Textbook Publishers Slammed at Teachers’ Union Meeting

By Catherine Gewertz — April 27, 2011 2 min read
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Publishers are making “preposterous” claims that their textbooks align to the common standards, and that is a key stumbling block in implementing the standards well, a nationally known expert on math and science education told a teachers’ union gathering yesterday.

The comments by William H. Schmidt of Michigan State University came at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers’ committee on common-core implementation. Detailing challenges in that work, Schmidt named teacher-preparation programs, lack of educator knowledge about the standards, and unaligned textbooks as key areas of concern.

“We know,” he said, that textbooks don’t reflect the common standards, but publishers seem “impervious” to the need to change them. In East Lansing, where the university is located, districts are hearing “lectures” from publishers about how their textbooks cover the common standards’ content. Such claims are “preposterous,” Schmidt said, when few or no changes have been made since the standards were finalized last June.

Schmidt described a project he’s working on that helps about 20 school districts “rip up” their math textbooks electronically, identifying which sections match each standard, and cross-referencing them, so teachers know precisely which sections to use to teach a given standard. For standards that find no match in the textbook, outside sources are cited for teachers, he said. The plan is to put the system online for everyone to use. Such a textbook dissection represents one way of dealing with “a serious problem with textbooks,” he said.

Jay Diskey, a spokesman for the Association of American Publishers, which represents education publishers large and small, said there has been “a great deal of movement” by publishers to produce materials that reflect the common standards. He pointed to work being done by Scholastic, Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Existing materials are being adapted, and brand-new materials are being created, Diskey said. Some are in print, and many are digital, he added.

Publishers are veterans at aligning their materials to various sets of standards, Diskey noted, since they’ve been doing that across the states for a long time. Recently, there has been a move to make the connections between instructional materials and standards even more explicit: Florida, for instance, now requires approved materials to cite, in the margin, the specific state standard they cover, he said.

Diskey said that it’s possible, of course, that there might be “a publisher out there somewhere” that’s making false claims about materials’ alignment to the common core. While that’s regrettable, publishers in general are doing their best to adapt or produce materials that capture the new standards, he said. They’re caught in a bit of a bind, because if they were doing nothing to adapt, they would be criticized, but they’re also criticized as they try to make the transition, he said. The publishing industry is working in good faith to produce valuable resources, he said, and it’s frustrating when claims such as those made by Schmidt aren’t made “with greater specificity.”

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