pricing instructions for publishers in the proclamations.

Lack of Market Incentives
The nature of Texas system, with the state buying any textbook the district chooses, eliminates the need for districts to consider textbook prices. The state pays the bill regardless of whether the chosen text is a $9,000 electronic instructional system, or a set of $35 textbooks. SBOE appropriation requests are based on the average price of the books adopted, with the assumption that the total state cost will not exceed the average price of all the adopted books. While it has not yet occurred, it is possible for d istricts to choose more expensive books and create a deficit of funds for textbook purchases. Other states with centralized purchasing usually control costs through an allocation process that distributes state textbook dollars on a per-pupil allotment, whi ch limits overall costs.

Local districts do not have an incentive to manage their textbooks in a cost-effective manner. If a student loses or damages a textbook, the district simply orders a replacement book paid for by the state. Students are required t o pay the local district for the textbook s cost if they lose one, and the district remits the money to TEA. However, field audits conducted by TEA routinely find instances where students are charged for textbooks but the money is not sent to the state. Di stricts lack any incentive to protect and manage their textbook supply efficiently.

Texas is unique in its textbook distribution system; every other state with a centralized adoption process provides funding to local districts, either directly or through an allocation of credits to the local districts. Once the local district receives an allocation, it has an incentive to be cost-effective in order to get the best books for the lowest prices. Since replacement books may have to be bought out of the distri ct s allotment, they have an incentive to take better care of their books.

It seems reasonable that since Texas is the nation s largest textbook purchaser, the state would get a discount in its textbook purchases. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Oth er states and school districts insist that publishers observe what is called a most favored nation clause in textbook contracts (similar in concept to federal treaties covering international trade). Under this clause, publishers promise that the price th at they quote to a given purchaser represents the lowest price that the textbook is offered anywhere in the nation. If Texas were given a price reduction, it would then apply to nearly every other textbook purchaser and eliminate any potential volume disco unt.

Criticisms of Textbook Quality
Critics from many different interest groups assail the poor quality of textbooks. They are described as boring, poorly written, superficial and full of inaccuracies. The long adoption process, coupled with rapid technological advances, can lead to books be coming out-of-date long before replacements are ordered. Readability formulas (mathematical equations based on vocabulary and sentence length) are used to make books easier to read. In reality, they often result in poo r writing with awkward prose that discourages students from reading.

Criticisms concerning quality were bolstered by recent public allegations that textbooks were full of errors. In particular, the U.S. history textbooks were criticized for containing an alleged 512 errors of fact. Publishers counter that the 512 alleged er rors are from a total of approximately 2 million facts, yielding an error rate of only 0.026 percent. Furthermore, the publishers maintain that the 512 alleged errors include 248 errors made by the textbook critics themselves. 5

In addition to disputing the number of errors, publishers question the severity of many errors. Many errors are really matters of interpretation.

Errors that are verified by TEA can result in fines being levied against a publisher. These fines can be fairly substantial. For example, one publisher involved in the history textbook adoption has paid $100,000 in fines, while the market for the text in q uestion is estimated at $1.6 million.

There ar e some fairly significant problems with the textbook adoption process as it currently exists. School districts have no monetary incentive to hold costs down, or even consider the costs involved in adopting a textbook. Lacking pricing guidelines, publishers strive to create the ideal textbook, driving up costs. Also, state adoption runs counter to the stated policy of moving towards an outcome-based, as opposed to process-based, accountability system. That is, districts should be judged on the accomplishment s of their students and not on the method used to obtain the results. State adoption can be seen as an impediment to innovation in classroom instruction.

Texas achieves some degree of standardization and uniformity through a centralized adoption system. Yet, with recent consolidations in the publishing industry, there are fewer players in what has become a national textbook market. Just eight companies cont rol 80 percent of the U.S. school textbook market, providing a degree of standardization that was missing in the past. 6 It is ironic that textbooks are produced by only a few companies for numerous states and local districts, all of whom have supposedly unique textbook guidelines and curriculum.

Perhaps most significantly, there appears to be little relationship between state adoption and student achievement. Arguably, if there were such a connection, Texas students would be performing at or near the top in national comparisons. In fact, many of t he states with relatively high levels of educational achievement, such as Iowa and Minnesota, allow local districts to select their textbooks.

The current system is based on an increasingly outdated set of notions about education. It presumes that teachers cannot be trusted to decide which books are best for their needs; that a small group can generate textbook criteria that will be appropriate f or every child in every learning situation; and that state adoption ensures uniform quality. In the words of two reformers: State adoption presumes that there is one best way and that each state knows what it is. The system will not work in an era that cries out for a confession of ignorance, for humble, organized experimentation at the school site by those who see the children day by day, and for sensitive choices by reflective teachers. ...[I]f teachers are obliged to give their children books designed for another era, we will almost inevitably fail the very children on whom our civil and economic future depends. 7

A. The Legislature should elimina te the proclamation advisory committees and the subject matter state textbook committees and reduce the transfer from the Available School Fund to the State Textbook Fund by the amount of savings identified in this review.

TEA s Curriculum Development Division should develop broad guidelines instead of detailed proclamations for publishers that list the essential elements that textbooks sold in Texas should cover. New textbooks would be purchased for different subject areas on a time cycle in order to ma ke sure that every student receives new books regularly. Local districts would select textbooks themselves, using local adoption committees (these are already used in many larger school districts). Also, text selection in low-performing districts would be reviewed by the Curriculum Development Division of TEA to see if the textbooks are satisfactory. Publishers whose materials are judged to be inferior, based upon either reported and verified errors or failure to address the essential elements, may be place d on a non-approved list. These books could no longer be purchased using state funds.

