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MARCH 2008

Teachers College Press:
104 Years Old and Still Going Strong

By Emily Sherwood, Ph.D.

For the student of education policy, browsing through the bookshelves at the Teachers College (TC) Press headquarters on Amsterdam and 121st Street is like a child’s trip to the candy store. John Dewey would have been proud of the rigorous intellectual scholarship crammed between those four walls: Michael Rebell, Andy Hargreaves, and Michael Fullan are among hundreds of nationally recognized authors whose works have been recently published by this 104 year old educational publishing powerhouse. Fullan’s latest book, What’s Worth Fighting For in the Principalship, offers a crisp, pragmatic agenda for today’s overloaded school leaders. Why Science? by renowned physicist James Trefil calls for a national scientific literacy program in America’s schools, while Teaching The Levees combines Spike Lee’s compelling documentary film with a curriculum guide to teach students about Hurricane Katrina, raising insightful questions about how this country handles issues of race, class and citizenship. The list goes on and on – 60-65 new titles each year -- tackling head-on the cutting edge issues in today’s American schools: multiculturalism, urban education reform, language and literacy research, aesthetic education, special education, distance learning, and more.

 “Our job as a university press is to find absolutely the best there is,” explains TC Press Director Carole Saltz, who came on board in 1985 following a vice-presidency at Springer Publishing. “Education is such an interesting field. Everybody has an opinion. But in fact there’s a great deal of research, and that research sometimes has trouble getting itself positioned into policy,” muses Saltz, noting that political rhetoric can be at odds with careful research. “We’re surrounded by authors and advisors who are passionate about what they know and what they write, who want to do the best for our children, and they want it based on a foundation of research rather than rhetoric.”

Through collaborative leadership that draws on the expertise of longtime professional staff members (three of whom, like Saltz, have been on staff over 20 years), an editorial advisory board, series editors, reviewers, and board members, Saltz’ editorial vision has been key to the success of the Press: “Where possible, we try to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Many of our scholarly books have vignettes, stories, and examples that connect scholarship to the classroom,” she notes. The Press is selective – less than 15 percent of submitted projects are accepted – and they are under no obligation to publish TC authors (in fact, over 85 percent of their authors are from other educational institutions.) As in most successful enterprises, innovation is encouraged: “It’s important as a university press that we help with the birthing of new authors and new scholarship,” explains Saltz, noting that Gary Howard, a renowned and inspirational speaker in the area of diversity leadership and training, had been solicited to write his first-time book, We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know, by James Banks, editor of the Multicultural Education series at TC Press. Despite Howard’s inexperience, his book, which went through significant revisions along the way, became an instant bestseller and is now in its second edition.

At 104 years and counting, TC Press is far from slowing down. It’s no secret that technology will play a part in the future of book publishing, although its full ramifications are still unknown. “We’ll continue to respond to the twists and turns and changes that are part of the industry,” remarks Saltz thoughtfully. “We publish content, and usually it’s in the form of a book…If e-books are the future, that’s great, but we want to continue to exercise editorial control so that TC Press books remain recognizable.” Technology is also offering readers the opportunity to become part of an ongoing, interactive learning community, where users provide feedback, engage in blogs, and introduce new materials about the subject matter long after the book is published. Teaching The Levees, for example, boasts its own website (www.teachingthelevees.org), where those who log on are bombarded by a menu of options that includes discussion forums, solicitation of personal stories, a listing of civic organizations, maps, press clippings and more.

Book marketing in the twenty first century will also face new challenges. According to Assistant Director Leyli Shayegan, who directs the Press’ sales and marketing initiative, “the market for books is forever changing and consolidating. With bookstores becoming superstores and superstores becoming web-based, we need to find ways to protect our books and give them the distribution they deserve.” Shayegan notes that traditional bookstore distribution, which often eschews scholarly work in favor of high profit margin books, has driven the Press to seek “innovative solutions” such as working directly with schools and professional organizations, authors who take their work out into the field, the web, and other methods that will directly reach the consumer.

But whatever the future has in store for TC Press, Saltz and her staff have their hands full with their immediate to-do list. They’re excited about their next season of books: a new offering by first-time author Joel Westheimer, son of Dr. Ruth, will explore how to parent teens in a society where sex is prevalent in such media as Internet, video games, blogs, U Tube, My Space and Facebook.  There are authors to be met, research to be plumbed. “We just have to be smart enough to ask the right questions,” laughs Saltz modestly, though one knows that maintaining TC Press’ 104 year old reputation takes quite a bit more than that.#



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