May 02, 2006
What about the math textbooks?

Amid the backslapping of the Senate's passage of the three HBs yesterday comes this little tempest in a teapot, by way of Cap Inside:

Fireworks could be about to erupt in the Texas Senate over a freeze on new math textbook purchases for elementary students that's being proposed in a property tax relief bill that's been expanded to include public school reforms as well. The Senate is planning to debate spending on textbooks, teacher pay, incentive programs and other education needs this week when it takes up legislation that's been substituted for House Bill 1.

The Senate substitute by Republican State Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano would trim 17 cents off the current property tax rate as proposed by the House while earmarking an additional $1.5 billion for public education expenses as well. The revamped measure would save money that could be used for a $2,000 annual across the board pay raise for teachers and other initatives by instructing the State Board of Education not to buy new math textbooks for use by students in elementary schools across the state.

While teacher groups are protesting the Senate's proposed salary increase for them as inadequate, the proposed cutback on elementary school textbooks has math teachers in Texas up in arms. "It is unbelievable that the Senate would consider denying our students new elementary mathematics books that are aligned with the TAKS test," said Jim Wohlgehagen, the president of the Texas Association of Supervisors of Mathematics.

Wohlgehagen said students can't be expected to pass tests on material that's not covered in school textbooks that are outdated. Despite "herculean" efforts by math teachers attempting to prepare fifth graders for the TAKS test, Wohlgehagen said that some Texas students will be held back from middle school because they flunk the math portion of the standardized test.

"Texas simply cannot afford to fall further behind in mathematics proficiency," Wohlgehagen argued. "The issue is simple. Are lawmakers for or against up-dated math textbooks?”

The proposed moratorium on math textbooks comes just two months after Wohlgehagen's group launched a campaign aimed at encouraging lawmakers to back funding for new mathematics instructional materials. Legislators cut back on textbook funding when facing a record state deficit three years ago - and they did not fully restore textbooks funds when the state's fiscal condition had improved by 2005.

How can you decree that kids have to pass a specific test to advance in school, then not provide the materials needed to pass that test? Am I missing something here?

Note again the issue of cuts made in 2003 when the watchword was "deficits" that have not been restored now that we've got a surplus. This is what the Democrats have been fighting for, and it's why they're so vociferous about the restrictions on the business tax set forth in HB2.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 02, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

Wait a minute. Math doesn't change that often. Especially at the elementary school level! Write a good math book, use it till it wears out, buy a new copy. We're not talking history, here, where a 1997 edition would in fact be genuinely out of date and in need of replacement. Arithmetic and the multiplication tables are the same in 1997 as in 2006.

(And I'll argue that updates to change pedagogies should be viewed with suspicion.)

Posted by: Greg Morrow on May 2, 2006 1:31 PM

It's entirely possible that the subject matter that's being emphasized could have changed. Perhaps they're using sets now as their basis for teaching arithmetic. (Remember "New Math"?) If so, then textbooks that reflect the new curriculum are certainly needed.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on May 2, 2006 2:27 PM

Read what Wohlgehagen says - that our fifth grade students need textbooks that are aligned with TAKS. That's how the new textbooks are written - with strong TAKS alignment, making it much more likely that students will be successful on the TAKS test. I imagine our current textbooks are EXTREMELY out of date and have no correlation to TAKS objectives, meaning teachers have to create all sorts of their own materials (teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom) to try to make those connections. I totally get what he is saying.

Posted by: muse on May 2, 2006 10:41 PM