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• Dr. Wang appeared before The Future of Education Forum hosted by Lynn Cheney and the American Enterprise Institute.
Textbook reform was a letter to the editor of The Dallas Morning News from Dr. Frank Wang. It ran on Sunday, January 27, 2002
Our Methods of Teaching Math Don't Add Up – A Washington Post Op-Ed piece written by Dr. Frank Wang
Textbook Case: Book Depositories May Seem Sleepy, but Try to Shut One – Appeared on the front page of the April 11, 2001 edition of the Wall Street Journal

• Dr. Wang, along with The Language Police author Diane Ravitch, appeared on a panel discussion on The Politics of Textbook Adoption at the Cato Institute. Real Player is required to view the video.
• Read Dr. Wang's piece "A Textbook Solution to Curing our Country's Education Woes"


Following are some editorials and writings about education policy. Dr. Frank Wang has served on the mathematics advisory panel for the Proposed National Voluntary Test introduced by President Clinton in his 1997 State of the Union Address, on the planning committee of the 2004 NAEP test and on the Policy Board of the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition. One of Dr. Wang's main missions in the area of national education policy is educating the public on how textbooks in this country are selected and then adopted by states. Though the textbook selection and evaluation process is well-intentioned, it has served to shortchange our students. Teachers "in the trenches" should be free to use whatever curriculum they feel best for their students and accordingly, decisions on which textbook to use should not be made by a committee deciding for and entire state but by individual teachers who are in turn held accountable by the results they produce in the classroom.

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Dr. Wang's comments before the American Enterprise Institute's Future of Education panel, hosted by Senior Fellow, Lynn Cheney, pointed out his difficulty getting a teaching position in a public school due to his lack of a teaching certificate. A vigorous and humorous discussion occurs toward the end of the clip.

Quicktime 6 is required

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Dr. Wang's letter to the editor of The Dallas Morning News describes the detrimental effect of the textbook selection process on the quality of textbooks.

Dallas Morning News Masthead

Textbook Reform

I read with great interest Roger Arnold's piece "Poor textbooks add to the schools' slide" (Viewpoints, Jan. 20). I can empathize with Mr. Arnold's concern, as I am also an author – of a calculus textbook first published nearly 13 years ago. More recently, I have become a publisher who is trying to avoid the practices Mr. Arnold decries.

I propose a solution that will improve textbook quality: Do away with the state textbook selection process. Twenty-one states including Texas have such a formalized textbook selection process. This pressured process compels the large publishers to farm out the creation of the content under tight budget and deadlines and to "dress up" the books with color and the right buzzwords to survive the "checklist mentality" of the process. Never is the question asked: "Do the books work and produce results in the classroom?"

Let educators choose which textbooks they want to use but hold them accountable for the results they produce. Develop good assessments to measure students' acquired knowledge and skills and then open up the textbook market to the competitive forces of the marketplace. Publishers will then be motivated to put their billions of dollars of resources to developing programs that produce real results rather than in satisfying the whims of a textbook committee.

Frank Y. H. Wang,
Chairman, Saxon Publishers,
Norman, Okla

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The following Op-Ed piece, written by Dr. Frank Wang, appeared in the May 4, 1998 edition of The Washington Post.

Washington Post Masthead

Our Methods of Teaching Math Don't Add Up

Frank Y. H. Wang

Twelve years ago, the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics was held in Washington. Teachers, led by a textbook author and publisher named John H. Saxon, picketed the conference. They carried placards depicting a calculator encircled with a red band with a red line drawn diagonally over it and a rendering of a cart before the horse. The Post ran a picture of the scene and a story about the protest against the council's recommendation that calculators be integrated into the teaching of mathematics at all grade levels.

Saxon, the outspoken critic of the mathematics education establishment, is now deceased. Last month, after 11 years of being held in other cities throughout the country, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics returned to Washington for its annual meeting.

Saxon would have been surprised to find that this time around, I, as president of the company he founded, had been invited by Gail Burrill, the president of the council, to participate in a panel discussion on the role of the basics. Much has changed since 1986, including the size of the conference, which has grown from 6,000 attendees then to more than 18,000 this year.

When Saxon questioned the dictates of the mathematics education establishment, he was a lone voice. Now parents have formed groups to express their dissatisfaction with the state of mathematics education – the best known of which is Mathematically Correct, co-founded by Mike McKeown, a research biologist at the Salk Institute, and Paul Clopton, a statistician at the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center in La Jolla, Calif.

