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Public Schools without Textbooks


Paula in MS
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I have just recently discovered that the public schools in our area generally teach by using handouts.  The students buy 3-ring binders and are given hand outs in class OR take notes in class from the white board.  For some classes they have texts but there are not enough for every student, so they stay at school.   This is in the middle school and high school.  I have noticed that students around here never have any homework outside of math.  It is becoming clear why.  They can't assign reading or anything when there is no textbook.   There was a discussion of this on my neighborhood's Facebook group, so I started asking questions.  They were told that (1) they didn't have the money for textbooks, (2) there were no textbooks that covered the common core topics, and (3) everything would eventually be going digital, so there was no reason to purchase books now.  So, these kids are just breezing through waiting for whatever teacher they get to spoon feed them some information.  It is sad.  I'm wondering if this is just the way it is now or if it is just here.  Do the kids in your public schools have textbooks that they can bring home and study?

 

 

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Here they have classroom sets for all textbooks and then they also check out textbooks to the kids to keep at home during the school year (middle and high schools; elementary doesn't really use textbooks).  My kids were in public school for a year and opened a textbook maybe twice the entire year.  Most of the time they used interactive stuff on-line and handouts.  For some classes that stuff was more up to date than the textbooks.  My friend has a 6th grader this year and they've gone to all on-line textbooks.  Her oldest is the same age as my oldest son and they still have textbooks like always for the 8th+ graders.  It's been an adjustment figuring out the technology, but it's working really well.

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My high school and college years were filled with many dubiously legal copied reading packets. I wouldn't say it was spoonfed to us. We were often reading long, complex papers, essays and short stories. The high school it was the teachers not being able to order 15-20 copies of the 12 different resources they wanted to use. In college it was pretty standard procedure for professors to get the rights to something but make it available via a fat reading packet students had to pick up at their own expense from the campus copy center. In the years before online news it was also a way for professors to reprint news articles and clippings relevant to the topic. My econ professor has us all subscribe to the WSJ and would call out the dates, page numbers and headlines for news we were expected to read but if it wasn't in the WSJ, he'd have us pick it up at the copy center. Also, some of the news articles he was having us read were old, to illustrate a point about some bit of economic history and woe betide any one who thought the copied clippings wouldn't be on the test, even the more arcane details.

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My son has one textbook in his middle school - a digital one in his history class that's never available because the website is always wonky. Everything else is handouts. A few teachers are doing a flipped classroom, where the student watches a video and answers a quiz at the end.

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Our experience has been varied. In some grades, the books were hardly touched. In others, there was an online text. Lots of handouts were given, that's for sure.

 

Know what else? I don't think that any teacher, in the 5 years dd has been in ps, has EVER used a textbook in the order in which it was written. That includes math and history, two subjects where you'd think the order would be followed.

 

This year, however, dd has an AP World History class, with a text. She is THRILLED to be assigned reading and note-taking from the text. She says it makes so much sense, and she's getting the flow much better. She is getting roughly 11-20 pages every two days as homework. (She says it isn't that dense, because there's often a map or something in that, so it cuts it down.)

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My ps kids usually bring home a couple of textbooks to keep at home, but they are used rarely for homework and seem to be more of a reference. My oldest son is a junior this year, and he was shocked that for AP US History they're actually using the text. He also gets a ton of handouts. So far this year he's been issued the APUSH text and a chemistry text. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any books for math and that's the one subject for which he really needs one . That class uses fairly bare bones handouts that the kids fill in. My son struggles in math, and this format is horrible for him. I want to order a good geometry book for him, as soon as I can find a used copy that I can afford.

 

My freshman hasn't been given any textbooks at all so far this year. He says he envies his homeschooled twin, because his twin has lots of schoolbooks this year. They end up sharing. :)

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The district next to ours has gone digital.  Everyone has a tablet, pre-loaded with digital editions of every textbook.  While the tablet is at school every day, it downloads anything the teachers have posted for each class - assignments, notes, etc.   When they take it home, they only need to have a pencil and paper to complete assignments or study - there is no need for internet access at home, as long as the tablet comes to school. 

