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Standardization may boost publishers

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Kai Ryssdal: It's not quite a complete overhaul of the time-honored traditions of reading, writing and arithmetic. But the proposal out today on new academic standards could prove to be a very big deal. A panel set up by state governors and education officials lays out, year by year, what public school students ought to learn in math and English to better prepare them for college and, eventually, for working.

There is a big sweetener to get states to sign on to the new standards -- that's a notoriously difficult prospect, by the way. They'll get a chance at a share of $4 billion from the Obama administration's Race to the Top. But the publishing industry might come out the biggest winner. From the Marketplace Education Desk, Amy Scott reports.


AMY SCOTT: Anytime states adopt new education standards, companies that publish textbooks and tests cash in.

JAY DISKEY: It certainly will lead to new business. Whether it will be a bonanza, I don't think anybody knows at this point.

Jay Diskey is executive director of the Association of American Publishers' School Division. He says after a big push to rewrite curricula in the 1990s, some publishers saw double-digit sales increases. Standardization could also save publishers money. Diskey says having to customize materials to meet a patchwork of state standards has driven up costs.

But analyst Kathy Mickey says while all but two states have signed on to help develop the new standards, she expects far fewer to adopt them.

KATHY MICKEY: The key thing I think for the industry will actually be how many and which states implement the common core standards.

Texas has already implied it will not. Mickey says the state is a big player in the textbook industry. She says its standards often dictate what ends up in other states' books. If Texas opts out of the common standards, Mickey says the state's influence might change.

MICKEY: If a significant number of other states have adopted common standards, that may make it much more attractive for publishers to build a textbook around those common standards. But they're certainly not going to ignore selling to Texas.

Analysts say standardization may ultimately hurt the testing industry. If states adopt a national set of tests, some publishers could lose out.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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