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Publicity Misstep Costs Pearson Chance For L.A. Textbook Bid

An overly optimistic press release knocked publishing giant Pearson Education out of the running for a K-5 reading textbook adoption competition in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is considering its first new textbook adoption since 2000, when the 678,000-student district selected Open Court Reading, published by SRA/McGraw-Hill. The contract is expected to be worth about $15 million a year for its first two years, the current cost for Open Court workbooks, making the new materials cost neutral in the short term.

On March 3, a public relations firm distributed a press release stating that Los Angeles classrooms "will get a massive infusion of technology as school district leaders work to prepare the Facebook generation of students for college and careers, under a proposal being reviewed this week by district leaders."

The release goes on to state some of the services Pearson "will" provide the district, such as online reading materials, speech-recognition software to help students practice their language skills, and instant reports to teachers on student progress.

The only problem: According to district officials, the press release came out a day before Pearson and two other publishers were to make presentations to the district's textbook review committee.

In a statement, Los Angeles officials said they dropped Pearson because the process cannot go forward with the appearance that one bidder is favored.

"We have worked diligently to ensure this adoption process is transparent and inclusive," said Judy Elliott, the district's chief academic officer, in the statement. "This is a grave misstep that potentially jeopardized the integrity of the process. The decision to disqualify Pearson is a necessary result."

Ramon C. Cortines, the district superintendent, said in the statement that instructional materials are the "bread and butter" of the school system's existence. "We must make certain that our textbook adoption process is clear of any perceived bias toward one publishing firm over another. The press release highlighted Pearson's products as if they had been adopted; this was not a favor to Pearson."

Wendy Spiegel, a spokeswoman for Pearson Education, headquartered in the United States in Upper Saddle River, N.J., released a statement to Education Week on the mix-up: "Pearson deeply regrets the misunderstanding that eliminated us from the LAUSD reading adoption. We would like the LAUSD community to know that we are unwavering in our support of their teachers and students and that we will steadfastly continue to serve them with exceptional, effective, and innovative educational programs."

The district is currently reviewing bids from MacMillan/McGraw-Hill and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt. The school board is expected to vote on the textbooks in late March, with the materials arriving in school in May and June.

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