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It seems to be the norm a lot of places now. A friend's dds just started at a new high school and they got the first textbooks they've ever really had in their whole school careers. A cousin who teaches math said they don't have textbooks, he just has to teach with handouts from the textbook copies they have and from the internet.

 

I do think that can be just as good a way to learn. I mean, real books, carefully chosen articles, a good teacher, good lectures, etc. BUT... but, but but...

 

I keep coming back to this article, which is now really old, but which keeps having wisdom for me...

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/07/why-poor-schools-cant-win-at-standardized-testing/374287/

 

 

...many schools don’t have enough money to buy books. The School District of Philadelphia recently tweeted a photo of Mayor Michael Nutter handing out 200,000 donated books to K-3 students. Unfortunately, introducing children to classic works of literature won’t raise their abysmal test scores.

 

This is because standardized tests are not based on general knowledge. As I learned in the course of my investigation, they are based on specific knowledge contained in specific sets of books: the textbooks created by the test makers.

 

And if that's the case... it would seem that teaching without textbooks is a losing proposition for most schools.

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I subbed in a ninth grade math classroom last week. The teacher left assignments for most of the classes that required the students to work out of textbooks, all of which were kept in the classroom. One class each day, though, had different assignments that were all on photocopied handouts. On the second day, we were running out of work to do, and I asked several students who had been helpful about where they were in the book so I could try and come up with an extra assignment. No one knew. Two or three students told me straight out that they had just been given a bunch of worksheets so far, and no one seemed to know what the sequence or plan was that determined the assignments.

 

The week before that, I subbed in a middle school history class. The textbooks there were also kept in the classroom, and students told me they sometimes finished assignments at home by taking pictures of the pages on their cell phones.

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Well, growing up we had textbooks, but I rarely remember using them.  Occasionally I had to outline from them, but that was about it. I never got assigned anything from them. I know I turned in some having never used them the entire school year.

 

My older son attends public high school and he actually seems to use his books. He did get a math book that was a big unbound thing we had to put in a binder. He is able to keep the majority of it at home and only bring in the unit he is working on.  His chemistry class seems to use his book, but also a lot of handouts.  His English class seems to only use paperbacks of whatever they are reading and handouts. His AP history class seems to depend on handouts. He gets a packet of them every week. He does have a textbook, but there is a lot of paperwork given to him.  We've had to figure out a way to manage and store it all.

 

The teachers don't require them to have a copy of the book in class, and I am happy about that. The text he has all seem to weight 3lbs each and he walks to school. I can't imagine if he had to actually carry them back and forth. At the end of the year last year, I had to give him a ride the last day so he could turn in all his texts. It was just too heavy for him to carry on his own.

 

This year, all students were given a chromebook and I thought that might mean switching to e-books for texts, but no such luck.

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My 10th grade tutoring student in Algebra II last year had a brand new Common Core book that was an intimidating 1200+ pages (and full-color and shiny - that thing was HEAVY!). She *also* had piles and piles of handouts - turns out, her teacher was tasked with "switching" the kids to Common Core, but by Alg. II it was too late to do that (she explained the merits of starting w/common core in the much younger grades, which did make sense), so the photocopied handouts were "the older way" so that the kids' parents could actually help them at home.

 

In other words, I was most definitely earning my tutoring fee, sorting all of that out.

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My Middle Schooler has dense textbooks for Literature, Ancient Civ., Science, and Math. Plus online materials, plus handouts from teachers.

 

Personally, I don't think having e-books to replace textbooks would be a good step forward. Other than reducing the weight of backpacks.  But books are better than e-books as learning tools.

 

Bill

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My Middle Schooler has dense textbooks for Literature, Ancient Civ., Science, and Math. Plus online materials, plus handouts from teachers.

 

Personally, I don't think having e-books to replace textbooks would be a good step forward. Other than reducing the weight of backpacks. But books are better than e-books as learning tools.

