This is Easy To Explain

John Stossel has a story on errors found in new textbooks in Texas public schools  (the word "we," for example, was misspelled).

One high school textbook misspelled the word "we." When describing an actor's "role" in a play, the book spells it "r-o-l-l."

A 9th grade literature book refers to a poem as a piece of 21st century literature, even though it was written in 1911 and the author died in 1933.

How do you misspell the word "we"? They spelled it, "wee."

The publishing companies said the textbooks were just first drafts that would be "cleaned up" before they make it into classrooms. But that doesn't wash with the TV station:

(P)ublishers said the same thing about math books... in 2007 that were eventually found to contain more than 100,000 mistakes...

Those math books are now in classrooms, and teachers continue to find errors.

Stossel is usually pretty quick to the jugular, but I think he misses the true reason for the screw-up.  In a private market, suppliers must compete on price and performance because they know that companies will buy their product based on those criteria.  In the government market, however, suppliers often can sidestep that whole product quality hassle and shortcut the process via political lobbying.  Get a few key legislators or other government officials on your side, and that textbook order or military toilet seat contract is yours.  Get John Murtha on your side, for example, and you can make money selling the government just about anything, or even nothing.

I think it's pretty clear that like defense contractors, municipal bond underwriters, and other government suppliers, textbooks suppliers have shifted resources from the product to political lobbying.  Makes one pretty excited about prescription drug procurement under government health care, huh?  Do we really want to see arguments for Viagra vs. Cialis played out on the house floor, as we do today for political footballs like the V-22 Osprey?

  • elambend

    The physicist and writer Richard Feynman wrote a great essay about his involvement and disillusionment with the textbook process in California:
    http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm

    Please note, he did this in the early sixties!

  • Michael

    I wonder how complicit schools are in all this. They guy who wrote my corporate finance book would reissue the same book every six months with a different set of chapter questions. Everyone had to buy a "new" book each time the class was taught. The guy who taught the class was a real prick and I can see him picking this book solely because it was reissued each term, but you'd think the school had to sign off on the book.

  • Jim Colins

    Michael,
    Does that mean that you actually used the book in class? When I was in college, I spent over $400 for six books one Spring and only removed two of them from the shrink wrap. In two of the classes that had books I didn't unwrap, you would lose points if you didn't bring your book to each class.

  • morganovich

    we have a family friend who sells textbooks. it's all done with kickbacks, rounds of expensive golf, and spendy dinners. the schools absolutely, utterly don;t care what they buy. they care about the spiffs.

    that's the final cut, but a prior cut in most states involves getting on the "approved textbook" list. that's a more political style football.

    btw, if you think this is bad, you should see how the NYC schools hire contractors and buy phones.

  • Mark

    THis link provides a lot of clues as to the problems we have in education:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill

  • Michael

    Jim,

    I was taking classes at a school that trained a lot of RNs. At that time, RNs had to take corporate finance, a class most struggled with and the professor loved the misery he wrought. The guy hated me. I'd show up once a week, maybe stay for an hour, never turn in home work, and got 100s on the tests. He lost it when half way through the term he found out I didn't have the 16 hours of prerequisite classes. Even tried to get me tossed out. But on the plus side he did use the book. Well, I guess. I wasn't in class much.

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