How many textbooks?

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A new law requiring textbook publishers to provide more information about their textbooks may help professors chose less expensive books for next year's classes. Unfortunately, it will do nothing to help education professors choose between the bewildering number of textbooks, mostly of dubious value, available for their students.

A federal statute intended to reduce the exorbitant cost of college textbooks took affect July 1. It requires textbook publishers to provide more information about the cost of textbooks and the difference between various editions of the same book.

It's common for publishers to issue new editions of textbooks about every two years. New features or software are added, but the content of texts generally doesn't change much between editions. However, once a new edition is released, the market for secondhand versions of the previous textbook disappears. Students must buy a new book directly from the publisher.

NCTQ agrees that the college textbook business is a racket, and we share legislators' frustration. Case in point: textbooks on early reading instruction. As part of our ongoing work looking at education schools, NCTQ has examined how elementary teachers are prepared to teach reading in several. In just the relatively small number of schools we've reviewed, we have found over 600 different required texts. And lest you wonder what could be wrong with so much choice, our reviews have found a mere 30 percent to be any good, and most of the good ones are only useful to teach a particular aspect of reading instruction. The market is flooded with expensive, poor quality texts that don't provide prospective teachers with what they need to know. They may as well study the telephone book, which is still free and at least in alphabetical order.