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Various Groups Say Publishers Willing to Alter Textbooks

BY Jim Suydam
by Jim Suydam on 8/24/02.

As the State Board of Education ground through the second of three public hearings on proposed history and social studies texts, it became clear Friday that the dozens of publishers at the hearing were listening.
Of the more than 500 points of contention brought forward by one pro-business interest group, nearly 40 percent already had been addressed by publishers, said Chris Patterson, director of education research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The group, which paid more than $100,000 for an academic review of the texts, has posted scores of the publisher's changes in response to their criticism on their Web site.
Others, from private citizens representing no one but themselves to organizations representing tens of thousands, such as the pro-free market Citizens for a Sound Economy, also reported dealing with publishers willing to alter their books to correct errors and avoid criticism.
Although some board members pointed to the changing drafts of history as proof that the state's textbook adoption process improves the quality of the final text, others, such as Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, worried that the board members' grip on the content of Texas textbooks was slipping.
"You are not elected, you are not appointed, you're simply people making recommendations to our board," Berlanga said, warning publishers to not be so quick to make the changes requested by anyone other than the board.
Board member Alma Allen, D-Houston, agreed: "I don't want the publishers running out and making changes every time your group comes up here to speak."
The publishers have the right to do what they want, board chairwoman Grace Shore, R-Longview, said. The State Board of Education only gets to vote on the final texts.
"The publishers are free to meet with anyone they want and make any editorial changes they want," Shore said.
Austin lawyer Joe Bill Watkins, who represents the American Association of Publishers, said publishers have always been willing to work with anyone interested in developing textbooks. But the increased interest and organization of groups, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, have required more work by publishers.
"To some extent, this is what they are used to dealing with every adoption," Watkins said. "There is just more of it in this adoption, in part because it's social studies and there's just more issues."
The board's decision to add an additional public hearing, scheduled for Sept. 11, has also brought out more people wanting to make a comment.
In November, the board will vote on more than 150 proposed social studies and history texts, selecting which ones make the list of books from which Texas school districts may buy. Making that list means a lot to publishers. Texas will buy 4,681,500 history and social studies books and will spend about $344.7 million on the books and other materials up for review.
By the time a publisher takes a book before the board, about 80 percent of the company's investment has been made.
Because Texas is the nation's second-largest textbook consumer, it can dictate what other states get as publisher's target their offerings for Texas.