 

Bill

I agree. I am working towards my CPA and while I can access nearly every text online for free, I have chosen to buy hard copies of some just because I need to be able to interact with paper rather than a backlit screen. I have noticed the same for my older son especially. His e-reading is limited to things we can't get paper copies of or recreational reading.

 

The school districts here that I know of definitely have book budgets and issue text books. I don't know of many instances of students not being able to take the text home.

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We have textbooks and online materials. They complement one another. Though, I have to say, our high schooler does not have to carry 20 lbs of books back and forth and we view this as a positive. Books are taken from the class for assignments, but many homework assignments are lectures, and then in class they use the time to discuss.

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My 6th grader has textbooks for all subjects except P.E., art, and band. One set for class use and another for home use. Still, her back pack is heavy with all the notebooks and binders! She also gets print outs and other stuff in addition to what's in her text books. Parents also have access to the online math textbook and supporting materials.

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I teach at a public high school in Sweden and we have books for some subjects and handouts/online for some. It really depends on the teacher, the subject and the students. For maths we do have books. I don't have books for the course I am teaching while sitting here writing (the students are working on constructing surveys). The reason I don't have a book is because I teach at an International school but according to the Swedish curriculum and I haven't found a book in English for this course. I have to use a variety of different books and online material. Even for the courses where I have books I give out hand outs and such because even when the book is written for the specific course (IB) it doesn't have enough problems for the students to work etc. 

 

In the past I have often found that text books bore the snott out of both me and my students after a while so I like to switch it up.

 

My students DO have homework. 

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DD16 has textbooks in public school.  They have a class set and a book to leave at home as well for most classes.  Last year, she had a thick literature book that she either needed to take back and forth Or could leave in a classroom.  I looked online and  bought one for $6 and then she didn't have to carry it or worry about leaving it at school if she had homework to do. 

 

She has a history book in immaculate condition...but it was published 10 years ago when Bush was still in office.  LOL   

 

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She has a history book in immaculate condition...but it was published 10 years ago when Bush was still in office.  LOL   

 

And this right here is the biggest problem with text books. They are spendy and in some cases (like social sciences) they become outdated very fast. The true facts are no longer true  :P  :P

 

I'm usually very pro technology but although e-books can be updated I am not a fan of school books being e-books. 

 

These two factors are what causes me to use handouts. 

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I see the two issues -- of no homework, and of textbooks as separate.

 

Our local public high school is a pressure cooker.   The kids get unbelievable amounts of homework, but they have almost no textbooks.  

 

The school where I teach uses a lot of e-books, and also has a fair amount of homework.

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My ds19 used an online school for high school and had a few textbooks. Since it was online, everything was digital. It worked well. Like with all the rest of our homeschooling, the subjects could be covered in 1 to 1.5 hours so there was no real homework, which I consider additional work outside the class period.

 

He's currently in a college math class and I rented the textbook for him and he hasn't needed it. The teacher puts homework problems online.

 

My dd17 is a senior in public school. She doesn't use a textbook in every class. I understand some classes have a class set and some extras to check out. She has two classes this year where she's brought home a textbook. In past years, she's used digital editions of texts. She doesn't have a math book. She gets handouts. She has always had homework regardless of whether or not there are actual textbooks they use in class or at home.

 

 

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My son is in 5th grade in public school. This year is the first year I've witnessed a teacher using a textbook. It's a book about Kentucky for their Kentucky studies unit. I only know it exists because I volunteer in the classroom and I've seen the books on the tables. They apparently don't use them often. There's one set for the entire 5th grade (there are three 5th grade classes, and they rotate between teachers for the core subjects) so taking them home is obviously not happening. Starting in about second grade, I had textbooks for almost every subject in school. It especially bothers me that there's no Math textbook. Squirrelboy is struggling with the homework, and the only thing we have to go by to help him is a couple handouts and his notes from class. They don't use a particular Math curriculum but rather cover the Common Core standards with lots of photocopied handouts.