One parent, Marianne Jennings, a professor at Arizona State University, derisively has dubbed her daughter's algebra book "Rainforest Algebra" in articles published nationally in newspapers and magazines. Last summer Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) stood on the Senate floor holding a copy of this same algebra book and pointed out that it was not until page 107 that an algebraic expression is defined. After examining the book, Byrd said, "I'll have to go a step further, and call it whacko algebra."

Unfortunately, while much has changed, many people involved in mathematics education still advocate the same trendy but untested methods as in 1986. During the televised panel discussion on the role of the basics, I said that the mastery of the basics is essential for success. The basics are not simply computation, although that is how detractors have tried to confine the debate, seeking to portray critics of the mathematics education establishment as advocates of repetitive and mindless computational exercises.

The basics also encompass the understanding of central concepts such as percentages, ratios and proportions. I told the audience I was worried that students did not understand concepts necessary for everyday life.

I quoted from former assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch's book "National Standards in American Education." In that book she tells how, on the 1986 National Assessment of Educational Progress, no 9-year-old, less than 0.5 percent of 13-year-olds and only 6.4 percent of 17-year-olds could solve problems such as: "Christine borrowed $850 for one year from the Friendly Finance Co. If she paid 12 percent simple interest on the loan, what was the total amount she repaid?"

The audience, made up mostly of professional mathematics educators, sat unresponsive. The moderator, a former president of the council, joked that audience members perhaps were relieved they did not have to answer. Instead, the audience seemed enthralled by video clips of children working to "construct" their own mathematical understanding and of cartoons depicting examples of mathematical problem-solving.

I am not opposed to any pedagogy if it produces tangible results. I am worried that 83 percent of Singaporean eighth-graders compared with only 23 percent of American eighth-graders could solve the following simple proportionality problem on the 1994-95 Third International Mathematics and Science Survey test: "Peter bought 70 items, and Sue bought 90 items. Each item cost the same and the items cost $800 altogether. How much did Sue pay?"

I worry that the world is passing us by as students "construct" their own mathematical knowledge. As one high school teacher told me, "If I had to wait until my students 'discovered' the quadratic formula for themselves, I would be waiting all year."

The writer is president and CEO of Saxon Publishers in Norman, Okla., a textbook publisher of elementary through high school math and phonics materials. He was a member of the mathematics advisory panel for the proposed voluntary national tests.

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The following article about the politics involved in the antiquated school-book depository system showcased Dr. Frank Wang as he led Saxon Publishers, Inc. in a fight to pass legislature reforming textbook distribution systems. It appeared on the front page of the April 11, 2001 edition of The Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal Masthead

Textbook Case
Book Depositories May Seem Sleepy, But Try to Shut One

By Daniel Golden
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Mention "school-book depository," and most Americans think of the building in Dallas that served as Lee Harvey Oswald's perch when he assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Mention depositories to publishers, and they blanch for another reason. These middlemen take a sizable chunk out of textbook sales – as much as 8% in some cases – while using political influence to protect their lock on the book-distribution business.

The Texas School Book Depository folded in 1988, a victim of bad investments by its owners. But the seemingly antiquated institution of the depository lives on in Texas and 14 other mostly southern and western states – a testament to state laws inhibiting competition, quirky regional business practices and behind-the-scenes lobbying.

Albuquerque Book Depository Inc., for example, faced a threat this year of state legislation aimed at ending its hold on book distribution in New Mexico. In response, Albuquerque Book dispatched lobbyists to the statehouse in Santa Fe and faxed warnings about potential price increases to every school district in the state. An employee of the depository's corporate parent went so far as posing as a journalist to search for damning information about the legislation's sponsor

Even in an age of and overnight delivery, textbook depositories "die hard," says David Martinez, New Mexico's director of instructional materials.

To their critics, depositories enrich well-connected local businessmen while adding expense and delay to the procurement of student textbooks. In 11 states, depositories operate without any competition. But depository operators see themselves as underdogs, battling publishing titans and providing one-stop shopping for small, far-flung schools.

That's not how many publishers see it. Consider the frustration of Saxon Publishers, Inc. Based in Norman, Okla., Saxon could truck its back-to-basics math texts to northern Texas schools within a few hours, or the schools could pick them up. Instead, Texas law effectively forces Saxon to ship via the Southwest School Book Depository Inc. in suburban Dallas, the state's sole depository for small publishers.

