A The Wallbuilders emblem FEATURE McGraw-Hill Sees the Light BY NATE BLAKESLEE El ducational publishing giant McGraw-Hill made headlines a few weeks ago when teachers and parents discovered corporate logos and brand names in math problems in a middle-school math book considered for adoption by Texas schools. Educators wondered aloud if along with the fast-food and soft drink ads in the hallways and playing fields the nefarious practice of “product placement, now so common in Hollywood movies, had finally made it into textbooks. Company spokesmen quickly dismissed that notion, explaining that no money had changed hands and insisting they had only sought to make math more engaging for kids. They have no financial interest, the company explained, in how many shoes Nike sells or how many hamburgers McDonald’s moves. But McGraw-Hill does know how to sell textbooks, especially in the South, where it perennially whips its competition in the multibillion-dollar grade-school textbook market. And the company does have something to hide, although the secrets have nothing to do with basketball shoes or burgers. What’s been hidden are the marketing secrets of the nation’s top educational publisher at work in the nation’s biggest \(and most techniques provide an unofficial primer for the newly initiated: what they never taught you in business school. In 1997, McGraw-Hill had an outstanding year, with big wins in the South helping the company capture over 40 percent of the nation’s elementary school market. The publisher’s reading series, Spotlight on Literacy, swept through Georgia that summer like Sherman marching to the sea, winning roughly double the share of its nearest competitor. But McGrawHill’s real victory was in Texas, where a series called Adventures in Time and Place won an unprecedented 60 percent of the state’s potential $72 million adoption budget for elementary social studies texts. Faced with the prospect of a difficult campaign in Texas selling history in the face of persistent right-wing accusations of multiculturalism and unpatriotic revisionism New York-based McGraw-Hill resorted to a tactic that General Sherman Would never have embraced: they capitulated. The company retreated, however, only to advance. What follows is an account of McGraw-Hill’s triumphant Texas Textbook Campaign. WORKING THE BOARD On the fifteen-member Texas State Board of Education, Republi cans hold a nine-to-six advantage over Democrats. But the crucial division is between the Christian conservative faction \(which and Democrats. Beginning in 1993, with the election of conservative Christian Bob Offutt, Christian activists with the help of a state Republican party machine they now firmly control have targeted Board of Education elections once largely ignored by both parties. The Board’s fundamentalist faction has taken its direction from the Christian Coalition, and carried on a campaign of obstructionist politics, railing against the “Austin education establishment” their term for the confluence of education interest groups, teachers’ unions, and state bureaucracies controlling the public school system. Until the Legislature reacted and the Board’s authority to review textbook content was limited by statute in 1997, the fundamentalist faction held a stranglehold on the textbook adoption process, practically bringing to a halt the state’s efforts to adopt desperately needed new health textbooks in 1995. But despite attempts by Governor Bush and moderate Republicans to limit their influence \(including threats to abolish board members have since found other avenues to maintain control over the book adoption process. They have made critical appointments to textbook review committees, where Christian activists, determined to punish insufficiently conservative publishers, pore over textbooks line by line. Individual board members have even promoted personally approved textbooks, using their names to advance the interests of certain publishing houses in school districts where the endorsement of an elected official can help sell textbooks. So working the board, even with its diminished authority, remains crucial. Nobody works the board better than McGraw-Hill, as the 1996-97 adoption cycle amply demonstrated. At a Christian education expo held on the outskirts of San Antonio last spring, veteran 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 30, 1999
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