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My Middle Schooler has dense textbooks for Literature, Ancient Civ., Science, and Math. Plus online materials, plus handouts from teachers.

 

Personally, I don't think having e-books to replace textbooks would be a good step forward. Other than reducing the weight of backpacks.  But books are better than e-books as learning tools.

 

Bill

 

I agree! DS has textbooks in class, but most of his classes have 31 students and only 30 books in the class set. Since he's the new kid, he usually ends up sharing.

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I have a 6th and 8th grader.  They have textbooks for math, social studies, science and Spanish. In English 6th still has a spelling book as well as novels and in 8th they just use the novels (the weekly spelling and vocabulary word come from the novels) They can also access their textbooks on-line if they need to.  They have plenty of homework and often opt to bring their books home rather than use the on-line versions.

 

When they were elementary school they had textbooks for math and spelling/language arts.  They sometimes had smaller unit books for science and social studies but not one large one they would use all year.  The elementary school books were not available to access on-line.

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My son had to borrow a copy of the Geometry book.  It is for classroom use only.  I got the ISBN number and found it on Amazon for $8.99 shipped.  I ordered him his own copy to keep at home.

 

Dawn

 

Yup.  This is how I ended up owning a copy of the Miller-Levine Biology book.  How a kid is supposed to actually learn all the material in 10th grade bio w/o a textbook to read at home, I have no idea.

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I don't think books are better than ebooks per se. I mean, the same book as a print book and an ebook could be equally "good" depending on the kid and how they work and what they're doing with it... However, I think they're cheaper in the long run, more durable, and don't have digital rights issues attached to them. I don't fully understand why districts are madly switching to them when they're so difficult and pricey.

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This is exactly the way our public schools are. Makes it nearly impossible for a parent to guide or help their child, which I think is another unspoken reason for the lack of textbooks - so parents can't interfere by teaching other math methods or "unacceptable " points of view.

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I don't think books are better than ebooks per se. I mean, the same book as a print book and an ebook could be equally "good" depending on the kid and how they work and what they're doing with it... However, I think they're cheaper in the long run, more durable, and don't have digital rights issues attached to them. I don't fully understand why districts are madly switching to them when they're so difficult and pricey.

 

I think this can be true.

 

My at home kids are currently using some e-texts.  They are in pdf form and can be viewed on our ipads.  The graphics and text are clear, and since they're not of the age where they have to be flipping back and forth between multiple chapters etc. to search for stuff, it works.  

 

Problems I've run into with e-texts are having them not formatted correctly for use with a computer, but they can't be used with an ipad because flash-player (I think that was the issue). Also having the kids work from a text that resides in the classroom and there's neither hard nor digital copy for home.  We've personally had both scenarios at our house.

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I taught Physics a few years ago in a school with over 80% of the kids getting free lunches.  There were textbooks but they weren't issued to kids.  So many were lost when they had in the past, that there wasn't enough to issue.  This includes the AP Physics class.  I really wanted a textbook for one class, Psychology, and I was told I could checkout classroom textbooks but that if a kid walked off with one, it would be on me to pay for it.  

 

The standards were incredibly low.  I confiscated the papers when one student was blatantly copying the math homework of another student.  When I handed them over to the math teacher she was amused that I was bothered.  She said, "I am pleased he cares enough to copy."   

 

It upsets that kids aren't getting textbooks.  Some of us learn by reading. I can understand the benefit of videos and handouts, but there should be stuff to read too.   

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My Middle Schooler has dense textbooks for Literature, Ancient Civ., Science, and Math. Plus online materials, plus handouts from teachers.

 

Personally, I don't think having e-books to replace textbooks would be a good step forward. Other than reducing the weight of backpacks.  But books are better than e-books as learning tools.

 

Bill

I agree. We have used some e-texts with success, but I found with especially big texts that a hard copy is easier to navigate.

