Sunday, February 24, 2013

Statistics, Textbook Bias and Robo-Calling Pollsters has this piece about Rasmussen polls:
Silver analyzed 105 polls released by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, for Senate and gubernatorial races in numerous states across the country. The bottom line is that on average, Rasmussen's polls were off by 5.8% with a bias of 3.9% in favor of the Republican candidates.
It's a methodology thing - robo-call households and you'll be more likely to get older, more often Republican voters who have a landline instead of the younger, cell-phone only types on the DoNotCall list. This is an issue but you can account for it. It's more problematic when you are talking about schools. Darren links to a Rasmussen report that says
Extremism in the defense of my virtue is no vice.
Voters continue to believe that political correctness trumps accuracy in most school textbooks. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 16% of Likely U.S. Voters think most school textbooks are more concerned about accurately providing information. That's down from 27% in March 2010. Fifty-nine percent (59%) think most textbooks are chiefly concerned with presenting information in a politically correct manner, consistent with attitudes for the past three years. Twenty-five percent (25%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Here's the question: "Are most school textbooks more concerned about accurately providing information or about presenting information in a politically correct manner?"

The choice of Yes or No is too limiting for a question like this one. How is anyone supposed to answer this and why would any teacher or school district care about the result?

Sure, everyone's got a right to an opinion but these opinions are based on flimsy evidence and zero first-hand experience.
  • How many adults have read or even skimmed an actual school textbook in the last few years? 
  • On what are these people basing their answer and which textbooks are they considering? 
  • How do they know that the "bias" they see isn't simply the book having a lack of bias towards their favorite religion or social cause? "I don't have an accent; I sound normal."
When you pose a question like this in a robo-call, it's obvious what kind of answers are being pushed for so I'm frankly not at all surprised that they got the answers they did.

My guess is that, if respondents have heard of this issue at all, they've heard from FoxNews or Ann Coulter going on about a history book called People's History of the US, by Howard Zinn, (which few schools use anymore) or about a California textbook that didn't deal harshly enough with Islam (i.e., treating all Islamics as responsible for acts of the Sunni extremist splinter group, Al Queda) which is akin to demanding that the all Christians must be responsible for the actions of the lunatics at the Westboro Baptist Church.

Of course, it could also be that the poll respondents have been listening to any one of the mentally confused pro-Intelligent Design reformers who are trying to change the science curriculum into something that won't contradict orthodoxy. There are no other hot-button issues since Indiana tried to make pi = 3.

As regards to the need for actual reform of the school textbook industry, this survey is merely a "confirm your current opinion" instrument. The industry has many problems; free digital books are going to make this whole discussion explode in brave new ways. Most people will drop the issue.

Except for Fox.  They'll continue to harp on it. In my opinion, of course.


  1. I do actually bother to read textbooks. Yes, I would say I have seen a shift in the nature of word problems in math textbooks toward more politically correct content. I usually start by reading the author's notes on how he intends the book to be used and on changes that have been made from previous editions.I look at the problem index to see what sort of topics they choose for their real-life application examples. Invariably, the sections on exponential functions contain problems involving endangered species decline and unchecked human population growth. I've seen questions involving urban sprawl, global warming, and carbon emissions. Additionally, textbook publishers are careful to use a diversity of cultural images in their publications, so as to be sensitive and inclusive. History excerpts and bios of mathematicians also emphasize gender diversity. I don't personally think these attempts to embed political correctness have much effect on students' attitudes toward math. I do find it to be somewhat off-putting, though. In my opinion, it is inappropriate for a discussion about mathematics. It is not the school's job to indoctrinate. I greatly appreciate the integrity of teachers who recognize this and leave their own political and ideological agendas at home. I wish the textbook authors and editors would exercise the same neutrality. Of course, the state's' education departments set the atmosphere for this, and publishers will cater to that. I figure there's no avoiding the pc be, so just make fun of it and move on.

  2. ^ *pc bs

    I'm too clumsy to use a Kindle.