Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Akron textbooks could be risky investment, factually speaking ..

Here's the deal.

The Akron Schools agreed Monday night to spend $750K on new history/social studies textbooks for thousands of 6th-9th graders. Considering the district last ordered new books in this area in 1996-97, the purchase was probably overdue.

Each of the new textbooks has an issue date of either 2008 or 2009, and they range in price from $60-$75. A bit more than the books of my day, but hey, they're new!

But are they worth the money?

There are several research companies that review school textbooks for errors. These groups usually make some of the best science and history books on the market look pretty lousy.

I sent a list of the new Akron textbooks to Neal Frey, who is the Senior textbook analyst at Educational Research Analysts in Longview, Texas. I asked him if he was familiar with any of the previous editions of the books and here's his response.

"Dear Mr. Mansfield:

"Of the texts you list, we are familiar only with American Journey. But the 2006 California edition of that 8th grade text that we most recently reviewed covered to WWI, not just 'The Early Years' like your 2008 Ohio version, so our page number citations of factual errors would not match your book. Plus Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, having seen this our list of errors in its 2006 text, should have corrected them by 2008. In case you are interested, attached is our full review of the 2006 California

While it's not the exact same edition, I still wondered what kind of errors had been found in the same company's prior history books for 8th graders. After all, APS had just purchased 2391 copies of American Journey, The Early Years at a cool $69.99 each.

So I opened the .pdf file that Neal sent reviewing the 2006 edition of American Journey and the 71 errors the group found are pretty blatant.

Here's what they look like:

Book: Map showing the U.S. boundary with Mexico in 1840 as an irregular line extending northwest from the 42nd parallel — p. 56
Fact: wrong boundary Established by the 1819 Adams–Onis Treaty, once this boundary reached the 42nd parallel it followed it to the Pacific. The text itself admits this on p. 365, col. 1, par. 3.

Book: "The Framers of the Constitution extended citizenship rights only to white male landowners." — p. 215, right margin, "Cultural Perspectives," lines 1-4, Teacher's Edition
Fact: wrong determiner The Constitution's qualifications for federal officeholders say nothing of race, sex, or class. The original Constitution allowed states – not the federal government – to set suffrage requirements. The text itself admits this on p. 650, col. 2, par. 2, lines 3-5.

Other mistakes the Glencoe/McGraw-Hill Authors made include:

  • Citing the Judiciary Act of 1789 for establishing the Supreme Court when it was actually the Constitution.
  • Multiple incorrect paragraphs about the Cherokee Indians and the Supreme Court.
  • Wrong jurisdiction and significance of the Marbury vs. Madison decision.
  • Claiming the Senate is the Focus of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution when it's actually the House of Representatives.
None of these will keep you from joining the Army, but they'd probably cost you some points on Jeopardy. My favorite error is a sentence that claims the U.S. won the War of 1812 when in reality the Treaty of Ghent restored the status quo.

The list goes on and on .. and I'm happy to forward a copy of the errors to anyone who emails me at

The APS on-line info about the purchase shows that multiple teachers were involved in reviewing new textbooks before making the recommendations to buy the books that were eventually approved for purchase. I have no doubt they worked very hard to choose the best text available for our students.

I'm just hopeful that they were able to scan the book for errors like these and hold the authors feet to the fire to fix any problems before they print copies for Akron's students. Considering the requirements of the 9th grade proficiency tests, providing factually-correct texts seems to be mandated .. so why buy a text book from a company whose most recent versions have been littered with mistakes? Am I wrong here?

Last thing we need is a student believing that President Washington helped add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution when he didn't .. even though the text that was reviewed incorrectly gave him credit for it. Whoops!

The new books APS and other districts are buying will be reviewed later this year, but in the meantime, anyone else concerned about the accuracy of the new books?


Anonymous said...


I teach Social Studies for a district other than Akron. I have been involved in selecting new textbooks.

A couple of interesting things...

First off, I'm not married to the book, so the errors you are finding are not necessarily critical and my students might not even come across them. I end up parsing the textbook to use it as one tool in preparing kids for the Ohio Achievement Test (there is one in my grade level for Social Studies).

I always try to inject better material to help make history more relevant. For example you can draw parallels between the War of 1812 and the current situation in Iraq. Textbooks don't do that.

I've seen significant parts of history reduced in a textbook to one paragraph. There are history books I've seen that cover the Holocaust in three sentences and a photo and caption.

So here's the problem. Textbooks are not worth the price @ $60-$70 per book. Kids abuse them or lose them, parents refuse to pay for them and you just eat the money. Sending them out to be re-bound doesn't add much life to them because those companies don't do a good job and a rebound book lasts only another year, maybe two.

But if you try to go without a textbook (or just use a classroom set), then parents go ballistic because they don't think the kids are learning if there is no book. They equate studying for a quiz with looking in the book. Parents get frustrated when a kid is out sick and I cannot simply tell them "read section 3 of chapter 2 and answer questions 2, 3 and 4 of the section review".

I want to reduce my next textbook purchase from 350 books to 100. Keep 40 in each of the two classrooms that use them and then since nearly all new textbooks today have an on-line version for kids to read at home, kids don't have to take a book home. Those without internet access would get a book. That's a huge savings for a district (and kid's backpacks).

The administrator for my district responsible for this has balked at it because it might set a precedent. ???

But get this... a few years ago our new World History book was due to our building on the first day of school. It wasn't there a week before school started and I called the rep to check on delivery. Turned out it was being delayed, but the textbook company decided to ship a set of 300 textbooks that were SIMILAR to the book we ordered and the new ones would arrive a few weeks later.

When the new books came (about 2 weeks later) the textbook company told us the 300 books were complimentary and we could KEEP THEM. 300 x $50 (then) per book, and we could do whatever we wanted with them!!! Obviously there's enormous profit in the textbook business.

I suggested to our administration that we should try to re-sell the complimentary books, because the teachers never assigned them and used a class set maybe 5 times. These were "nearly new" books.

I was told we couldn't re sell them (don't know if that is district or state thing) and to box them and ship to the district offices.

I have no idea what happened to them since.

Eric Mansfield said...

Thanks for that great insight ... and understanding the thrust of my post.

Sounds like you really enjoy your job and are committed to your students .. I'm sure they benefit greatly from having a teacher who thinks "outside the book."

I really want readers to understand that the concern here is with the books, and not the teachers or the staff members who volunteered to review books and make recommendations.

It's just that if the best books on the market have so many errors, isn't there something we can do to improve the product? I realize there may only be a few companies from which to choose, and somehow selecting the book with the "fewest factual mistakes" seems like a tough option to swallow.

Your idea about saving $$ on ordering a text for every student and instead supplementing with the Internet is a good one. I can see the concerns and objections, but with the high cost of education these days, it would seem to be worth exploring.

I think today's teachers aren't getting enough credit for getting by with substandard texts, larger class sizes in smaller classrooms, and an overall lack of resources. In the media, we tend to focus on either the geniuses or the dropouts-who-become-criminals .. and we often ignore the masses in between who grow into good, mature young adults.

Thanks again for sharing .. I'll post again when I get additional reviews of the new texts Akron purchased ...

stay in touch ... Eric