As you shop for school supplies, fill those reading list requirements, and stuff backpacks, take a minute to really look at the books your kids are hauling to and from school every day. Chances are at least a couple of those books were published by a company with offices here in Chicago.
In recent blogs, we’ve focused on various aspects of Chicagoland’s publishing industry, looking at children’s publishing, university presses, association publishing, and some local bookstores. Today we offer a roundup of just some of the education publishers in Chicago—those publishers that are producing textbooks, eLearning products, online instruction, supplements, and all sorts of cool new teaching and learning materials that are finding their way into classrooms these days.
But, first, a little bit of history about textbook and education publishing here in the Windy City.
Chicago has long been home to education publishing. Scott Foresman was launched in 1889 in a tiny office on Wabash Avenue, publishing everything from Latin textbooks to the popular Dick and Jane series. Foresman later moved its headquarters to Glenview, and now it is part of Pearson, which is based in London.
Pearson is just one of the big-name education publishers that has ties to Chicago. McGraw-Hill, Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, and Macmillan—all those names you’ll find on the spines and copyright pages of textbooks—also have had or still have offices here. Consolidation, bankruptcy, and restructuring have brought many changes to these houses over the years. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt declared bankruptcy in 2012 and has since reorganized. McGraw-Hill recently spun off its education unit to the venture capital firm Apollo Global Management, and there is talk that something might happen between Apollo, McGraw-Hill Education, and Cengage Learning, which owns National Geographic School Publishing, which has offices in Evanston.
Today, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill Education “control 85 percent of the $3.2 billion elementary and high-school market.” Aside from the big three, though, Chicago is home to a number of other, smaller education publishers, packagers, and content deliverers. Among them are Follett, Goodheart-Willcox, Learning Resources, and Quarasan.
Formed in 1873 in west suburban Wheaton, Follett is now a $2.7 billion global publisher. Originally launched as a used bookstore by Charles Barnes, the company moved from Wheaton to Chicago in 1876, where Barnes sold new and used textbooks, school supplies, and stationary. In 1901, C. W. Follett joined the company, and eventually the organization evolved into a wholesaler before reorganizing as Barnes–Wilcox and eventually becoming the Follett College Book Company in 1930. (Charles Barnes went on to found what would become Barnes & Noble.) Today, Follett provides libraries, schools, and universities with a variety of educational tools and services that “fuel the learning process and spark the imagination” for students of all ages. As it has done for more than 135 years, Follett continues to evolve, moving beyond traditional textbooks to publish digital textbooks, course materials, and software.
About the time that Follett was morphing from wholesale bookseller to educational publisher, Goodheart-Willcox was entering the fray. Launched in 1921 to publish Dyke’s Automobile and Gasoline Engine Encyclopedia, the publisher has since become a leader in the field of career and technical education.
Originally established in Chicago, Goodheart-Willcox has moved around the south suburbs a few times, from Homewood to South Holland to Tinley Park, where its current headquarters are. As the publisher has grown, it has added more titles and more subjects, moving beyond its original automotive titles to publish books on such topics as refrigeration, welding, home economics, anatomy, construction, information technology … the list goes on and on. A number of Goodheart-Willcox titles have become standards in their field: According to the company’s website, Modern Electric and Gas Refrigeration by Andrew H. Althouse was first published in 1933 and is currently in its 18th edition as Modern Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. Similarly, Modern Welding is the updated 11th edition of Modern Welding Practice, first published in 1942, and Clothes and Your Appearance by Louise Liddell, originally published in 1977, is now in its 10th edition.
While Goodheart-Willcox focuses on career and technical education, Learning Resources is targeting a much younger audience, publishing educational materials for children and their families with a focus on the PK–5 market.
For nearly three decades, the educational publisher, headquartered in Vernon Hills, has developed materials that go beyond simple board books to include bilingual products, electronic toys, play and learning activity sets, manipulatives, games, and puzzles, among other things. The house also publishes technology products and teacher resources to support the delivery of education. In addition, Learning Resources also offers a variety of materials for special-needs children, helping them learn through interactive products and providing solutions for struggling students.
The colorful, educational materials from Learning Resources have earned kudos from a variety of corners, from blogger moms to magazines like Good Housekeeping and from teachers to science and technology experts.
Pulling together all the material for the wide variety of educational resources available today is no easy task. In fact, a number of education and textbook publishers turn to packagers and content developers to help create products that will help children learn and teachers teach. Among them is Quarasan, a Chicago-based content provider.
According to the company’s website, Quarasan was launched in 1982 by graphic designer Randi Brill, who had $57 in her checking account and some room in her basement from which to start the business. “She was heavily armed with circa 1982 tools: a pica stick, two file cabinets, a blue Princess phone, and a typewriter (yes, a typewriter!) that didn’t type the lowercase letter o!” After adding a number of clients, a lot of employees, and some good projects, Quarasan moved a few times before landing in its current location in downtown Chicago.
Today, the company develops content for the likes of Loyola Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and World Book, Inc., focusing on the PK–16 market. From conceptualization to customization to correlations, Quarasan’s team of writers, reviewers, copy editors, proofreaders, designers, illustrators, and project managers works on scores of projects for a variety of clients, all toward the goal of “getting today’s kids ready for their tomorrows.”
Today’s students have at their disposal learning materials that many of us could never have dreamed of when we were young. Chicago’s education and textbook publishers are developing innovative books and related products that help students of all ages learn in fun ways. Although the city may have fewer education publishers today than it did just a few decades ago, Chicago publishers remain at the forefront of cutting-edge educational materials that will, indeed, help kids prepare for tomorrow.