November 19, 2015

Sarah Lubienski, (217) 333-1564,
Daniel J. Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Report about better textbooks is timely and insightful, but makes exaggerated claims

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Nov. 19, 2015) – The Center for American Progress (CAP) issued a recent report that drew on bold conclusions about the high payoff of better textbooks. The report claimed that, compared to other reforms, a switch to better textbooks was a cost-efficient way to improve student achievement.  However, an academic review of the report raises concerns that the report overreaches in its conclusions and in its use of other studies.

The report, The Hidden Value of Curriculum Reform: Do States and Districts Receive the Most Bang for their Curriculum Buck?, was reviewed by Sarah Lubienski for the Think Twice think tank review project with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.  Lubienski is a professor of mathematics education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The report pointed to very real problems with textbook adoption, including poor alignment with standards. It also made strong claims about the payoff of schools' investment in high-quality curriculum materials.

Lubienski's review points to clear merits of the report. However, her review also points out that the report overreaches in several areas.

Specifically, the report is based on a single prior study and ignores key findings within the original study. Additionally, the report attempts to compare estimated return on investment (ROI) for textbooks against another study's calculations, ignoring findings from that report as well. The report's conclusions are marred by highly optimistic claims about curricular ROI.

Despite calling attention to the important issue of textbook adoption, Lubienski's review raises questions about the claims. Lubienski concludes, "The report will hopefully increase attention to the potential of curriculum as a lever of instructional improvement and prompt careful consideration of ways to improve the development, research, and selection of curricula that the nation's students use each day."

Find The Hidden Value of Curriculum Reform on the web:

Read the full review:
Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education, Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develp reasearch-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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