A textbook example of education research

One of my main research interests these days is the adoption and use of textbooks and other curriculum materials. Why would I possibly care about textbooks? Well, for starters, they’re incredibly cheap relative to other educational interventions, and they can have remarkably large causal effects (PDF) on student achievement. They also are just a skosh less politically treacherous than, say, radically altering teacher tenure policies.

This work began with a grant from an anonymous foundation to analyze the alignment of textbooks to the Common Core math standards. That investigation found overall weak alignment, with some common areas of misalignment across books (notably, they were excessively procedural relative to what’s in the standards) [1].

While that work was informative, it didn’t tell me much about who was using which textbooks, how, and to what effect. As a new set of standards rolls out, I’m guessing that curriculum materials may matter more than ever. So I set out to investigate these issues in a few different studies. The basic gist of this set of studies is to understand:

  • Which textbooks are being adopted in the core academic subjects in light of new standards?
  • What explains school and district textbook choices (qualitatively and quantitatively)?
  • How do teachers make use of textbooks in their teaching?
  • What are the impacts of textbook choices on student outcomes?

This work is funded by the National Science Foundation, the WT Grant Foundation (with co-PI Thad Domina), and by another anonymous foundation (with co-PI Cory Koedel).

In the coming days and months I’ll be talking quite a bit about this work and some of the lessons learned so far. The next post is going to highlight some of the things I’m learning as I’m trying to go through the (seemingly straightforward) task of simply gathering data on what textbooks schools and districts are using these days. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty.


[1] That work also identified some ways to make the process of analyzing textbooks (which turns out to be incredibly time- and labor-intensive) much simpler.

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