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Around here, other than math, there doesn't seem to be textbooks given out. In talking with other students in different grades, it is either handouts done in class or lecture type teaching. I have found that the current AP level is more like what our old PS system was like when I was in school. Last year our neighbor boy, who is like my adopted son, came over and was very excited that he had finished Geometry and was moving on to Pre-Calc. I said, it was only half way through the year and he told me that he did math 5 days a week instead of 3 - allowing him to finish Geometry in one semester.

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The  standard high school textbooks I have seen are typically of so poor quality that I opted not to use any in my homeschool.

 

Math books are problem collections, but barely have any actual teaching. History and science books are visually cluttered, with sidebars, colored boxes, "activities", "connections" and little consecutive text.

If the teachers know what they are doing, there are much better resources than school textbooks.

If the teachers don't know what they are doing, those books don't solve the problem either.

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Our (failing) school district switched entirely to tablets this year. iPads for everyone, zero textbooks.

 

I've yet to hear anything about the academic progress being made, but I do hear daily about the technical and logistical pitfalls of having 100% of the children's work on a device that comes and goes from school to home.

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Our school has either no textbooks or ancient textbooks that they never actually use but gather dust on the floor for most of the classes.  Science classes have been 100% handouts - Bio and Chem had no books at all, Physics had Giancoli but it was never touched but once or twice.  That's the one that baffles me the most.  DD's taking AP Physics C this year, and no text yet.  I heard rumor that they were giving them the Giancoli again - but that doesn't even use calculus!  I am baffled.  So far, just no text.  How do they get the syllabus approved by the College Board, I wonder??  The AP Bio text they're using is technically too old to be approved, but I guess no one's tattled.

 

The classes they have had texts for that are used semi-regularly are Math and History (and wow, new Geometry texts this year :svengo: ).  There are still a ton of handouts, but the books are cracked from time to time.  How much seems to depend on the teacher.  They also have had texts for foreign language, but they barely get through them.  Like 1/3.  At least for Spanish - German might end up being different.  When dd17 was a freshman, they experimented with just having it online, but you could request a hard-copy, which we did.  Now dd14 is taking the same course, and the text just came home automatically - guess the online thing wasn't popular?

 

At least they haven't jumped on the high tech bandwagon.  They have old Macbooks they carry around from classroom to classroom in carts, computer labs for subjects that need them full time, and the whiteboards aren't smart - just use plain old Expo markers.  Spending lots of money on devices that will break and/or be obsolete in a couple of years is just a huge waste of funds. 

 

Somehow this school is still doing very well, and doesn't do a lot of teaching to the tests that they score very well on (well, I saw more prep last year when dd was in 8th when they switched to PARCC, but hopefully that will fade as they get used to it?).  The town is full of engineers and professionals who value education - I think even for ps kids, what happens at home is a huge part of the equation. 

 

It's not all the great teachers, either - true, there have been some great ones, but also some really horrible duds, with most being somewhere in the middle.  The Bio teachers are fantastic, and I actually don't see that not having a text has been a problem at all.  The Chem teachers range from mediocre to horrible, and not having a text made things worse, I think - random handouts with no overview of how things went together, and not great teaching is not a good combo.

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Our (failing) school district switched entirely to tablets this year. iPads for everyone, zero textbooks.

 

I've yet to hear anything about the academic progress being made, but I do hear daily about the technical and logistical pitfalls of having 100% of the children's work on a device that comes and goes from school to home.

Who pays for the iPads if something happens to them? I remember that we might be on the hook for a $50 textbook if we messed up or lost ours, but that's a far cry from several hundred dollars for an iPad. Are the parents expected to foot the bill if their child drops the iPad? Do they have cases to protect them a little bit? It just seems to me like a problem waiting to happen to have hundreds of expensive electronic devices going to and from school every day, which the students and parents did not pay for.

