New evidence that textbooks matter

It’s been six months since I’ve written here. My apologies. In the meantime I’ve written a few pieces elsewhere, such as:

  • Here and here on the problems of “percent proficient” as a measure of school performance. The feds seem to have listened to our open letter, as they are allowing states to use performance indices (and perhaps some transformation of scale scores, though there seems to be disagreement on this point) in school accountability.
  • Here and here on public opinion on education policy and an agenda for the incoming administration (admittedly, written when I thought the incoming administration would be somewhat different than the one that’s shaping up).
  • Here describing just how “common” Common Core states’ standards are.
  • Here discussing challenges with state testing and a path forward.

The main project on which I continue to work, however, is the textbook research. We are out with our first working paper (a version of which was just recently accepted for publication in AERA Open), and a corresponding brief through Brookings’ Evidence Speaks series (on which I am now a contributor).

You should check out the brief and the paper, but the short version of the findings is that we once again identify one textbook–Houghton Mifflin California Math–as producing larger achievement gains than the other most commonly adopted textbooks in California during the period 2008-2013. These gains are in the range .05 to .10 standard deviations, and they persist across multiple grades and years (ours is the longest study we are aware of on this topic). The gains may seem modest, but it is important to remember that they accrue to all students in these grades. Thus, for another policy that focuses only on low-achieving students to achieve the same total achievement effect, the impact would have to be much larger. And of course, as we’ve written elsewhere, the marginal cost of choosing this particular textbook over any other is close to zero (though we actually could not find price lists for the books under study, we know this to be true).

We are excited to have the paper out there after years (literally) of work just pulling the data together. I also presented the results in Sacramento and am optimistic that states may start to listen to the steadily growing drumbeat on the importance of collecting and analyzing data on textbook adoptions.




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