Teachers and Textbooks

By Sean Cavanagh — March 03, 2009 1 min read
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When teacher Mike Fletcher leads students through a geometry lesson, he brings a special kind of authority to the subject. He helped write their textbook.

Fletcher, a teacher from Mobile, Ala., applied and was accepted to the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project to help draft that text, titled “Geometry” and published by McGraw-Hill, which he now uses, according to this story from the Mobile Press-Register. The story provides a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes role that talented K-12 teachers sometimes play in drafting texts in math, science, and other subjects.

Fletcher spent several weeks over the summer of 2006 working with a team of K-12 teachers and university officials on the text. Zalman Usiskin, the director of the Chicago math project, told me in an e-mail that his group relies heavily on secondary math teachers to help draft its books. In fact, some of the K-12 teachers who have worked on math texts through the UCSMP first became involved in that process in the 1980s and continue to work on newer editions of those books today.

Every teacher who’s listed as an author on a UCSMP text spent at least one summer writing for the organization, as Fletcher did, Usiskin noted. (Aside from the standard role Fletcher played in drafting the book, it appears his influence is evident in other, subtle ways, the story says. Geometry teachers who notice references to driving distances in southern Alabama can thank Fletcher.)

I often see math and science textbooks where K-12 educators are listed as contributing in a variety of ways—as authors, contributors, and so on. I’ve got a high school biology text at my desk that lists several teachers as “consultants,” though the two main authors are university-level researchers. Jay Diskey, the executive director of the school division at the Association of American Publishers, said teachers play an “invaluable” role in textbook development, in many subjects, as authors, editors, and subject matter experts. Publishers have been seeking out teachers’ advice for decades, he said.

For teachers out there who’ve worked on textbooks, a question: What is the best role for K-12 teachers in textbook development? Are there duties for which they’re not well-suited? And what is the division of duties for K-12 teachers, university scholars, and outside wordsmiths in crafting a textbook?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.