I've worked for much of my career in school textbook publishing, and I've been very interested in how the publishing market has responded to the needs
of states. I want to describe and exculpate the strange public/private textbook market against some arguments that ascribe nefarious or centralized
motives to the enterprise of building school books for kids.
Common Core Standards are the result of teachers and department-heads in smaller-state school districts confederating with one another to improve
their buying power with big K-12 (Kindergarten through 12-grade) textbook publishers. The purpose has been to improve the quality of offerings from
the publishers to their classrooms. Small states negotiated and developed Common Core Standards amongst themselves. I watched that happen over a
period of about ten years, from 2002 to 2012. Small states set aside their own teaching standards and turned to building Common Core Standards with
one another to improve the customization, quality, and utility of teaching tools that are offered to them by publishers.
To emphasize, I'm not an interested party to the argument and couldn't have given a hoot when I watched it come together. I'm a little astonished that
anyone would bicker with it, since it was grass-roots, but since people seem to be starting to be riled up about it, I thought I would offer my
observation of it as it unfolded.
Let's help ourselves to some data: there are two kinds of states, in the eyes of publishers. There are "adoption" states and "open territory" states.
Adoption states will, at the state level, request submissions from the major and minor publishers for a review by a given date (like June 1st, for a
late-August fulfillment). Let's say a state like Alabama, for argument's sake, has itself a lot of 5-year-old Algebra 1 books, which need replacement.
The state of Alabama will open an adoption period, and request samples and a presentation from the major and minor K-12 publishers.
Open-territory states are states that allow individual school districts to individually select their Algebra 1 book and do whatever they want. States
like North Dakota or Alaska are open-territory states.
Alabama, our example, will review submissions from the publishers and pick one Algebra 1 book from all the publishers' submissions before the
submission deadline. The state review board will be comprised of some Math department heads from the bigger districts from around the state, some
state-selected experts, some gray-beard Algebra 1 teachers, and whatever members of the Alabama board of ed who wish to participate. And the winner of
that contest will be the only publisher that local school districts can purchase from to buy books for that one course. (In actuality, states buy
high-school math as a general adoption, but I'm trying to keep it out of the weeds.) That book will be sold with certain add-ons, which may have a
cost attached, but are typically FWO, free-with-offer. These are generally give-aways to sweeten the deal. There will be a Teacher's Edition for each
teacher, for sure, but also workbooks, and DVDs (for both teachers and students), and online support, and slides for use in-class, and demonstration
tools, and so on and so forth. There will also be, *and this is the important part*, tools that help Alabama Algebra 1 teachers prepare their students
to take Alabama's high-stakes 9th-grade math test. These high-stakes tests set school funding and teacher salaries and even progression for the
student to the next grade in a given state. These state-specific tools are very, very important to classrooms in Alabama.
Alabama's high-stakes 9th-grade math test has always been different than that of Massachusetts or Louisiana or Colorado. But it's all Algebra 1. It's
all pretty similar what lesson-progression or teaching milestones you want to identify to assign "success" to measure the student's and the teacher's
performance in that course.
Now let's say that in the very same year, Texas or California also holds an adoption for Algebra 1 books. Each publisher will now have to weigh their
allocation of editorial, production, and sales resources between these two open adoptions. Do they want to fight the other Big-4 publishers* for
adoption in a small state (a B or C or D or OT state), or go after the big A+ state? They're probably going to go after the big adoptions, and if they
get the lesser states along the way, that's gravy. They'll send their best sales folks, deploy their best editors and designers, to lock up that big
sales win. That's wise strategy on the part of the publishers. Capture the highest ground, and then take the valleys later.
*Right now, the big four are Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, Holt, and McGraw.
California and Texas, "A+ states," with their large populations, can dictate to publishers exactly what they want. They will probably get basal
Student Edition (SE) books written specifically and in-sequence to their state testing standards. Florida, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and
Illinois are only "A states". They might get in-sequence, but it'll be a patch project for their SE's, without a lot of close attention. They might be
offered Teachers' Editions in National sequence with long charts in the front so they'll be able to keep up with the sequence they're teaching the
kids. South Carolina and Georgia are examples of B states. They'll often just get the national edition for SE and TE, and a whole lot of add-ons to
make up for it. Then there are C states and D states. They'll get whatever is left over in terms of publisher resources, and they'll take it or leave
Observing this, It occurred to the teachers and administrators in these smaller states that the best way to drive publishers to fight for their
business was to rally together, and make one amalgamated market of these B, C, D, and Open-Territory states. That was the genesis of the Common Core
Standards. They're not in-synch yet with years of adoptions for given programs, but they'll get there in the next few cycles. Every state still has
total say-so over adoption, but the publishers will work for their business a little harder, since they're negotiating as a group.
The individual states had to give up a lot to get to this point. A whole lot of very smart teachers, the good ones, had to come to agreement about how
to teach 7th-grade World History, and K-5 Literature, and middle-grades Science, and so on and so forth. I don't doubt there's some nonsense in there,
and that should be commented on by parents and teachers and administrators. It's a process. But it's a crowd-sourced process, by my lights, and it'll
get better. So please if you're a parent or a teacher, and you see something bad coming home in the backpack, make a stink about it. You can start
here, but really you'd be better-served attending a meeting with your kid's teacher or, even better, in an email to their department head. If that
falls on deaf ears, escalate to the school's Principal and then your local school board, and then the state. You'd be surprised how effective a good,
clear argument can be.
I've found that's the only thing that has ever really done any good.
edit on 8-10-2013 by michael22 because: (no reason given)