The Textbook Administration Division would be eliminated (resulting in a reduction of 36 FTEs) and staffing in the Textbook Development section of the Curriculum Division would be reduced. The division s state textbook depository would be removed from TEA and transformed into a cooperative venture, with funding from school districts using their services. The division s responsibilities for Braille and large-type books would be transferred to another division within the agency or to the Regional Education Service Centers.

Some cuts would be possible in the Curriculum Division because it would no longer be required to act as a resource for the proclamation and the subject area committees.

Instead of developing detailed proclamations, the Curriculum Development Division would be involved in developing broad guidelines that publishers and local school districts could use to determine if textbooks cover Texas essential elements. The textbook development staff would work with the accreditation section to evaluate textbooks used in low-performing districts.

B. The state should provide textbooks for students by distributing textbook funds to local districts at a set amount per pupil to give districts an incentive to consider costs when selecting textbooks.

Each district would receive a per-pupil allotment for instructional materials at least 80 percent of the money must be spent on textbooks and the remainder may be spe nt for other instructional materials. The per-pupil amount to be spent on textbooks would be determined by the Legislature. Districts would purchase new books annually in subject areas as instructed by SBOE, however, there would not be an official state a doption list. Textbooks and other materials would be purchased by, and would belong to, the local school district. This also would give districts an incentive for better textbook care. The state would no longer be responsible for purchasing and distributin g textbooks.

An amendment to Article VII, Section 3 of the Texas Constitution would be required to implement these changes. The amendment would specify that it shall be the duty of SBOE to set aside a sufficient amount of revenue to assist local districts with provid ing free textbooks for the use of children attending the public free schools of this state.

A significantly deregulated textbook process would save the state substantial resources that are currently devoted to textbook devel opment and administration. It also would grant decision-making power to local school districts in accordance with state goals for a less-regulated educational system. It also recognizes the fact that there is no one single instructional method that can mee t the needs of all students in all regions of the state. This policy would involve the state in textbook selection only in cases where accreditation teams find that student achievement is low and textbooks are judged to be of inferior quality.

Local control, by its very nature, would mean that public concerns about textbook content would be transferred from SBOE, where it is currently focused, to the state s more than 1,050 local school districts and their elected boards. Local control may result in greater pressure to censor books based on religious or political grounds.

Fiscal Impact
Money for textbooks, including administration, comes from the State Textbook Fund. This fund contains money transferred from the Available School Fund, along with funds from the sale of unused books and all amounts lawfully paid into the fund from any other source. Expenditures from the State Textbook Fund are budgeted at $2.3 million for fiscal 1993. This amount includes $1.5 million for the Textbook Administration Divis ion. In addition, expenses incurred by the Curriculum Division for textbook development are paid from the State Textbook Fund. This division has an operating budget of $3.1 million; based upon 1992 time and effort reports, $402,553 will be spent for textb ook-related activities. For the nearly 200 citizens who served on one of 11 proclamation advisory committees or one of 15 textbook subject area committees in fiscal 1991, $147,435 was spent for travel and per diem. The remaining $240,584 is spent for age ncy overhead and supervision, textbook audits of local districts and computer support.

This proposal would eliminate the textbook administration division, saving $1.5 million and elimating the need for 36 FTEs. It also would reduce significantly the tim e devoted to textbook development, especially the time devoted to working with the proclamation advisory and subject matter committees. The workload associated with textbook development should be reduced by 50 percent, yielding a savings of approximately $ 200,000 (50 percent of $402,553). A reduction of five FTE positions is possible because of this change. Expenditures for members of the proclamation and state textbook committees would be eliminated.

This proposal would limit expenditures for textbook act ivities to $200,000 in the Curriculum Development Division, plus an additional $20,912 for overhead, supervision and computer support. As a result, appropriations from the State Textbook Fund for administration would be reduced by $2.1 million.

Because textbooks are paid from the Available School Fund, these savings would free up resources from that fund.

Fiscal Savings to the Change
Year Available School Fund 002 in FTEs

1994 $2,080,000 41
1995 2,080,000 41
1996 2,080,000 41
1997 2,080,000 41
1998 2,080,000 41

Because of the operation of the state fund structure, this change would have the net effect of increasing the unobligated amounts available for certification from the General Revenue Fund.

1 Michael W. Apple, Regulating the Text: The Socio-Historical Roots of State Control, Educational Policy, vol. 3, no. 2, June 1989, p. 108.
2 Ibid., p. 109.
3 Ibid.
4 Arthur Woodward, When More Means Less, (unpublished paper, University of Rochester, 1987); Mary Ann Evans, Catherine Watson, and Dale M. Willows, A Naturalistic Inquiry into Illustrations in Instructional Textbooks, in The Psychology of Illustration, Vol. 2 Instructional Issues, edited by Harvey A. Houghton and Dale M. Willows (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1987).
5 Association of American Publishers, Textbooks and Errors: Time for a New Look, material presented to Texas State Board of Education, November 10, 1992.
6 Arthur M. Rittenberg, A Publisher s Perspective on Textbook Publishing, Educational Policy, vol. 3, no. 2, June 1989, p. 155.
7 Harriet Tyson-Bernstein and Arthur Woodward, Nineteenth Century Policies for 21st Century Practice: The Textbook Reform Dilemma, Educational Policy, vol. 3, no. 2 (June 1989), p. 104.