California Bill Seeks to Limit Textbooks to 200 Pages
If New York City is a potential site of good educational policymaking, California is a leading candidate for oddball legislation. In a commonsensical op-ed, the San Jose Mercury News thrashes Democratic legislators who want to regulate book lengths:
On Thursday they approved AB 756, a bill by Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, that says: Neither the State Board of Education nor a local school district “may adopt instructional materials that exceed 200 pages in length.”
Textbooks, the bill’s supporters argued, should sum up the basics and then refer students to the Internet and to libraries for the rest. Plus, shorter is lighter and cheaper.
Maybe. Their assumption doesn’t seem that obvious to us. It seems like something that ought to be decided — just brainstorming here — by actually reading each proposed textbook, as opposed to laying down an arbitrary limit.
The bill doesn’t jibe with other instructions (some from the Legislature) that textbook publishers have been getting to avoid textbooks that are just dry columns of words. They must be full of pictures and charts. And in each subject, they have to cover the state’s comprehensive curriculum requirements. This makes them longer.
Read the full text of the bill. Interestingly, in the process of finalizing the language, proponents made the rule more stringent than it was first intended to be:
This bill would
declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would facilitate and enhance pupil learning by enablingprohibit the State Board of Education and school districts to adoptfrom adopting instructional materials that make use of technology and multimedia materials to supplement and reduce the cost and size of conventional textbooksexceed 200 pages in length.
I support the wider use of technology, especially online sources that supplement course materials. But I suspect that this rationale is just a ruse. For one thing, three years ago, Gray Davis approved a measure to lighten school backpacks in response to concerns that children may be carrying heavy loads. The 200-page limit appears to be part and parcel of the same effort. Moreover, perhaps environmental interests simply want to save trees. Goldberg, after all, received support from the California League of Conservation Voters.
Overall, the bill seems pretty heavyhanded. Not only would the state have to oversee what should be a local matter, but publishers would likely have to change their production processes to comply. I don’t see how the benefits can outweigh these and other significant costs.
(Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the pointer.)