 

I remember getting handouts occasionally in school, like political cartoons, or a poem not covered in our lit text or something. Supplements, not the main educational work. Yes, I think you can teach without textbooks, but I also think you need something to refer back to. For math and science, that might be a textbook rather than a lot of unrelated handouts, and for history and literature, it might be a collection of paperbacks (my college history classes rarely had textbooks; they were generally narrative non-fiction or primary source materials, so I understand no textbooks -- but there was something to refer to). It just seems strange to me. (Also, I can remember teachers complaining about not being allowed to make very many copies; if they're using mostly handouts, isn't that a whole lot of paper being used?)

 

ETA: I think what bothers me the most is the idea that students can't take anything home. At least if they're using iPads, they can have something take home so they can review and study at home. I like both ebooks and paper books, so I guess ebooks are better than no books.

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I've been amused at various homeschool groups (not necessarily here) lamenting the loss of textbooks in public school classrooms while other threads are about how terrible textbooks are.

 

They are having great success with the e-textbooks here.  Most of the comprehension on a computer screen issue is we've been trained to skim on screens.

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I find most textbooks dry as dirt.  I do believe Charlotte Mason and her ideas that living books are much better.

 

So, is it a bad thing that they don't have textbooks? 

 

I'm not necessarily a huge textbook fan either.  But it's not like the schools are replacing them with great CM living books.  It's handouts.  Which are disjointed and random - at least a decent textbook can give an overview and pull pieces of information together.  If you have a fantastic teacher, this might not be necessary (like with my kids' Bio teachers), but if you have a mediocre teacher who gives lackluster and/or incomplete instruction and just teaches the topic of the day without connecting concepts, something that can give the big picture and/or fills in missing details can be useful.

 

Of course, many of today's textbooks are so bad that they do not help much with this, as they are also disjointed with their sidebars and random happy teen pictures.  I'm actually a bit glad for the ancient textbooks our school has in some of the subjects where it has them - the old ones are way less busy and more coherent.

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My kids are elementary age, and attending a school that blends provincial 'public school' learning objectives with Montessori learning.

 

In this setting, neither textbooks nor worksheets are normal.

 

Math is mainly done through the use of sets of manipulatives -- called "materials." Each material is designed for learning/practicing a specific math skill. This is combined with note taking: you write down the question, you work out the answer, you write down the answer. The questions come with the material. There is also some 'problem solving' type work (grades 3+) which would be a photo copy or print out, or a large group / small group activity. (Here, "math" includes geometry.)

 

Reading is from books, including reading for various 'units' of science and social studies. ("Social studies" includes history, geography, civics, other cultures, etc) These are not the kinds of books that I would instinctively call a 'text book' but they are reasonable age-appropriate resources. Students also use the library to find similar types of books about other topics that they wish to study (aside from the mandated 'units'). As for 'reading' itself, students work with a teacher or a group to develop reading comprehension and analytical skills.

 

Spelling, phonics, grammar, and other individual skills of writing are done with the manipulatives-and-notes method.

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My oldest went to a progressive ps for  first through 3rd with no text books. I consder it a real failure. She learned almost nothing during those years that I did not teach her at home. The worksheets she brought home for homework were utter trash. They were impossible to understand and they seemed geared to make sure that the child learned nothing by doing them.

 

My youngest goes to a public high school and has textooks for everything but woodshop.

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I would be horrified to find that classes had no textbooks!

 

Here:

 

Elementary, textbooks for math only, text kept at school, workbook taken home.

 

Middle School, textbooks for math, history, science, foreign language, copy for school and another copy for home in most subjects. LA was books that were being read.

 

High School, same as middle school, only no duplicate copies, books kept at home pretty much. Lots of assignments came from end of chapter questions.

 

No online textbooks, but some texts had optional, online supplements. I like most of ds's textbooks and try to buy used copies to keep (except math).

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I see the two issues -- of no homework, and of textbooks as separate.

 

Our local public high school is a pressure cooker.   The kids get unbelievable amounts of homework, but they have almost no textbooks.  

 

The school where I teach uses a lot of e-books, and also has a fair amount of homework.

 

From what I have heard, most of the assignments here are "go look this up on the internet" type of assignments or math handouts.

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