Why Do We Need NEW Editions of Schoolbooks?

I am constantly amazed by how my local school district wastes money. They are throwing away highschool/gradeschool math, english and history testbooks that are only 3 years old! I can understan some subjects-but algebra? How much has algebra changed (in the last 400 years)? Or englisg grammar-has it changed all that much?
It seems to me that publishers have a nice racket going on-they come out with a new edition of a textbook-and all of a sudden, the old on is no good!

You’ve answered your own question. In 2007, the old “on” was changed. In a nod to multiculturalism, we’re replacing it with Russian на, rendered “na” for American school children.

The book is na the table

is now correct, and you wouldn’t want their peers to laugh at them for old, outdated forms?

[And yes, although periodic updates need to be made, it is by and large a racket.]

Ralph, ralph,** ralph**. Sometimes you just make me feel…tired. Have you bothered to look into the subject at all, or did you just forget to plug yourself in this morning? I will bet that one or more of the following is true:

  1. The district no longer had enough textbooks (in decent shape) for a class that they had to purchase new ones. Since the old edition wasn’t in print anymore, they upgraded the whole set.

  2. The state gave them a categorical grant for textbooks. This money can’t be spent on anything else, and it has to be spent that fiscal year.

  3. The districts enrollment is growing to the point that they no longer had enough textbooks for a given grade level. See #1.

  4. Some other perfectly valid reason. Rarely do school districts waste money on things that benefit students. It’s much more likely for them to waste money on the District Office or the Superintendent.

Maybe they should spend some money on spelling texts.

Couple reasons:

One, the pedagogy changes. There have been a LOT of new maths. Are they more effective than the old maths? I really don’t know–on one hand, kids seem to know less, but on the other hand, 10-15% of our graduating class goes to college with Calculus credit, and we are a poor urban school. I don’t think that was the norm 50 years ago. Furthermore, the standardized tests keep changing, and it’s nice to have textbooks that focus on the same material that the students are tested on.

Two, there is the replacement issue. After you adopt a textbook, you are going to have to buy replacement copies for ones that get lost/destroyed. If you are still using the old edition, you can’t get replacements.

And three, every 3 years seems unusual for me. We replace textbooks every 7-14 years at my district (depending on funding). After even after 7 years you need to replace so many (because books just don’t last forever under heavy use), that you might as well update as well. When it gets to be 10 years since you’ve gotten new books, every copy is duck-taped and missing pages and has pictures of penises or worse scattered throughout.

Try teaching AP or IB classes and not have to seriously keep up with the changing nature of not only the tests but the curriculum.

But yes, the cost is crazy expensive.

I always thought the answer to this question was: “Because the good people who work in the school textbook industry need to buy new SUV’s every 3 or 4 years”.

Another factor that I haven’t seen mentioned is that the requirements for curricula may be changed by those bodies that oversee the school district: There may be a county or region educational supervision; I believe every state has an education board; the federal gov’t definitely has one. Each of those organizations may make changes in the curriculum for a given course, which will make the current text anywhere from sub-optimal, to being outright useless.

While legitimate reasons are given above, I have to say, these publishers make a big buck out of this.

It’s the mainstay of their business; even more so with college texts which are often bloated, error-ridden, and less useful than the Schaum’s supplements or Dover reprints of classic texts that cover the same topical material at a tenth of the price. I’ve also found ever-cheapening quality in the binding of textbooks; I have a handful of math and physics texts, handed down, that are older than I am and still fully intact, other than a few stains and turned page corners. However, my Mechanical Engineering Design, Shigley & Mischke is literally falling apart, with whole sections of pages having become unstuck from the binding. I’ve had similar experience with other McGraw-Hill Series texts, and newer texts in general. College texts dealing with applied knowledge (in the sciences and engineering, at least) do need regular revision to keep up with new knowledge in the field, but most revisions seem largely superficial; there is very little, for instance, that is going to change in the content of a basic applied thermodynamics course, the field having been essentially mature at around the turn of the century. For any money, Pauling’s General Chemistry is still the best introductory text on the subject.

As for the content, I’d argue that methodological changes in teaching are largely another fad spurred both by both the pedagological establishment and publishers in the interests of maintaining a facade of relevance. The “new math” is an exemplar of this, taking old content and adding a jumble of mostly irrelevent, poorly illustrated concepts that did nothing to improve basic conceptual understanding of the material.


I can’t address the specific schoold district you live in, but the school may be at the mercy of the publisher’s policies. I remember trying to sell back two year old textbooks in college but told the campus bookstore wouldn’t buy them. When I asked why, they said the publishers would only accept returns on the last years’ books. If they overordered and tried to return books, they’d be stuck with them. Therefore they had little choice but to get the newest textbooks.

Yeah, at the college level it’s a complete racket. Every few years they change around the homework problems and a few other things so that a professor can’t easily teach to two editions at once. Often it’ll be a massive math or science text that covers several years of instruction, but then they switch editions before you can even finish.

I think the problem is that the students buy the books. What would be so wrong with the college owning them, and loaning them to students like they do in high schools? Or they could stock up on one edition, several years worth of it, and stay with that edition until supplies of new and used copies of it run out. I don’t understand why nothing can be done.

The Washington Post just had an article on this subject; legislators were looking into the problem, but I don’t remember if they were from Congress or just the Washington, DC region.