Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Adventures In Textbook Adoption

The Hillsboro School District is near the end of a long 2-year curriculum adoption process, deciding on the new textbooks and curriculum for middle school mathematics. They have shared the process with the curriculum committee & given us a chance to review the texts, though we only get to comment and vote after the committee of teachers has narrowed down the choice to one selected text. As with the Bridges K-5 curriculum I mentioned in my last entry, these texts seem very lively and activity-oriented: at first glance, I think the district has done very well in identifying textbook candidates that cover the material while making math fun as well. However, as usual, I do have a couple of concerns.

First, I am a bit surprised that despite many hours of meetings over the course of two years, almost none of those voting for the curriculum will have actually read the textbooks cover to cover.   Why is this the case?   Reading the agenda of a curriculum committee meeting, I saw that we would have the opportunity to view the new middle school math textbooks. I emailed back asking about the procedure for signing one out to review, and was told there are no spare copies for this purpose. Even the district teachers on the committee that makes the actual decision are not given copies to check out: they just review them in the room, after having been given marketing presentations by each of the providers. I guess the theory is that the state-level body that approves the curriculum has already reviewed the books in more detail, and the district should trust that they have done their job.

But what worries me the most is that the district is selecting a totally new math program, from top to bottom-- and implementing it in all the schools at once. Wouldn't it be a little less risky to do some kind of phased adoption, trying out in one school and seeing its effect on math achievement in comparison to the current programs? Or even to select different texts in different schools, and compare them? There were some concerns about curriculum training costs, or delays in syncing to the new state-level common core standard-- but has math really changed that much? We have intelligent, educated teachers: I'm sure they could adapt to the curriculum differences by studying the teachers' editions of the new texts, assuming they have a solid understanding of the core math in the first place.

Fundamentally, this leads back to one of the common themes you have seen in this blog: my preference for decentralization and local control. Why can't each school have the "freedom to innovate", and make its own choice from among the finalist texts? I don't see a fundamental reason why a single text must be chosen district-wide. (There may be some concerns about students who move between schools, but this is a rare situation, and is faced anyway when kids transfer from other districts.) With different schools independently deciding, we would get to see how the different texts work in practice, and have a better chance to optimize based on real learning in the classroom environment.


  1. Great blog post, Erik. Thank you! We still have a few years before our daughter starts school, hopefully in the HSD. Thanks to the Open Enrollment Law that was passed recently we'll have the choice to go there - hopefully they'll be accepting new students and no lottery is in place then. -- But to your point, I agree, it makes more sense to 'trial run' new texts in certain schools, and at the end of the year, maybe get teacher's feedback from each of the schools that participated in the pilot. I would only select those schools/teachers with the best Math achievement track record. They'll likely have the most feedback & more likely to have "read it from cover to cover" ;). My 2 cents.

    Jose Orozco
    Cornelius resident, councilor

  2. Hi Jose -- great to hear from you! Good luck in your school selection process.