RALEIGH — The textbooks used to teach physical science in North Carolina’s middle schools “contain factual errors and irrelevant information,” according to a study published today by the North Carolina Education Alliance.
Dr. John Hubisz, a nationally known expert on science instruction and physicist at North Carolina State University, conducted the study for the Raleigh-based school reform organization. He found that in many of the texts, discussions of controversial issues such as global warming, the ozone layer and nuclear power were too complex for 6th, 7th-, and 8th-graders to understand and sometimes crossed the line between science and advocacy.
There are five state physical science textbooks approved for use in North Carolina’s public middle schools. “In judging the quality of these texts there are two important questions to ask,” Hubisz said. “Do they present accurate information to our students? And do they cover the basics of scientific investigation needed for more advanced studies?” His conclusion is that North Carolina’s middle school science textbooks were “inadequate in both of these areas.”
All middle-school students are required to take physical science and most middle school teachers are required to teach it. But Hubisz points out that “over 80 percent of those teachers have never taken a physical science course.” Because of this, he adds, “it is especially important that the textbooks and materials that teachers and students are forced to use get it right.”
Hubisz attributed part of the problem to the state’s textbook selection process. He argued that it is “bureaucratic” and requires textbooks “to meet a host of mandates that, in large part, do not contribute to the process of learning the scientific method.”
The study concluded that North Carolina public schools would be better off if their textbook-selection process modeled the market-driven approach used in private schools, home schools, and colleges. Hubisz argued that scientists should be writing the texts in conjunction with teachers who teach the course and know their audience. “The real test is whether the text conveys sound information to the students, not whether it has conformed to a bureaucratic process,” he said.
Hubisz previously wrote a nationwide study of middle school texts that received widespread attention from the national news media, school officials, and federal and state policymakers.
“We were honored to have the services of Dr. Hubisz in this important task of evaluating North Carolina’s textbooks,” said Lindalyn Kakadelis, a former classroom teacher and Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member who serves as director of the North Carolina Education Alliance. “How can we expect our teachers and students to perform to their potential when the tools given them are questionable? Based upon this study, policymakers need to evaluate the present process for selecting textbooks.”
The report can be accessed at https://www.johnlocke.org/policy_reports/2003012933.html. The North Carolina Education Alliance is a project of the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation and has published extensively on school choice and education reform issues. Its statewide steering committee includes educators, school board members, county commissioners, business executives, and other civic leaders. For more information about the latest NCEA report and other research on education issues, call policy analyst Dr. Karen Palasek at 919-832-9756.