The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

A Revolt Against Textbooks

I regularly read the online feature “Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo,” and when a topic interests me I submit a response.  A few weeks ago the topic was “What to do about terrible textbooks,” and I replied.  But, apparently, my response was too late since it did not get published.  Although some of the published responses were similar to mine, I feel that they did not go far enough in explaining the problems with textbooks.  So, today I will post what I submitted and expand it by recounting my experiences over time that convinced me to avoid buying textbooks.

My immediate reaction to this week’s question, “How can you handle an awful textbook?” was: Throw it in the trash!  It will do more harm than good to your students by being used as directed.  However, it took me only a few seconds to realize that neither a teacher nor a principal could get away with such an action in today’s top-down run schools.  Somebody in the school district office chose that textbook believing it was of high quality and appropriate for your grade level, and other officials approved that decision.  Even though you, as an experienced teacher, are more qualified to judge the quality and appropriateness of a textbook for your students, it is better not to go into open revolt against your superiors. You will surely lose the battle and, perhaps, endanger your job. Instead, go over the purchased textbook with your fellow teachers and see what the group can extract from it that would be meaningful for your students. Then use only those portions for teaching and supplement them with other sources—maybe, even, and older textbook of better quality.  If little or nothing appears appropriate, shelve the new textbooks and allow them to collect dust while you improvise from your past experience and the materials you have created or found elsewhere.  In addition, it might be worthwhile to campaign for having a teacher committee select textbooks the next time around.


I have never been a fan of textbooks.  As a student I resented carrying several of them back and forth to school, reading long, dull chapters and searching for the answers to meaningless questions. Inside the covers of many of my textbooks were written things like, “In case of fire, throw this in.”   Although those were jokes, I believe they reflected the feelings of most students at the time.

Later, as a beginning teacher, I was asked to substitute for a teacher who was ill.  When, it became clear that she would not be able to return to her job, I was invited to stay for the rest of the year.  Almost the first thing I did was to collect all the textbooks crammed into  students’ desks and store them in a classroom cabinet. No students complained, and a few cheered.

Several years and jobs later, I was appointed the chair of the English department of a new high school.  When the school district decided to buy new English textbooks, none of my staff was much interested.  The old ones were still serviceable, and they wanted to get single pieces of literature that would give them more freedom to decide what and when to teach a particular unit.  Besides, textbooks were getting more and more expensive. As a group we rejected the new textbooks and requested funds to buy a variety of paperbacks instead.  The only hardback books we needed to teach were the poetry collections we already had.

In both the elementary schools where I was principal we also opted for paperbacks instead of textbooks and workbooks.  Teachers felt  they could teach English, history, and, maybe, science using those books and the other materials accumulated over time.

In all those actions our purpose was not defiance, but a firm conviction that the materials teachers chose and the less expensive – or free—things collected over time are better for teaching than textbooks. In all the schools I have mentioned we were able to amass large numbers and a variety of paperbacks to serve our teaching preferences and students needs.  We also found that paperbacks— their covers strengthened with Scotch tape lasted just as long, if not longer– than far more expensive textbooks.



1 Comment »

Our Schools Are Not Businesses–And our Kids are not Products

Today’s post was written by Doug Garnett, a fellow member of the Oregon Save Our Schools organization. He is a business owner with more than 20 years experience with metric based marketing programs. He also taught for 12 years in the School of Business Administration at Portland State University.

Underlying the US obsession with testing is a misapplication of specific business management programs called a “continual improvement process.” Business schools and corporations are rife with these programs – and in the right controllable situation they are excellent. Within business these programs are successful, but also quite often they are mis-used or used in the wrong situations.

The theory is that the best way to manage is to establish goals for every unit and establish “objective” metrics to determine the effectiveness of those goals. Then employees, departments, divisions, and executives are all rewarded or punished according to how well they achieve their metrics.

However, as Edwards Deming noted, metric driven management leads to situations where every one meets their metrics yet the company fails. It happens over and over because only rarely do metrics truly lead to company success. And in many cases, managers manipulate the metrics to ensure that they get bonuses regardless of the outcome.

And while metric management may work well in, say, a factory, it is a horrible way to manage areas where the needed results can’t be measured well. In these cases, continual improvement leads to a narrow focus on what can be measured rather than what matters. Hence, again, it leads to failure.

