While California gets a gold star for its elementary through high school (elhi) curriculum frameworks and content standards, its method for adopting course materials pleases no one. For instance, the last time the state approved new history texts a furor erupted not only over content distorted by multicultural pressure groups but also over influence of religious groups.

California and Texas are the two largest elhi textbook markets in the nation. What those two states adopt heavily effects what texts are available for all the other states.

Partially in response to the uproar caused by chargest of factual distortion, and partially due to the rising cost of textbooks, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor, was mandated to look into the textbook adoption process:

To gain a better understanding of California’s K-8 adoption process, we reviewed California law and regulations, examined various other state and industry documents, and interviewed various individuals—including state administrators, program experts, publishers, and representatives of state-level advocacy groups, as well as staff at school districts and county offices of education. The state’s adoption process is a complex maze of activities—involving four sets of evaluation criteria and various expert panels, two curriculum committees, a Curriculum Commission, and two state agencies, as well as advocates and the general public. Just about when the process is fully implemented at the local level, districts must begin the process anew. We found this highly prescriptive process can be linked to less competition among publishers, more limited district choice, higher cost, questionable quality, and little useful information.

The CA LAO has just published a report that suggests six “reforms” to the current process used by the state to adopt new elhi textbooks:

  • using fewer sets of evaluation criteria,

  • streamlining the review process,

  • offering districts voluntary extension of already adopted materials for up to two consecutive cycles,

  • shifting focus back to core materials by requiring ancillary materials to be priced and sold separately,

  • ensuring greater predictability by linking annual price increases to a specified inflationary index, and

  • enhancing the quality and availability of information by collecting better information from expert reviewers and making that information available to the public.

Now the ball is in the court of the California State Legislature, to enact the CA LAO’s recommendations.

The California Open Source Textbook Project (COSTP) is an interesting independent project to help control the cost of textbooks. It is an attempt to transfer the ethos of open-source software to textbooks. It is currently working on a ninth grade world history text.

[cehwiedel also writes at cehwiedel.com]

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