Frequently referred to as the nation's de facto curriculum, textbooks are often second only to teacher knowledge in importance during instruction, and in courses where the teacher may have little formal preparation science or math, for example they may be relied on almost exclusively. Elementary teachers commonly depend heavily on textbooks for guidance due to the demands of having to teach multiple subjects, including ones they may not have focused on in college. Accurate textbooks are therefore crucial to quality education in the United States.
Although a majority of states allow local agencies to select textbooks they will use, a sizable minority select textbooks at the state level and are known as textbook adoption states. Due to their large market share, even a handful of these states California, Texas and Florida can have a dramatic impact on the content of textbooks sold throughout the country. Textbook publishers seek to sell books to as wide a market as possible by tailoring content to meet as many different states' requirements as possible.
Attempts to meet all the requirements a textbook publisher has to conform to in order to sell a book in as many markets as possible and therefore remain profitable often lead to textbooks that appear comprehensive, but which in reality present a large amount of information in shallow, superficial terms. Many experts report that textbooks in the United States are extremely long, large, heavy and overburdened with graphics, while containing factual errors and failing to have a compelling narrative that might interest and inform students.
Stephen Budiansky. The Trouble With Textbooks. American Association for the Advancement of Science, February 2001.
Mary Koppal and Ann Caldwell. Meeting the Challenge of Science Literacy: Project 2061 Efforts to Improve Science Literacy. The American Society for Cell Biology, 2004.
John Hubisz. Middle School Textbooks Dont Make the Grade. American Institute of Physics, May 2003.