Much of the testing mania in education is driven by businessmen or business backed foundations. Those entities have misapplied in education the same systems they misapply in their businesses. But their businesses aren’t as sensitive to error as education is.

Testing arrived because in order to apply a system of continual improvement to education, business leaders needed numbers. So standardized testing became their metric-despite the fact that as a global measure of education success the tests are worthless. Any amount of data can only summarize a small portion of educational results. As an advertising guy who uses data extensively, I have learned that data is a fickle friend.

Over the past decade the do-gooder business foundations and philanthropists, along with the national Chamber of Commerce, have lobbied to impose laws that mandate testing to impose a continual improvement process on education. With the help of Congress they’ve succeeded, despite clear evidence that it’s a huge waste of money and effort.

It is key to remember that business is not always a human oriented endeavor. This means businessmen, like Bill Gates and Walton, aren’t at all aware of how metric based programs affect human beings. So it’s not really a surprise that they don’t understand their errors in trying to improve education.







Oregon’s Gift to Its Students

Ordinarily I get up at 7:30 A.M., rain or shine.  But it was snowing this morning, so I turned over and went back to sleep until almost 10. A.M.  Although I had decided what to write today, I hadn’t written a word yet and it was a tricky subject. I was worried.  Then, as I ate breakfast, The Oregonian gave me a topic I could handle more easily, and it was good news: almost free tuition for Oregon’s students at community colleges, and it wasn’t going to raise taxes. Read all about it below.

Without raising it’s own debt level, the state of Oregon has found a way to enable almost all high school graduates and those who have earned a GED to attend community college for two years debt free. The only cost to students or their families will be $50 a term for tuition.  Students may enroll next fall.

The program, put together by the Oregon state legislature and named “The Oregon Promise” is not actually new because most of the money was there for before under federal Pell grants. What is new is bringing  together state and federal benefits in an easy-to-understand package with reasonable conditions and the determination to publicize it widely. Not only will the program pay almost all of students’ tuition, it will also provide $1000 a year for books and other college costs. Another attractive feature  is that  Oregon’s taxpayers will not feel  additional pain as a result of the state’s share of the costs.  The program  will add only $10 million a year to an existing state budget of over $9 billion.

The requirements for students under the new program are also quite reasonable. They have to attend school full time and maintain a grade point average of 2.5 or higher. Even undocumented immigrants may participate. Although they are not eligible for federal grants, the state will cover the full price of their tuition.  The only dark side of the programs is that students from low income families may not be able to take advantage of them because they cannot attend school full time and still hold a job to help support their families   Perhaps a couple of the prosperous businesses in Oregon, who often complain there are not enough capable  new workers in the state, will see that it is to their advantage to create prizes for those who would otherwise not be able to attend school full time.

Leave a comment »

My New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year Everyone!  In the past my New Year’s Resolutions have focused on losing a few more pounds and cleaning up our storage room.  But for 2016 I want to work harder and smarter to support and improve our public schools.  I am well aware that alone I have no power to move policy makers and legislators in the directions I want them to go.  But I can vote, write to and phone my representatives, stand up for public schools and their teachers, and try to persuade the readers of this blog to do the same.  To give you an idea of the specific things I hope to do in 2016 I am posting a list of my resolutions as today’s piece.

1. Search wider for sources of information about good things happening in schools across the country.

2. Encourage readers to make me aware of what is happening in schools in their communities and let me know of sources where I can get more information.

3. Write letters and make phone calls to my legislators to inform, criticize, or praise them.  Also, invite them to read my blog.

4. Continue to encourage parents to opt-out their children from high stakes tests and give them reasons why such actions are best for everyone.

5. Write about ways that teachers can help their students meet their state’s standards through vigorous activities rather than the inert and uninspiring lessons suggested in the CCSS documents.

6. Oppose the increase of charter schools and any special “favors” to existing ones, such as free space in public school buildings or additional public funding.

7. Oppose vouchers for students to attend private or religious schools and explain why such actions are morally wrong and further damage public education.

8. Attack the “baloney” being spread about the incompetence of teachers and the failure of our public schools wherever I find it.

9. Avoid self-aggrandizement in describing things that were done in the schools where I was principal.

10. Do my best to post three meaningful pieces every week, not necessarily all written by me.









Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: