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State Education Board Assailed on Text Choices

October 19, 1994|JEAN MERL | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

The acting chief of the California Department of Education has blasted the state Board of Education for its last-minute addition of three lower-rated books to the list of new mathematics texts that can be used in public schools.

William D. Dawson, acting superintendent of public instruction, said the addition of texts that had been rejected during a months-long review represented a "significant retreat from high standards," implying that the school board caved in to pressure from publishing companies seeking a piece of the lucrative California textbook trade.

But some members of the governor-appointed state board vigorously defended Friday's 6-1 vote to add books and materials by Encyclopedia Brittanica, Houghton Mifflin Co. and Silver Burdett Ginn Inc. to nine texts that had survived rigorous review by two panels.

Saying they wanted to give school districts as wide a choice as possible, board members Kathryn Dronenberg and William Malkasian wrote a two-page memo to colleagues outlining their reasons for the three additions. Board President Marion McDowell noted that the board has always had the authority to add to the list recommended by curriculum panels.

The textbook-adoption session reopened the debate on the state's newest math curriculum, called a "framework" in California, which has been widely endorsed by teachers and experts in the field, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

The mathematics framework, adopted in November, 1991, still requires that students learn such basic computational skills as multiplication and division. However, it moves away from rote memorization in favor of teaching students to think about what solutions to choose when attempting to solve a problem. It seeks to instill understanding of basic mathematical concepts and recognition of their applications in everyday life.

Critics of the framework, including some math teachers and the Administration of Gov. Pete Wilson, say it does not put enough emphasis on basic skills.

Once a new curriculum has been adopted in California, one of the biggest textbook purchasers in the nation, publishers are invited to write texts and develop other instructional materials that closely follow its guidelines.

Competition is strong to get a text on the list approved for use in public schools.

Elementary and middle schools can spend up to 30% of their instructional materials funds on texts that are not on the approved lists. Districts wanting to use other books can also apply for a waiver from the state. But most purchase the bulk of their materials from the state-approved lists, and publishers, who make substantial investments to develop texts, work hard to get their books included.

It is common for publishers whose books do not make the cut to lobby the politically appointed state board, which has the final say. But it is unusual for the board to add a text that has been rejected by one of the two review groups. According to an education department spokeswoman, the board has done so only once in 12 years.

Starting last spring, 25 math programs for kindergarten through eighth grade were submitted and reviewed by an advisory panel of 43 educators and mathematicians. Their recommendations were reviewed by the state Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, which concurred with the panel's choices and forwarded them to the state board.

Dawson, the acting superintendent, urged the board to stick with the list of nine recommended texts and reacted angrily to the additions, which he said did not even come close to the standards set by the review panel and curriculum commission.

"In my view," Dawson said in a statement released this week, "these additional materials simply don't meet the kinds of high standards and expectations that the board has had the courage to insist upon in the past."

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