There ought to be a contract...
…and in some districts, there is.
When the schools in Hillsborough County, Florida, pick new textbooks, here's how they do it, as provided in their collective bargaining contract:
- A county-wide committee is appointed, most of whose members are classroom teachers appointed by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
- The committee reviews all the possible choices and picks at least two (usually more).
- Those books are made available “in sufficient number" so teachers can review them for at least three weeks.
- Teachers select one by secret ballot.
All of this fits the district culture, says Association President Jean Clements. With rare exceptions, administrators “assume automatically that teachers should be involved in decisions about what and how we teach and how we run our schools," she says.
Does the Hillsborough contract sound like yours? If so, count your blessings. Less than 10 percent of the contracts stored in NEA's 8,000-plus database even mention textbooks. But some do give teachers and their students genuine protection from having books imposed on them by administrators who don't fully understand classroom realities.
The language runs the gamut from merely suggesting teacher input to a few, like Hillsborough's, that spell out in detail exactly how teachers will choose their books.
Most contracts leave the final decision up to the school board, which is often the state law.
Many districts give teachers a major role in selecting textbooks even if they are under no contractual obligation, but a contract can guarantee frontline educators a voice, regardless of who happens to be the principal or the superintendent of the moment.
A few contracts require training for teachers in how to use the new books. And some Massachusetts contracts require the board to provide enough funding so “each pupil…has textbooks for his own use."
There are states, of course, that ban bargaining, and some bargaining states exclude bargaining over textbooks.
California provides for consultation on textbooks but school boards aren't required to bargain over selection. Nonetheless, in Fremont, the contract says teachers, elected by their colleagues, must make up a majority on textbook selection committees. Fremont Unified District Teachers Association President Jeff Poe says this clause is not controversial. He says it was adopted in 1995 under a superintendent who was a former teacher and “she thought teachers were the only people able to make correct decisions about textbooks."