BENEFITS OF A GOOD TEXT BOOK/CURRICULUM
by David A. Orbits, 8/24/09 pdf
The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption
Foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr. Introduction by Diane Ravitch
High School Math Texts
Middle Grades Math Texts
Elementary Grades Math Texts
2008 WA State High School Mathematics Review Comparison: Looking at Mathematical Soundness
Mathematics -- Specific Math Programs Illinois Loop
Educational Research Analysts Reviews and comparisons
News Articles & Misc. Related to Math Textbooks/Programs
Have you researched your child’s math text lately?
Beth Schultz September 11, 2009 The Times Record
Which math book to use? A passionate debate rages
A wave of change in math teaching is about to hit Washington. It's bringing furious arguments over how to get all kids to meet new math standards — and which textbook series does the best job.
Katherine Long Seattle Times August 16, 2009
Pearson Acquires Stake in 2 Indian Education Companies
HEATHER TIMMONS June 24, 2009 The New York Times
Needham Public Schools decide whether to update Investigations math program
Steven Ryan Wicked Local Needham Jun 24, 2009
Connecticut District Tosses Algebra Textbooks and Goes Online
The New York Times By WINNIE HU Published: June 8, 2009
Some Comments on MathLand, Connected Mathematics, and the Japanese Mathematics Program
R. James Milgram Department of Mathematics Stanford University
School math books, nonsense, and the National Science Foundation
David Klein Department of Mathematics California State University, Northridge
Why the U.S. Department of Education's recommended math programs don't add up
By David Klein
Elementary School Mathematics Priorities
By W. Stephen Wilson Professor of Mathematics Johns Hopkins University
and Former Senior Advisor for Mathematics Office of Elementary and Secondary Education U.S. Department of Education
BENEFITS OF A GOOD TEXT BOOK/CURRICULUM
by David A. Orbits, 8/24/09
The math text book is a critical learning tool of any formal education system. I think some who say
otherwise are being disingenuous and seem to be trying to deflect the debate away from the
text/curriculum so they can more easily install a text/curriculum that they favor. I watched Greta
Bornemann, from OSPI, and others use this tactic in their testimony on HS textbook adoption before the
Seattle School Board. Of course, if the text didn’t really matter, then why was she testifying? With all
due respect, I think it is as much a critical piece as the teaching style for the following reasons:
1. A good text / curriculum needs to provide plentiful practice with repetition spaced out in
time so students can build long term memory and proficiency.
2. A text with good explanation and examples is a very important tool for those students who
are able to find help at home. The direct effect is a productivity boost for the teacher because
any learning support the student gets at home frees up teacher time to help the other students
with one-on-one feedback. The absence of a text or a poor text acts as a drag on teacher
productivity while a good text acts to reduce teacher workload.
3. A good text / curriculum makes it easier for all teachers by reducing prep time. This is
especially helpful to the less motivated teachers in the workforce because they are generally less
organized. Data shows there is as much variation in education quality from classroom to
classroom as there is from school to school. (I have seen the differences in teacher motivation
first hand during my years of being a math teacher volunteer in classrooms) Students in a class
with a weakly motivated teacher and a weak text / curriculum are at a big disadvantage. More of
these students will be behind at the end of the school year.
4. A weak (or new) teacher will not know what parts of a weak text need to be skipped or
backfilled. Even though the math standards specify the curriculum content, many weak or new
teachers will tend to teach directly from the text. This does not make them bad teachers, rather it
simply reflects the variation in knowledge and skill in any large workforce, be it teachers or a
high tech company. We can never expect to have the “perfect” workforce.
5. A good text / curriculum helps the new / weak teachers because of (1) the reduced prep
time, (2) it lets them become productive more quickly, and (3) they can use the text to refresh
their own math skills.
6. A more expert math teacher will discard the poor pieces of curriculum materials but when a
teacher needs to replace a section of content in a poor text then the student that is out sick or the
struggling student can’t find the material covered in class when he or she is looking back to the
text for clarification or review. This penalizes the weaker students who utilize the text to help
fill in comprehension gaps occurring during class time. It also penalizes students who are sick,
or on vacation, or who get pulled out during math class for other reasons. So while the more
able math teacher can omit the weak pieces of a text/curriculum it is not a cost free action.
7. A curriculum and supporting text that makes math learning more effective and efficient has
three benefits: (1) it increases student confidence and success with Math, (2) it increases a
teacher’s feeling of accomplishment and job satisfaction which may reduce turnover, and (3)
better student learning makes parents happier which makes teachers happier at parent-teacher
8. More efficient classroom learning means more material can be covered in the school year
with better long-term memory retention and/or reduces the need to increase math periods by
stealing time from art, music, etc. The increased rigor of the revised math standards also argues
for increased classroom efficiency.
9. It is far more practical to add extra sections of supplemental material to a well organized text
in order to match the math standards than it will be to compensate for poor structure, inadequate
examples or insufficient practice problems in a poorly organized text. This means that it is a bad
idea to overweight a text/curriculum with alignment to the math standards and underweight what
I will call the teaching support provided by the text/curriculum. This skewed weighting is what
was done by the OSPI curriculum review process of 9/24/2008 where they weighted standard
alignment at 70% and Instructional Planning and support at 4.5%.
The most effective teachers can identify the weaknesses of a curriculum / text. For example,
some will eliminate large chunks of the TERC curriculum and replace it with materials from
other sources. This is labor intensive and unfortunately the need to do so further increases the
quality variation from classroom to classroom. Teachers need a high quality baseline curriculum
that is well structured, has examples, and plenty of practice problems for the students. Teachers
can then supplement with fun math activities (there are lots of them) as time permits. Subject
material called for in the state standard but missing from a curriculum/text can be augmented
once by the district or the state.
To put some numbers on it, the state wide math WASL results from the WA OSPI Report Card
for School Year 2008-09 shows that:
1. 48% of Low-Income 3rd graders (16,742 students) failed with 28% (9,565) scoring at
Level 1 (well below standard),
2. 64% of Low-Income 4th graders (21,983) failed with 36% (13,348) scoring at Level 1,
3. 66% of Low-Income 7th graders (20,470) failed with 45% (13,855) scoring at Level 1,
4. 79% of Low-Income 10th graders (18,932) failed with 46% (11,129) scoring at Level 1.
The tenth grade numbers are actually worse than shown because the dropout students have not
been accounted for.
I submit that the textbook materials matter a great deal to both the weakest teachers and the
weakest students and parents. Well structured materials with solid math, clear examples and
plentiful practice problems spaced out in time are critical to provide the best support to the
weakest of our students and teachers and to enable the best possible home support.