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COMMENTARY–School Districts Are Not Upgrading Textbooks

Whether the economy is booming or has become depressed, education continues to rank as the number one issue for Californians and rightly so. California’s commitment to improving education and bringing it back to its former glory has never been greater.

Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature have been working tirelessly to improve the state of education in California. In fact, Gov. Davis has staked his political future on the improvement of public education and has vowed not to seek office next term if there hasn’t been a major overhaul in California’s public K-12 schools.

There are many factors that make up the backbone of education including well-trained teachers and class-size reduction, just to name a few. However, smaller classes and excellent teachers will not elevate our schools to a superior standing without the proper resources , specifically textbooks.

Recently, Kristin Schleicher, a high school junior, topped 104 other students in Walnut Creek Republican Assemblywoman Lynne Leach’s “There Ought to Be a Law” contest. Schleicher’s essay suggested legislation should be enacted making it mandatory to replace textbooks every 10 years in every school throughout California. A key component of her essay was the fact that her chemistry book was older than she was. Old textbooks are commonplace in our schools but significant gains have been made to help eradicate this problem.

In 1998, the Schiff-Bustamante Standards-Based Instructional Materials Program was established in California. This program appropriates $1 billion from the General Fund over four years for the purchase of new textbooks that meet California’s new academic standards. These funds have been readily available to districts throughout California since 1999, yet a substantial portion of these funds haven’t been touched since its inception.

Money Not Used

An informal survey conducted by School Services of California (SSC) found that most of the 15 respondent districts had yet to spend even half of the first-year funding. In fact, only two of the districts spent their entire first-year apportionment. Only five districts from the survey (including the two mentioned above) expect to expend all of their 1999-2000 dollars by fall of 2000. This is only one-third of the survey participants.

Our students need and deserve to be equipped with the best instructional materials available to them. It is important for districts to take advantage of these funds while they are still available since it is unlikely that this four-year program will be repeated and any funds left over will revert back into the general fund.

Unfortunately, many school districts throughout California either are not aware of or are simply not using the funds that are currently available to them to adopt new standards-based textbooks.

Time is running out for districts to utilize these funds, yet the need for new textbooks is greater than ever before. In fact, according to Sen. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena: “In classrooms across the state, students are handicapped in their learning by books that are sorely out of date. Geography books devote whole chapters to countries that no longer exist. Science books brag that one day man may land on the moon. And books of every subject are torn and ragged.”

Out-Of-Date Math Books

Also of importance is the fact that most mathematics textbooks currently being used in California classrooms do not meet the “back-to-basics” standards recently adopted by the state. If we want our children to get the best education possible we need to provide them with current learning materials. We have the means to do so but time is of the essence.

By taking advantage of all funds that are available to districts for the adoption of new textbooks, essays like Kristin Schleicher’s that focus on the use of old textbooks will become a distant memory. We owe it to our students and our future to have new, quality learning materials readily available for each classroom. By providing our students with well-trained teachers, class-size reduction and current, quality textbooks, there is no telling how far our students can and will go academically.

Sadlier-Dinger is president of Sadlier-Oxford Publishing.

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