MSU program helps teachers fill textbook gaps

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Many K-8 math textbooks are missing crucial elements: the subject’s required lessons under the Common Core education standards.
A Michigan State University study of mathematics textbooks found that among 185 textbooks and 34 textbook series, only seven included all materials required under national Common Core standards. Researchers studied textbooks used by other Common Core states as well as books marketed as Common Core-aligned.
These results were backed up by a recent study from nonprofit, which found similar results — 17 of the 20 textbooks studied were missing important Common Core lessons.

Michigan schools are still working on completely implementing the recently adopted state standards. Many of the state’s teachers — as well as those in other Common Core states — are expected to implement these standards while still working with pre-Common Core textbooks, according to an MSU report published with the study.
“The problem is that the books are not particularly coherent,” said William Schmidt, director and founder of MSU’s Center for the Study of Curriculum (CSC), the group responsible for the MSU study. “So it’s very confusing to the teachers and to the children.”
The researchers decided to do something about that.
They launched the Textbook Navigator, a Web-based resource for teachers introduced in March. Schmidt said the program helps teachers understand how to use their textbooks to best meet Common Core standards and provides them with ways to supplement missing concepts.
The program took the researchers about four years to create. It is free for use by all teachers and school districts.
Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, said taking advantage of outside resources is something many teachers are familiar with.
“When it comes to textbooks, teachers have to be creative,” Cook said. “And that’s something they’ve become very experienced in in the last couple years.”
According to Schmidt, textbooks have been a struggle for teachers in the past, but under specific Common Core standards, it’s a bigger problem.
“Now it’s especially acute, because of the fact that there are 40-plus states that have adopted the Common Core,” he said. “So now you would think there would be a much greater motivation for publishers.”
With the Textbook Navigator, teachers search for their textbook and the program outlines which chapters include necessary materials and which chapters could be left out of lesson plans. For lessons about required topics absent from their textbook, the Navigator supplies teachers with links to free, independent Web-based resources.
“The content that’s available online for teachers to use and to leverage in the classroom has actually allowed them access to more professional development for themselves,” said Tim Brannan, a professor of education technology at Central Michigan University. “(This content) gives them access to online resources, access to the best practices.”
Some textbooks are worse than others, with average coverage of materials ranging from 42 to 98 percent — and newer, Common Core-aligned textbooks tend to be closer to the top. Cook said simply replacing textbooks, even with major issues, can be easier said than done. Many schools have tight budgets, and according to numbers by the publisher Scholastic, some elementary-level textbooks can cost upwards of $100.
“I think it’s just a question of funding,” Cook said. “Clean buildings matter, transportation matters, so I don’t know if you can say, ‘So we’re going to buy new textbooks this year and we’re just not going to clean the buildings.’”
Currently, the program only includes textbooks in the K-8 range, but Schmidt said a high school edition could potentially happen in the future if funding is available. The current Textbook Navigator is funded through grants by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the GE Foundation.
“It depends on the availability of funding, to do the work, to do the coding, and so forth,” Schmidt said. “We have thought about that, but we are not certain.”
Updated May 5, 2015

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