Some southern and western states began enacting such laws requiring maintenance of in-state book inventories about a century ago. State officials worried about late railroad delivery of school texts from out-of-state publishers, then mostly in New York and Boston. The publishers considered it inefficient to operate their own warehouses in distant states, so the task largely fell to local businessmen with political ties

Texas Tussle

Today, the Texas market is so large that big publishers do maintain their own warehouses in the state. But smaller companies like Saxon use Southwest. In 1999, Saxon paid the depository $650,000 to handle textbooks that sold for $16 million, Saxon says. The company estimates it could distribute the books directly for no more than $400,000 and says it would ship them at no additional charge to schools.

Encouraged by Saxon and other publishers, the Texas House approved legislation earlier this year to repeal the state depository law. But the bill faces tough odds in the state Senate. Saxon president Frank Wang says his company hired a Texas lobbyist but hasn't given any campaign contributions to Texas legislators.

Southwest, which is part of a chain of depositories in three states owned by Toronto-based FirstService Corp., also has a lobbyist pressing its cause in the Senate. Executives with the chain are exhorting local school-textbook coordinators, who buy textbooks for the schools, to call legislators on Southwest's behalf. The company cultivates the textbook officials by hosting the Web site of their statewide association and sponsoring receptions at the group's annual meeting in Austin.

Steven Cavender, president of the textbook-coordinators group, says a lot of its members oppose the depository-repeal bill. They fear that "if they have to deal with multiple publishers, how responsive will the publishers be to our needs?" he explains. The association itself isn't taking a position on the bill. As for Southwest's favors, Mr. Cavender says his group hasn't compromised because publishers also sponsor events at the association's meetings.

Jerome Baker, president of the Texas-based FirstService unit that includes Southwest, says he and other company officials are politically active and make personal campaign contributions to state legislators, but not in connection with the depository. His company provides schools with better, less-expensive service than publishers would, Mr. Baker says. "One of the things [publishers] sometimes fail to understand," he adds, "is in depository states, we handle all of the burden of customer service."

The economics of moving school books are complicated. Depositories annually distribute textbooks worth $700 million – or about 18% of total school book sales of $3.9 billion – and collect roughly $50 million in fees. In the 35 states without depositories, publishers generally receive the entire price a school district pays for a textbook, with the district paying for shipping.

But in the 15 other states, depositories typically pocket $3 or $4 for each $50 high-school text, in exchange for holding and distributing the books. Publishers are obligated to pay for shipping to the warehouses.

Publishers can't pass along these extra expenses directly to school districts in depository states because of laws that mandate they offer each state the lowest price charged anywhere else. Instead, publishers roll their depository-related expenses into book prices nationwide. So, taxpayers in nondepository states, such as Massachusetts and New York, effectively subsidize Mississippi and Arkansas. It is difficult to estimate how much depositories raise textbook prices overall, but it is probably less than $1 a book.

Roger Rogalin, president of the elementary-textbook division of giant McGraw-Hill Cos., says, "An obligation for the publisher to work with the depository can be inefficient and cost the publisher and ultimately the customer money."

Some school districts swear by depositories. In Nevada, schools used to deal directly with publishers. Then, in 1992, the fast-growing Las Vegas school system underestimated its textbook needs. Publishers were caught short. The district turned to the Mountain State School Book Depository in neighboring Utah, which filled the order from its reserves.

Despite pleas from publishers, Las Vegas has stuck with Mountain State. Reno, Nevada's second-largest school system, has also switched to the depository.

West Virginia Connections

James & Law Co. began operating a depository in Clarksburg, W. Va., in 1912, and over time publishers assumed they had to use it. But in the early 1990s they discovered West Virginia had never enacted a law mandating in-state inventories. Some publishers began selling directly to school districts.

James & Law responded by pushing for a state law enacted in 1992 that required publishers selling directly to schools to pay the freight charges for those shipments. Publishers say they feared that nondepository states – in which school districts typically pay freight charges – would demand the same terms as West Virginia, so they quietly returned to James & Law.

It didn't hurt James & Law's lobbying effort that the company was a loyal client of a public-relations firm owned by Percy Ashcraft, then the chairman of West Virginia's House Education Committee. James & Law also sponsored Mr. Ashcraft's weekly public-affairs radio show.

Mr. Ashcraft, now a county administrator in Fredericksburg, Va., recalls that James & Law "happened to be in the county I represented at that time. They asked me if I would at least raise the issue in the legislature, and I did." To mitigate any perception of a conflict-of-interest, he says, he had the education panel's vice-chairman take the lead in shepherding the bill.

