Curriculum

Ignoring Advisory Panel, Calif. Adopts Skills-Based Math Textbooks

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — January 17, 2001 3 min read
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The California state school board last week approved a slate of mathematics textbooks that heavily favors a skills-based approach to instruction and, for the first time, meets the state’s 3-year-old math standards and the frameworks that guide curriculum in the subject.

But the adoption jarred many teachers and administrators, including the state schools superintendent, who maintain that the board’s rejection of an acclaimed instructional program undermined the recommendations of an advisory panel and created a roadblock for more innovative approaches to teaching math.

The adoption “is a disappointment, to say the least, because we view it as a setback ... for quality math instruction for students,” said Elizabeth Sullivan, the president-elect of the California Mathematics Council, which represents 10,000 math teachers.

Some officials, however, defended the list, saying the selected texts meet a complex and comprehensive set of criteria, and the rejected books do not.

“In the [adopted] texts, we felt the standards were covered ... so that students would have mastery of the subject for future learning,” said Susan Stickel, an assistant superintendent in Elk Grove, Calif., and a member of the state curriculum commission, which advises the board on textbooks.

“While we applaud those districts and teachers who say they are getting results from other programs, effectiveness was not one of our criteria [for selecting the texts],” she added.

Because of its size and its requirement that districts use the bulk of state textbook aid on state-approved books, California is considered the trendsetter in educational publishing. With hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for instructional materials on the line, many publishers produce textbooks that will meet California’s academic standards and adoption criteria, and then market those books nationally.

‘Teacher Proof’ Materials

The California board selected texts that are seen as likely to hold the greatest potential for improving students’ scores on standardized tests and for being used effectively by teachers with a wide range of skills in teaching math.

That meant a thumbs- up for 12 texts, including two series by Saxon Publishers, a Norman, Okla., company specializing in skill-building through repetitive practice. The Saxon books are considered “teacher proof,” and include prepared daily lessons and tests that eliminate the need for teachers to create their own.

In contrast, Everyday Mathematics, seen as a “progressive” program, was rejected as too difficult for teachers to use.

The state board, in essence, rejected the recommendations of two review panels, which gave high ratings to Everyday Mathematics, K-3. The program, developed by the University of Chicago’s School Mathematics Project, was one of six deemed “exemplary” in 1999 by a panel sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. (“‘Exemplary’ Texts Withdrawn From Calif. Adoption Process,” Oct. 18, 2000.)

The textbook-adoption list reflects the standards California adopted in 1998, which veer away from conceptual understanding of mathematics and real-life problem-solving skills in favor of an instructional approach that reinforces basic skills and repeated practice of math functions.

In letters to the board last week, a group of 15 district superintendents and Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin urged the members to approve Everyday Math, citing evidence that it improves student performance.

Waiver Established

The board instead established a waiver process that will allow districts already using Everyday Mathematics to continue, but only if they can prove it has contributed to higher student achievement. Districts that have not used the series will be ineligible to apply for waivers.

California lawmakers allocated $415 million for instructional materials in all subjects this year. Of that, $250 million is specifically for textbooks and other materials that meet state standards in the core content areas, including math. Districts must spend 70 percent of the remaining funds on state-approved texts.

The new adoption list is valid for six years.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2001 edition of Education Week as Ignoring Advisory Panel, Calif. Adopts Skills-Based Math Textbooks

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