Florida education official suggests ending textbook adoption

A Florida Board of Education member proposed today that the state end its textbook adoption process, saying teachers and principals are best equipped to decide which materials are needed to help students.

Roberto Martinez of Miami said the time is right for that step, given Florida’s education reforms – tough standards, a tough accountability system and big changes to the teaching profession – as well as digital learning advances that are easing access to high-quality instructional materials.

“It seems we’re now at the stage – and certainly will be at the stage in the next couple of years – where the teachers and principals working with the districts should then be able to have the freedom to do as they deem appropriate, based upon the exercise of their professional judgment, to use whatever materials they want,” Martinez said at a board meeting this morning. “If they want to use textbooks, let them use textbooks. If they want to use primary source material, fine. Digital? Fine. Whatever it is. But I think we’re at that stage where we can give them that kind of freedom to accomplish the outcomes that we want.”

Martinez said he wanted the board to add elimination of textbook adoption to its legislative priorities for next year. He did not offer a timeline for ending the process, but in a letter to board members Monday he wrote that the Department of Education needed to work with school districts to develop “an effective transition plan.”

“These changes would get rid of the expensive and unnecessary burdens that impede the ability of our teachers and students from accessing the latest, most advanced, and best educational materials, many of which are, or will become, available through digital learning,” he wrote.

Martinez’s proposal isn’t entirely new; last year, the board discussed a plan to make Florida classrooms all digital within five years. Nevertheless, Tuesday’s comments drew an enthusiastic response from fellow board members and two superintendents in attendance.

“We continue to be, I think, appropriately held accountable for the metric measurements of the results” in Florida education, said board member Kathleen Shanahan of Tampa. “But we don’t need to be so prescriptive, controlling the district’s ability to achieve those.”

“You have made a very compelling case,” said board member Akshay Desai of St. Petersburg. “I will be very, very supportive of that initiative.”

More flexibility in choosing instructional materials is “going to be the answer to prayer,” said Okaloosa Superintendent Alexis Tibbetts. She added, “It’s something that’s going to be difficult getting past the lobbyists for the large textbook companies. But I’m hoping that you’ll stand strong.”

The Legislature set aside $211 million this year for instructional materials.

On a related note, the board got an update on its digital implementation plan. It also approved a legislative funding request that includes $441 million to improve education technology.

Update at 8:28 p.m.: The News Service of Florida filed a story tonight about the board discussion that included a response from the textbook industry:

Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, said in an interview that the state should preserve textbook adoption.

“The process in Florida has been a way for Florida to ensure that its school standards appear in the curriculum,” Diskey said.

He also noted that Florida is one of nearly 40 states that are preparing to move toward a more standardized curriculum.

“It’s probably the worst possible time for Florida to walk away from this process,” he said.

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(Image from mint.com)

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.