Where depositories enjoy monopolies, it is difficult to dislodge them. Last year, a Georgia-based depository firm sought to expand to Oregon, challenging the Northwest Textbook Depository Co. The newcomer, National Fulfillment Inc., argued that competition would lower prices and improve service. But Northwest enlisted support from half a dozen sympathetic school districts in a lobbying campaign aimed at the state education board. The board bought their argument that dealing with multiple depositories might increase schools' administrative costs – and denied National Fulfillment a license.

Politics and school books have been stitched together in New Mexico since Gov. John Miles signed a bill in 1941 creating the state's first private depository. When it opened a few weeks later, above a movie theater near the state capital in Santa Fe, one of its owners turned out to be Gov. Miles.

"He could see where he could make money on it," says his son Franklin Miles, who operated the family business for a while. Ownership eventually passed to a small chain of depositories in the Southwest, which, in turn, was acquired in 1999 by Toronto's FirstService for an undisclosed sum.

In the mid-1990's, state legislators began introducing bills to repeal New Mexico's depository law. McGraw-Hill's Mr. Rogalin, who worked for a publishing-industry trade group at the time, says publishers supported the repeal legislation and provided lawmakers with information, but not campaign contributions.

Albuquerque Book, however, was working quietly to defend its turf. Alan Morgan, state superintendent of public education from 1986 to 1997, acknowledges that during legislative sessions he frequently dined with the depository's then-general manager, John McFerrin. After stepping down, Mr. Morgan himself did a stint as a lobbyist for the depository and remains a paid consultant.

Mr. Morgan says there was nothing improper about his longtime friendship with depository staff members. He says he paid for as many meals as Mr. McFerrin did. And Mr. Morgan adds that small rural schools get more attention from an in-state business like Albuquerque Book than they would from out-of-state publishers

Albuquerque Book, which handles $20 million in textbooks annually and had 2000 revenue of $1.2 million, has faced its strongest threat this year. State Sen. Cynthia Nava, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, introduced legislation that would do away with the depository and end the state's practice of adopting mandatory school-book lists.

Ms. Nava, a former teacher, argues that since teachers are judged increasingly based on student test results, they should be free to buy instructional materials they think will boost scores. Depositories, she says, "are just an extra layer of bureaucracy and funding" that helps entrench the statewide book-adoption process and handcuff teachers.

Ms. Nava stood to gain from the November 2000 defeat of New Mexico's Democratic House speaker, Raymond Sanchez, a depository ally. Albuquerque Book's general manager, Kathleen Thalman, had contributed $1,000 to Mr. Sanchez's unsuccessful re-election campaign.

As Ms. Nava's bill cruised through the Senate, 36-3, the depository mobilized. From ther office adjoining the cinderblock warehouse stacked with 32,000 titles, as well as maps and CDs, Ms. Thalman and her staff phoned, faxed or e-mailed every school superintendent, textbook coordinator and principal in the state.

Among their doomsday warnings: "Do you really want to take more materials out of the students' hands or charge the taxpayers more to get the same thing?" Ms. Thalman checked a directory before each call to see if she could address each school adminstrator as "doctor."

Undercover Operation

At the Santa Fe statehouse, the depository deployed two outside lobbyists. But its most memorable maneuver was the undercover operation aimed at finding out who might be encouraging Ms. Nava to push her legislation.

On Feb. 19, a stranger identifying himself as an investigative reporter appeared in Ms. Nava's office, demanding to see her e-mails for the past 15 months, as well as campaign-contributor lists, according to members of the senator's staff. He was so persistent – and peculiar – that the staff called the state police. When police arrived, the purported reporter, John McWilliams, presented a Texas driver's license. But he wouldn't say for whom he worked. he left voluntarily and empty-handed.

That same week, he showed up in the office of the school district where Ms. Nava works as an associate superintendent between legislative sessions. Again, he presented himself as a jounalist and pressed for her e-mails. Again, he was turned away.

Mr. McWilliams isn't a reporter but a 32-year-old employee of Albuquerque Book's parent chain. Mr. Baker says he sent Mr. McWilliams to New Mexico "under cover of darkness" to try to confirm Mr. Baker's suspicion that Ms. Nava was acting merely as a shill for publishers. The legislator says she acted independently, and state records show she didn't receive contributions from publishing companies.

Mr. McWilliams says calling himself an investigative reporter wasn't dishonest. "I'm investigating, and I'm writing a report" for his employer, he explains.

In any event, the state House leadership assigned Ms. Nava's bill to three committees, dooming its chances of reaching the floor before the 60-day legislative session ended in mid-March. "It was the kiss of death," she says.

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