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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Does a Quality Textbook Look Like?

By Nakonia (Niki) Hayes.
(Previously published on Truth in American Education. Republished here with permission from the author.)

There’s an interesting new concern being voiced by Common Core leaders: “What does a quality textbook look like?”

Here’s a non-nuanced, concrete answer, especially for mathematics textbooks: “It gets results and doesn’t chase kids out of math.” And, yes, such textbooks do exist.

It’s not surprising that the issue of quality textbooks has come up with Common Core. After all, textbook publishing is a multi-billion dollar industry. The federally-supported mathematics and English Core standards will drive 85% of a school’s curricula and 100% of the related assessments in about 40 states. The creation of new Core-aligned materials that prepare students for the Core-aligned assessments is already making a rich impact on publishing businesses, vendors, and peripheral activities (teacher training, consultants, etc.). So much has to be rewritten or at least republished with the words “Common Core Aligned” on the cover. Old materials must be thrown away. New materials have to be bought. Lots of profit is on the horizon.

The major problem for publishers, however, is actually in mathematics education. They must figure out how to get good, reliable, and verifiable results from American children who have become math phobic over the past 50 years. That means publishers need to listen to authors who have a
proven success record and not to ideologically-driven math education leaders who have for years promoted fads with political correctness as the purpose of math education. It will be hard—and expensive—to cut the cord between publishers and embedded education “leaders” if quality textbooks are to be created. Profits may suffer at the beginning.

But here is a checklist for publishers, administrators, teachers, and parents to consider about math textbooks:

1) Look for
results, not ideology. It is about student success, not affirming adult beliefs.
  • Results are reflected in GPAs, End-of-Course exams, state tests, national tests, and/or college board exams.
  • Local comments from students, teachers, and parents give anecdotal but often powerful insight. (Surveys are especially interesting when high school students are asked about their elementary and middle school classes.)
  • Specific studies commissioned by the author(s) or publishers show results.
  • School districts or schools with similar demographics that have used the textbook should be contacted. This information can be supplied by the publisher.
2) The author (not “consultants” or “advisors”) who actually wrote the textbook is named, preferably on the cover. This also helps provide accountability.
  • If no authors are listed, the book has been created by workers in publishing “development houses.” This can and probably does provide lack of continuity, different writing styles throughout the book (and supplemental materials), and thus incoherency which decrease clarity of the lessons and affect student responses. This also erases responsibility for the publisher.
3) Actual examples of internationally-based problems (not simply referenced in “studies” by education researchers) are offered for review by the publisher if the textbook is listed as Common Core-aligned, since it is touted that Core standards are internationally based.

4) The teacher’s manual does not consist of 1,000 pages for 180 days of instruction.
  • One afternoon of teacher training with a user-friendly textbook should be sufficient.
  • If it is claimed that a detailed and extensive teacher’s manual (for teaching the teacher) is needed because of weak teacher preparation or skills, then it is the school administration’s problem. They need to work with the teacher training sites to produce better candidates, not buy a truckload of supplemental materials.
5) The textbook does not waste space with expensive, colored photos even if they may have a relationship to the topic. One color used for highlighting words or graphs is sufficient.
  • The textbook uses appropriate space for examples and creative repetition of exercises through every lesson of the book for practice and mastery.
  • The textbook’s focus is on mathematics. Use of social justice themes, for example, in math problem-solving detracts from the math concepts which should be the focus of students.
6) The use of calculators is limited to a few “investigative exercises” to help familiarize students with calculators for later use; they are not to be used in regular problem-solving activities in grades K-6.
  • Mental math and memorization of math facts are required.
7) Few supplemental materials are necessary for students, especially in basic, foundational learning.
  • A test manual and a solutions manual are sufficient as supplements for teachers.
  • A manual for specific populations (special needs or gifted) may be useful.
8) No protest has ever been waged against the textbook by any organized parent group.
  • An Internet search will show if such protests have taken place.
9) The textbook can be completed in one school year without skipping pages or topics.
  • Textbooks of 600-800 pages that can weigh up to seven pounds are subject to teachers’ having to eliminate topics. This creates holes in the fabric of linear mathematics education.
10) Schools using the textbook can show the following:
  • a steady, significant decrease in low-level math courses and the need for remedial programs,
  • an increase in enrollment in advanced math and science courses,
  • an increase in those passing state-required exit tests, and
  • an increase in passing rates and scores on college board exams.
11) In summary, does the textbook show accuracy, brevity, and clarity in its lessons so both parents and teachers can help children learn mathematics?

There are those who insist that textbooks aren’t “the curriculum.” They say it’s all about the teachers. (Common Core now says it’s about standards.) If that’s the case, let’s just give all students a copy of the Yellow Pages. Let’s save all that money spent on books and materials and finally train teachers in their content areas so they can use anything handed to them to teach—including the Yellow Pages. (And if the textbooks are so unimportant, why do progressives fight so hard to get “their” chosen textbooks adopted?)

Maybe teachers can do without a book, but many of us know that students need a quality textbook. Parents and teachers come and go in the lives of children these days, but a user-friendly textbook should always be within reach for children. It can set up a satisfying relationship with positive
results for them to show the world.

More than a million homeschooled students, plus many charter, private, and small public schools use a textbook that meets these listed criteria. The math education leadership hates the series because they say it is too traditional. Reams of documentation exist, however, to prove its success with students. For more information, go to (Disclaimer: The author is NOT affiliated with any publisher.)

About the Author:
Nakonia (Niki) Hayes is a K-12 teacher, counselor, and principal who retired in 2006 in Seattle, WA, and returned to Waco, TX, her former home. Certified and experienced in journalism, special education, mathematics, counseling and school administration, she also worked 17 years in journalism fields outside of teaching. She now operates a tutoring academy using Saxon materials in math, reading, and writing. Hayes self-published John Saxon’s Story because publishers said no one wanted to read a story about a math teacher. Her mission is to have John Saxon recognized and honored for his clarity in teaching and his continued legacy of success among students today. All proceeds from the book go to the West Point Department of Mathematical Sciences in memory of LTC John Saxon.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your article. My daughter attends a school which does not provide textbooks. The students are taught from handouts. There is no syllabus. I agree that a good book should always be within reach, but there's more to it than that. I student should be learn how to read a book (appendix, table of contents, etc) and fill in the blanks he/she misses in class. Without a textbook this isn't possible. It's the new method of guess and Google.

Anonymous said...

Here's an article width your repost too, but doubt you will.