Hamilton County prepares to spend $4 million for new math textbooks

Hamilton County prepares to spend $4 million for new math textbooks

April 29th, 2015 by Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

Textbooks are seen stacked in a hallway at East Hamilton Middle/High School in Chattanooga.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County Department of Education is poised to spend just over $4 million for new math textbooks, or about $93 for each of its roughly 43,000 students. Because textbooks typically have a six-year life, that breaks down to about $15.50 per student per year.

School district officials expect to dip into the district's $34 million fund balance, or savings account, to buy the books.

Cost wasn't one of the factors considered by a committee that has met since January to select the list of kindergarten through 12th-grade math books. The school board will vote on them at its May 21 meeting.

Document: Cost of proposed math textbooks

This document lists the proposed math textbook purchases for Hamilton County, along with the proposed cost of each.

Document: Sample TNCore third grade math textbook

The textbooks are built from scratch, the company says, and are all in color. A sample from the third-grade book uses cartoon characters to teach such subjects as comparing fractions.

"There was never a discussion of money among the committee," said Matt Matthews, interim department head of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's mathematics department, who served on the committee as a parent.

"We were charged to pick out textbooks on the academic merits -- and that's what we did," said Matthews, who helped evaluate calculus and pre-calculus textbooks. "We had very serious discussions about the merits of each book. I felt good about the choices."

Hamilton County's committee chose the math textbooks from a list approved by the Tennessee Board of Education.

The biggest proposed expenditures are $1.8 million for kindergarten through fifth-grade textbooks and $754,500 for sixth-grade through eighth-grade texts. The committee chose "Ready TNCore" textbooks from Curriculum Associates, a Massachusetts-based corporation.

The textbooks, which are "built from scratch" and all in color, teach students the "why" of mathematics at the early grade levels, the company says, to "help young learners meet the demands of the new standards."

"It works!" the company's Ready TNCore website says. "In New York, schools using Ready had a significantly higher percentage of students achieving proficiency on the new 2013 Common Core state assessment than schools that did not use Ready."

The Tennessee General Assembly didn't completely ditch the controversial Common Core State Standards when its session ended last week. Instead, a 10-member review committee will work on new state standards -- which many expect to look a lot like Common Core -- that eventually will replace the Common Core standards on math and English language arts.

Other proposed Hamilton County purchases include $802,000 for geometry, algebra I and algebra II textbooks published by the College Board, the nonprofit corporation with headquarters in New York City that offers Advanced Placement testing and the SAT college admission test.

The third largest proposed expenditure of $283,000 is for advanced algebra and trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus, AP calculus, statistics and AP statistics textbooks from Boston-based Cengage Learning, one of the world's largest book publishers.

With the growing prevalence of tablets and smart phones, some people wonder why the district doesn't just buy digital textbooks, school officials say. But Hamilton County doesn't have enough digital devices to give one to every student. Fewer than 10 percent of students have been assigned tablets and laptop computers.

"[People ask], why are we buying textbooks when everybody's walking around with smart phones and iPads?" said Robert Sharpe, assistant superintendent for education and leadership. "We don't have the staff or the resources [to go digital]."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.