Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Value and Importance of a Textbook

"The textbook isn't the curriculum."  My principal repeats this like a mantra.  He's a good principal, and I admire him greatly, but on this topic he and I do not agree at all.  I guess he's correct, literally, but his statement implies that the choice of textbook doesn't determine how well students perform in a class--that's up to the teacher (and the student).  In this he is just plain wrong.

The following comes from a "member-supported public radio" site, and it shows how important the choice of textbook is:
If you were tasked with buying textbooks for a school, and your four best options essentially cost the same, how would you decide which one to buy? Wouldn't you ask, "Which of these textbooks will do the most to help kids learn?"

In reality, educators don't always get an answer to this question. Only a handful of states collect data on which textbooks schools choose, much less the effect of these choices on students' test scores...

Their takeaway: the textbook a school chooses can have a pretty big impact on students’ test scores, at least in math...

Also, education reformers, take note: (USC researcher) Polikoff said the measurable impacts of adopting this textbook on student test scores were as significant as — if not more significant than — the impacts of other commonly-touted-but-controversial policy changes, such as using teacher evaluations in layoff decisions or expanding school choice. 
Common sense should tell us that the choice of textbook is important, but clearly some people have other influences beyond common sense.

Two Algebra 2 textbooks ago, I taught Algebra 2.  After the results of our standardized tests came in, my vice principal called me into his office.  He wanted to show me my students' results.  On a bar graph there was a very tall rectangle--it was the performance of my Algebra 2 students.  Next to it was a significantly shorter rectangle, and it represented the performance of all Algebra 2 students at my school (including mine).  Next to that was a very short rectangle indeed, and that represented the performance of all Algebra 2 students in our suburban district.  Needless to say, I was pleased to have some objective evidence related to my teaching abilities.

Shortly after that our district purchased new Algebra 2 books.  I was mortified when I saw the results of the next round of standardized tests.  My rectangle was about the same height as my school's rectangle, and those weren't significantly higher than our district's rectangle.

Don't tell me that textbooks don't matter.  If your reply is "you should get outside sources so that you can continue to teach at the high level you used to", then that's recognition that the current textbook isn't satisfactory.  If your reply is that perhaps I got lucky that one year, that perhaps I wasn't as good a teacher as I had thought, then explain how my entire school's performance dropped so much.

Don't tell me that textbooks don't matter.  I can do great things with good tools.  Crappy tools don't work so well.

Textbooks matter.


Ellen K said...

At least you have them. As a "district of innovation" our district got rid of all hardback textbooks when it came time to renew ( usually every five years) We were promised an online text which would address concerns with special needs and ELL students who often need background material. It never happened. It didn't happen because in order to have a license for every students enrolled in my class to have access would have cost more than an actual hard copy book. SO WHAT IS THE POINT? Had we issued textbooks, they could have been used for many students for multiple years. As it is now, we have no real central textbook for our foundation courses which means the class is being inconsistently taught across the district. Granted I teach an elective course, but if this is the attitude with an elective, then they will surely use that as an excuse for core classes as well.

Thank God I hid the class set from the last adoption ten years ago in my store room or I would have nothing.

Jamie said...

Dare I ask what textbook you had and what textbook it was changed to? Or do you not want to name names?
In regards to the lower performance after the new textbook adoption, in my experience it takes 2-3 years to make a new textbook work smoothly as a teaching tool. Maybe that's because the new textbooks I have had to deal have been less than stellar. Or maybe I'm just not that great of a teacher. What we are working with now it is widely regarded across the district as total crap. Since it's the first new textbook my site has purchased (for Algebra 2) since the year 2000 I have a feeling we will be stuck with it for a while.

Darren said...

I didn't like teaching out of Dolciani's Algebra 1 book (red cover)--I thought it was written at too high a level for students to get much out of. The (green) Dolciani Algebra 2 book, though--that was a work of art.

I don't know what publisher/author we switched to, but it was horrible. As just one example:

Example problems are supposed to help clarify a point. They should start simple and get harder as the section progresses--just like the "homework" problems should. In this new book, though, the example problems were often "way out there", either in concept or in difficulty, and the homework problems were almost devoid of the more advanced problems. The introduction of the material was so bad that students couldn't read a section on their own and get much out of it without teacher assistance. Just bad all around.

Jamie said...

Interesting! I just recently purchased some edition or another of Dolciani's Algebra 2 because I've heard so much about it. Haven't had a chance to get into it yet.
Our current Algebra 2 text is much of what you described ... Examples that aren't really examples but "investigations" that the students can't make heads or tails of on their own. To further illustrate what I consider to be a major deficit, the section on the quadratic formula had 4 homework problems where the students were to do the quadratic formula start to finish on their own. That's it. Just four. The rest was all fluff and a lot of nonsense. Not that I want students doing excessive amounts of work for the sake of doing work, but four just doesn't cut it. It seems the auuthor(s) believe that if technology can do it for you, there's no point in learning how to do it yourself. Much to my students dismay, I believe they should learn how to do it themselves first, then use technology to make things faster and more accurate.

Darren said...

You are what's known as "old fashioned"--and I'm right there with you!