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Interesting Article about Reading Level of High School Textbooks

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Published in the AFT quarterly magazine. Even though we're not big on unions, this publication always has really good articles about education.


This article links declining SAT scores to declining textbook reading levels particularly at the high school level.




I thought it was fascinating and would love to discuss it if anyone else is interested.


I also came away feeling more encouraged than ever that homeschooling is the best way for us!

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Overall the article is thoughtful and informative. But when I got to the end, I found the idea of a "common core curriculum" to be quite frightening. I prefer my children have an individualized education - not an assembly-line-style education. I take so much care to customize each of my children's curriculum, making selections based on their interests and learning styles. In my opinion, children deserve better than a one-size-fits-all education.


I agree with the author's goal - to expose children to a wide range of topics including science, geography, etc.. at a young age so they become familiar with the language and vocabulary in each of the topics. She uses the example of Dinosaurs, which is an excellent example. Most 4-5 year olds can say Tyrannosaurus Rex, so what other vocabulary and topics can they pick up when we take the time to expose them to science, geography, etc... Isn't this the point of a Classical Education?


It seems to me there's more than one way to achieve higher literacy. Of course I would choose a classical, literature-based methodology which utilizes time-tested guidelines instead of a "common core curriculum" which would be set in stone across every state.


In sum, I agree with your statement: "I also came away feeling more encouraged than ever that homeschooling is the best way for us!"


Me too!

Edited by amtmcm
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I'm not totally sure what I think about a core curriculum myself. On the other hand, large-scale education being what it is, I could see it serving some great purposes in that setting. For some context for the article, the entire issue of American Educator, which this article came from, is devoted to the idea of a core curriculum. It seems to me this is a more conservative idea in the world of public education, altho I'm not sure.


One cool thing that encouraged me to keep pursuing homeschooling was that a core curriculum means all students come into a certain grade with the same background knowledge. As a hser, I know pretty much what my students' background knowledge is at any given point. So I'm free to build on whatever they already know, without having to follow anyone's scope & seq (unless I want to)... that seems like the best of both worlds to me.


About reading level: I'd like to know if you, or anyone else, deliberately chooses old books for the more difficult reading level. To me TWTM, by shooting for Great Books, encourages a high reading level. I have found it to be absolutely true for my kids that reading older books from young ages has improved their comprehension and knowledge base so much.


My 3 oldest had a 6-week stint in a public charter school a year ago, where the 2 high schoolers received the state-mandated US history textbook. I will never forget ds #2's disbelief upon flipping through it. "You're kidding me. This is a high school book? It looks like a junior high book." And it really did. Large print, short sentences, bullet points and review boxes ("What you really need to know") everywhere. What was sad was that most of the ideas were good, important ideas that ought to be discussed, but they were covered in such a cursory, simplistic, "memorize this for the test" way.

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The few textbooks I use are college level, but we needed a health credit, so I picked up a high school level book. My dd has come to me numerous times complaining about the book and how it assumes she is stupid. If I were evaluating it I would say the reading level is 7th grade. I fell sorry for kids that have class after class with books like that.

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When I was teaching in a public elementary school (10+ years ago) I was on a committee that was responsible for choosing new reading curriculum. Every option reviewed was around 2 grade levels below the old curriculum (which was far superior). But the new choices were so much prettier and 'friendly' looking. New is not necessarily better. It always makes me laugh when I hear people lamenting over how old their kids school books are and what a shame it is that the school doesn't have new materials.



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I have only skimmed the article because I don't have the time for a detailed reading, but I have been appalled by the highschool textbooks I encountered in this country: huge font, colorful boxes and side bars and pictures (many of which have no actual educational value - a chemist holding a test tube just fills space and does not contribute to an understanding of chemistry). And very little actual text.

When I started homeschooling I bought a few used textbooks, just to see what is covered. I ended up using none of them because they don't really deserve the term "TEXTbook". More picture book with accompanying short language blurbs. Some of them I find useable for my 6th grader.


The books we end up are using are either older (like the Short history of Western Civilization, which is black and white and very well written consecutive text) or college texts. Even those are not immune to the diseases that plague the highschool textbooks - they get thicker and more colorful and distracting with each edition, but at the expense of written text.


Btw, my college students have never learned to actually work with a textbook- they don't know how to extract information and take notes.

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Interesting article. Although I would hate for my kids to have to follow a nationally mandated core curriculum, I can see some benefits to it for the public schools. I am so thankful for the freedom to homeschool and plan a personalized program for each of my children! In the absence of such personalization, a carefully thought out progressive system of reading and culture isn't so bad--I'm imagining something like the K-12 core curriculum or "What your xth grader should Know." The paragraph that caught my attention was the one that began, "Teachers in any grade (and parents) would do well to follow this relatively straightforward strategy:" Sounds just like something Susan and Jessie recommend in TWTM and their seminars!

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