Middle School Science Texts Full of Errors, Review Finds

By Michelle Galley — January 24, 2001 | Corrected: February 23, 2019 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Corrected: The January 24 print edition and an earlier web edition of this article misspelled the name of Linda Ronstadt.

Science textbooks used by an estimated 80 percent of middle school students nationwide are riddled with errors, a new study concludes.

For More Information

Read the “Review of Middle School Science Texts,” from the Physical Sciences Resource Center.

The review of 12 of the most popular middle school science textbooks, conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, lists specific errors in science textbooks in the hope of helping publishers avoid similar mistakes in the future, according to John L. Hubisz, a co-author of the report.

Some problems, such as an illustration depicting the equator running through central Texas and a picture of singer Linda Ronstadt that was labeled as a silicon crystal, were merely production errors, Mr. Hubisz said. More disturbing, he said, were factual inconsistencies and substantive mistakes. “We were after those things that would really upset middle school students,” he said.

For example, one book the researchers examined, Glencoe: Science Interactions, published in 1998 by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, asks students to find the volume of an object when given only the depth and width, and not the height. It also gives the wrong formula for finding the volume of a sphere. In addition, the text refers to the concepts of “heterogeneous” and “homogeneous,” which are not introduced until later in the book, according to the review. Glencoe/McGraw-Hill officials could not be reached for comment last week.

The two-year study, which was underwritten by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, underscores concerns cited in a report released in 1999 by Project 2061, the education improvement initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That report found that middle school textbooks did not adequately teach the fundamentals of science. (“Science Group Finds Middle School Textbooks Inadequate,” Oct. 6, 1999.)

As part of the AAAS project, publishers, curriculum developers, and state textbook administrators will tackle the issue of improving textbooks at a three-day conference next month in Washington.

Parallel Process

Such mistakes occur because too many authors are working on a book at the same time, some of the authors are not knowledgeable in the field of science, and “no one has checked the continuity,” Mr. Hubisz argued.

He recommended that fewer authors work on a book, and that publishers hire content reviewers who are specialists in their fields of science.

But that is not how the industry works, according to Stephen D. Driesler, the executive director of the Washington-based school division of the Association of American Publishers. “Textbooks have a much broader range of expertise than a single person would have,” he said.

Textbooks have more design elements than books that are text only, and publishers need to make sure the presentation is age-appropriate, Mr. Driesler said. Such considerations mean the preparation of a textbook often requires a team of people.

Unlike the way in which a novel is produced—typically with a single author and one or two editors—chapters of a textbook may be prepared simultaneously by different writers. “It is not a linear process,” Mr. Driesler said. “It is a parallel process.”

In general, publishers have experts on subject matter working on the content of the textbook, he added. “The publishers do pull together teams of experts in the given fields to put together the material,” he said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2001 edition of Education Week as Middle School Science Texts Full of Errors, Review Finds


Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Science Webinar
Close the Gender Gap: Getting Girls Excited about STEM
Join female STEM leaders as they discuss the importance of early cheerleaders, real life role models, and female networks of support.
Content provided by Logitech
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum What the Research Says The State of Driver's Education, in 4 Charts
Training requirements vary from state to state.
2 min read
Virtual driving simulation screen.
A screen from a driving simulation.
Jackie Niam/iStock/Getty
Curriculum How Florida's New School Librarian Training Defines Off-Limits Materials
School librarians will soon have to seek parent approval to order new books, and have to avoid books considered "indoctrination."
3 min read
Books line shelves in a high school library Monday, October 1, 2018, in Brownsville, Texas. The Brownsville Independent School District announced having been awarded a multi-million-dollar grant to revitalize libraries to encourage reading by school-aged children to improve literacy skills. It was stated in the meeting that money could also be used to replace aging furniture in some of the district's libraries.
Books line shelves in a high school library in Brownsville, Texas in 2018. In Florida, school librarians will be required to complete training this year that will include how to seek parent approval before they can purchase new books for school libraries and classrooms.
Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP
Curriculum What the Research Says How an Attention-Training Program Can Make Teens Better Drivers
A driving simulation created to tune up attention skills in young drivers with ADD could have wider benefits.
6 min read
Driver Training Simulator
A student uses a driving trainer simulator to sharpen attention skills.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital
Curriculum Q&A You Can Teach About Climate Change in Every Subject and Grade Level. Here's How
Math, foreign language, even art classes offer opportunities to build students' knowledge.
8 min read
Tree growing from a book with education icons floating above, focusing on climate change and curriculum