Curriculum

‘Nation’s Newspaper’ Moves Into Math Texts

By David J. Hoff — May 08, 2002 | Corrected: February 23, 2019 3 min read
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Corrected: This story incorrectly states that USA Today is distributed free to schools. The newspaper charges schools for subscriptions.

The newspaper that made colorful charts and numeric tidbits commonplace in American journalism is now making its mark in U.S. textbooks.

USA Today will be inserting its graphics and articles in a new series of pre-algebra and algebra books published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, one of the leading publishers of mathematics texts for secondary schools.

The newspaper’s content will help students see the practical applications of the algebraic concepts they’re learning, according to officials with the publishing company, which is marketing the new textbook series to schools for the start of the 2002-03 school year.

“We were interested in getting more real-life content in our books,” said Darlene R. Leshnock, the vice president of mathematics editorial for the New York City-based publisher.

“It was fairly easy to find examples of how algebra applies to the real world,” she said, in USA Today‘s Snapshots—stand-alone graphics that the McLean, Va.- based newspaper has made a staple since its introduction in 1982.

In Glencoe/McGraw-Hill’s new pre-algebra, Algebra 1, and Algebra 2 texts, USA Today articles and graphics will appear in the introduction to each of the books’ five units. The books also will incorporate one or two examples from the 2.1 million-circulation national newspaper.

Math or Marketing?

The newspaper, which is owned by the Gannett Co. and calls itself “the nation’s newspaper,” has a contract similar to those signed by other textbook authors, according to Ms. Leshnock. Neither she nor Diane H. Barrett, the director of USA Today‘s national educational programs, would disclose the financial arrangements.

In a lesson on ratios and proportions, the new Algebra 1 book reproduces a Snapshot from the paper’s sports section. The chart, which is clearly marked with the newspaper’s logo, lists the number of medals won by seven countries in the history of the Summer Olympics.

Students are asked to write the ratios of gold medals to the total number awarded each of the countries. A second question tells them to find out if any of the ratios form a proportion, meaning that two of the ratios would be equivalent.

The exercise gives students the chance to apply the skills they’ve learned and to understand their importance, according to Alice B. Foster, the marketing manager for Glencoe’s mathematics books.

What’s more, it gives students experience in interpreting data, a skill that they will need in reading newspapers, business reports, and a variety of documents in their adult lives, she added.

Critics, however, say the partnership between the two publishing powerhouses has more to do with marketing than teaching algebra.

Glencoe/McGraw-Hill will try to sell textbooks by pushing a familiar brand name in front of teachers and curriculum directors, according to William J. Bennetta, the president of the Textbook League, a Sausalito, Calif.-based nonprofit group that reviews textbooks. Meanwhile, USA Today will have its logo prominently displayed in front of a legion of potential readers, he added.

“This is all just advertising gimmickry,” Mr. Bennetta contended. “Most books could be cut in half without any loss of pedagogical value to the student.”

‘Real-World Content’

The partnership marks the first time that the 20-year-old newspaper has had any of its content published in a textbook. But the newspaper has been active in K-12 schools since its founding, said Ms. Barrett.

The newspaper distributes free copies to schools throughout the country so that teachers can use them in lesson plans. Ms. Barrett would not say how many copies of the paper are distributed through the program.

USA Today also posts daily lesson plans on its Web site based on articles in every issue.

“It’s relevant, real-world content that engages young people in learning,” Ms. Barrett said.

Glencoe/McGraw-Hill officials proposed the partnership with USA Today, Ms. Foster said, because they saw many teachers clipping charts from the newspaper to use as classroom resources.

This year, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill will submit the textbooks to officials in Kentucky, Oregon, and South Carolina for review in their textbook-adoption processes, Ms. Leshnock said. It will also apply for adoption in California next year when the state reviews materials for its list of approved textbooks.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 2002 edition of Education Week as ‘Nation’s Newspaper’ Moves Into Math Texts

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