By Jim Sanders -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 2:15 am PDT Friday, May 27, 2005
The California Assembly is betting that kids learn more with small books.
Lawmakers voted Thursday to ban school districts from purchasing textbooks longer than 200 pages.
The bill, believed to be the first of its kind nationwide, was hailed by supporters as a way to revolutionize education.
Critics lambasted Assembly Bill 756 as silly.
"This bill is really the epitome of micromanagement," said Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Northridge. "(It's) absolutely ridiculous."
"With all due respect," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, "this Legislature worries more about the rules than they do about whether children learn."
But Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, said critics are thinking too narrowly.
California schools are teaching kids with the same kinds of massive books that were used generations ago, though the world has changed significantly, Goldberg said.
The workplace increasingly demands more than the ability to read Page 435 of some manual.
It requires expertise in using the Internet to research and solve problems, according to Goldberg.
"Our textbooks are not going to be able to meet that standard," said Goldberg, a former Compton high school teacher. "I think it's time for us to begin to approach the problem in a different way."
AB 756 would force publishers to condense key ideas, basic problems and basic knowledge into 200 pages, then to provide a rich appendix with Web sites where students can go for more information.
AB 756 was approved by a vote of 42-28, with most Republicans opposing the measure. It now goes to the Senate.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position on the bill.
The text of AB 756 says it could reduce the cost and weight of textbooks.
Lawmakers were given no estimates, however, of potential impacts to student backpacks or campus coffers.
Goldberg said the thrust of her bill is learning, not economics.
"We're talking about a dynamic education system that brings young people into being a part of the learning process," she said.
No position on AB 756 has been taken by Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, or by education groups ranging from the California Teachers Association to the California School Boards Association.
Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, said a 200-page limit could hurt learning, not revolutionize it, for the state's 6 million students.
Spitzer presented the hypothetical of attending a high school comparative literature class that is studying the Bible.
"I can only get about halfway through the Old Testament," he said.
The Association of American Publishers opposes the bill, saying the arbitrary 200-page limit could force publishers to produce multiple volumes to cover the state's content standards.
Textbooks would have to be restructured, the group contends.
"To do this will increase the costs of instructional materials without adding any instructional value," lobbyist Dale Shimasaki, representing publishers, said in a letter of opposition.
Goldberg said she's willing to negotiate over specifics, but that publishers have been uncooperative.
Her bill would apply to future purchases, not existing textbooks.
Michael Kirst, a Stanford education professor and co-director of Policy Analysis for Education, said he's never heard of any such bill nationwide.
"There's no track record that anyone can draw on," he said.
One key question, he said, is whether a 200-page limit would be equally practical for every subject - from math to social science.
"And you'd have to know how aligned the materials are on the Internet with our education standards," he said. "I don't know that anybody has done that."
Nancy Waltz, a former elementary teacher and current president of the San Juan Teachers Association, said she's open-minded about AB 756.
"As long as the standards are being met, textbooks are only a tool. ... (But) I don't know
that there needs to be a number of pages mandated."
Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for O'Connell, said that not every student - at school or at home - has ready access to the Internet.
"You can't carry the computer home with you," said Bill Hauck, president of California Business Roundtable.
"Our problem in California is not the size of textbooks, it's that we have large achievement gaps that need to be closed," he said.
Penny Kastanis, executive director of the California School Library Association, said the Internet is vitally important, but not always accurate.
Books still are valuable, she said.
"What we're finding more and more is that people are saying, 'Who needs an encyclopedia? Who needs an almanac? Just go to the Internet, it's all there.' Well, it's not all there."
Goldberg said homework can be drawn from the 200-page textbooks. Students using campus computers can be referred to accurate Web sites.
Problems aren't insurmountable.
"(AB 756) says don't give students a predigested version of what U.S. history is, let them explore the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress," Goldberg said.
"It's time for California to be the leader that it always has been."
While the sentiments are noble (but honestly, when are they not?), the implementation is nothing short of deranged. California students have such superior reading skills that we can permit them to bypass most of the textbook part of education in a misguided attempt to make them more computer savvy? Newsflash: your average 10-year-old already knows how to use the internet far better than you ever will. And how many remedial English classes are taught in college?
Kids need to know how to read effectively. How to glean relevant information from material that is less than succinct and to the point. LIKE I DO EVERY FREAKIN' DAY AT UCLA.
Sigh. Let's hope the California Senate is