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Published in Print: June 23, 1999, as Calif. Approves Math, English Textbooks Tied to Standards

Calif. Approves Math, English Textbooks Tied to Standards

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California's state school board is planning to spend $1 billion on textbooks that match its new mathematics and language arts standards.

The board this month endorsed a list of math and language arts texts for schools to buy with a four-year pot of money established to pay for instructional materials aligned with the state standards.

A special $250 million-a-year appropriation approved by the state legislature last year will finance the purchases. That amount exceeds the $185 million available this year from the state's so- called instructional-materials fund, which has its own list of approved titles, that was created before the state adopted its academic standards.

The books on the new list are intended to help districts "fill in the gaps" in their textbook collections with ones helping students meet the new standards, according to Marion Joseph, a state board member.

"This will give people the opportunity to buy stuff that's pretty good," said Ms. Joseph, who is a prominent advocate of the phonics approach to reading instruction.

Prescriptive Math?

California's board has been revising standards and curriculum frameworks for the past few years, consistently generating debate over what students should learn and how teachers should teach.

The new reading standards require schools to use phonics, which teaches children to sound out letters and words. That marks a departure from state policies of the late 1980s that endorsed a literature-based, "whole language" approach to reading instruction.

In a similar philosophical shift, the math standards adopted in 1997 moved away from teaching methods emphasizing experimental learnings. The current standards emphasize the development of skills over their application to real-life problems. ("Calif. Education Officials Approve Back-to-Basics Standards in Math," Jan. 14, 1998.)

Critics of the current approach say the math texts on the new state list slight problem-solving in favor of skill-building. In addition, some of the books script teacher presentations down to how long teachers should pause while waiting for students to answer questions, according to Judy M. Anderson, the president of the Math Council, a group that represents 10,000 California math educators.

"If we define mathematics as simply following the rules, that's what this textbook adoption brings about," Ms. Anderson said. "There's not any thinking going on here," she contended.

The new math and reading lists include books published by such big-name publishers as Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt Brace, and McDougal Littell. The math list also has two K-6 titles by Saxon Publishers, a Marion, Okla., company specializing in skill-building through repetitive practice.

The new lists will have a big impact on what California schools may buy with state dollars. The $250 million may only be spent on textbooks the state adopted June 11, according to Rae Belisle, the counsel to the state board.

Districts may spend up to 30 percent of their grants on texts not on the state-approved list.

National Impact Weighed

While the impact on the California textbook market will be significant, the national market may not change in the short run as a result of the Golden State's changes, Ms. Joseph and Ms. Anderson predict.

Because the legislature approved the supplemental funds late last year, publishers had little opportunity to revise their books significantly before submitting them for review this spring. California and Texas, because of their market size, tend to command publishers' attention.

"These were things that were pretty much already developed," Ms. Anderson said of the texts. "They may [have an impact] if people use it as a lever to promote them" in other states, she said.

The market is more likely to change when the state revises its list for the instructional-materials fund, Ms. Joseph said.

Several textbooks have won only conditional approval, pending legal review and publishers' revisions, Ms. Belisle said.

Vol. 18, Issue 41, Page 10

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Web Resources
  • Read what the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation considers the best state standards in the five core academic subjects of English, history, geography, math, and science.
  • Read an overview of the Curriculum Development Timeline Website, from the Boston College School of Eduation. Their timeline covers curriculum development from 1780 through 1990.
  • For a comprehensive look at world-wide curriculum development throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, visit the curriculum page of the History of Education Site.
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