Hume-Fogg using tattered, duct-taped pre-calculus textbooks

Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 3:07pm

Pre-calculus students at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School are using 13-year-old textbooks that in some cases are bound together by duct tape, the result of teacher preference and budgetary constraints.

“I’ve seen them, and I can confirm they are held together by duct tape,” Fred Carr, Metro Nashville Public Schools’ chief operating officer, told The City Paper

School board member Anna Shepherd at Tuesday’s board meeting recounted receiving an email from a Hume-Fogg parent who saw the tattered textbooks at a recent open house and expressed concern about the condition in their exchange.

Metro school officials say the Hume-Fogg math team opted to use 1998 pre-calculus textbooks — preferring the content — instead of 2004 versions that were purchased in 2005 and are in far better shape.

Hume-Fogg is believed to be the only Metro school using 1998 pre-calculus textbooks. In all, 244 pre-calculus textbooks published in 2004 are being stored at Hume-Fogg, but are currently receiving no use. The books, which were used for one year, cost Metro $65.95 each, totaling more than $16,000.

Metro plans to auction off the 2004 pre-calculus textbooks next year to the highest bidders, which could include Nashville charter schools, according to MNPS spokeswoman Meredith Libbey. She stressed textbooks these days are used more as supplementary resources than primary instructional tools.

“At Hume-Fogg, the math department there made a decision several years ago that they prefer the content of the 1998 edition over the content of the 2004 edition,” Carr said.

“We didn’t use to keep out-of-date textbooks in the inventory system,” he said. “So, we didn’t even know they were using 1998 books.”

Textbooks are purchased every six years, according to Carr. With Metro’s most recent math book purchase cycle occurring in 2005, new 2010-published pre-calculus books were supposed to be bought this year. The 2010 pre-calculus textbook Metro chose has the same publisher as the teacher-preferred 1998 textbook.

But during the purchase process, school officials ran into an issue. State-mandated curriculum standards forced Metro to purchase new books across the elementary- and middle-school levels. Metro’s pre-calculus high school books still met standards.

Because purchasing new pre-calculus books for the entire district would have cost an additional $250,000, administrators deferred finalizing the purchase until 2012.

“We had to get the books that were aligned with the standards,” Carr said. “In courses where the standards really did not change —  pre-calculus, calculus, statistics —  we did not buy those books. We deferred them until a year to buy them next year.”

Metro spent $8.5 million on new books last year. The typical annual textbook budget is $6.5 million.

Shepherd, the board member, said she is concerned about the Hume-Fogg book situation.

“I understand that teachers know the curriculum and they know what best suits their needs,” Shepherd said. “But it’s a concern for me that in 2011 we’re using a 1998 textbook. And furthermore that the ones from 2010 were approved, but not purchased.”

Carr said Metro’s process for purchasing books has two phases. First, teachers recommend their preferred publishers to the school board. Then the district’s inventory team analyzes student enrollment and decides how many books should be purchased.

He said the district recently added a new layer to the process based on a computer program that tracks the district’s entire book allotment —  detailing which books are being used and which ones aren’t.

16 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 9/15/11 at 1:36

This duct tape job is the best thing the MNPS has done in years.

By: pswindle on 9/15/11 at 2:40

WHY! This does not make any sense. They either need up to date textbooks or they teach without textbooks, but you can't use an out of date book to teach something as important as math.

By: nashvillejefferson on 9/15/11 at 2:54

...because pre-calculus has changed SO RADICALLY over the past 13 years. Are you folks kidding? Maybe I'd be concerned about 13-year old *History* books, but pre-calculus?

This is absolute fluff. Joey: Come on. There have got to be better stories out there than this one.

Good gracious.

By: anonymous2 on 9/15/11 at 2:58

Let me get this straight...parents are upset that at, arguably, the highest performing High School in the system, the teachers have found something that works and are sticking with it? They are able to SAVE money for the system by using the tools already in their possession. These are teachers who obviously care about the content of their materials and are not easily swayed by the new, shiny, dumbed-down versions of the text. I would venture to say that these students will test higher and do better in math-related fields than their new-textbook counterparts in the future. Perhaps the school system should take a lesson from these teachers and stop funneling money to the text-book publishers for "new and improved" propaganda laden materials. Absolutely ridiculous!

By: JAGibbs on 9/15/11 at 4:25

Is a newly published textbook automatically superior to one that has been found to "work"?

By: tomhsueh on 9/15/11 at 5:17

Nashvillejefferson got it right: precalculus was the same in 1998 as it is today. In China, they could use those books and still beat our kids in international math competition.

By: boyer barner on 9/15/11 at 8:05

The text-book industry is a scam in a lot of ways. So in that regard, I'm glad these older books are still being used.

If these books teach what is necessary to learn calculus (and the teachers are capable), then what is the big deal?

America is hung up on having new things, or replacing things when they break, rather than fixing them.

Also, this may teach kids a lesson (no pun intended) when it comes to my previous statement. (And maybe their parents, as well).

What matters is the outcome -- that the students learn calculus.

By: dogmrb on 9/15/11 at 9:25

The teachers teach the students that you know what you know and don't follow the crowd aka administration. Yea for duct tape!

By: Robert M. on 9/15/11 at 9:37

this article is infuriating on so many levels. Hume Fogg is the highest performing school in the state. Could it be better? Sure. But let's not promote an "oh poor me" image. That school graduates close to 100% of students -- an impressive feat for any school public, private, urban, rural, wherever, whatever. What's even the point of writing this piece? The teachers at the school like the 1998 books, and they are obviously effective at their jobs.

This school board member who represents a district in Nashville with significantly higher rates of economically disadvantaged students brings up an email from a parent at a school not even in her district? Wow. Talk about not being in touch.

What's troubling is the school system is going to "auction off" the newer books? Seriously? Are our schools eBay now?

Why doesn't the city paper focus an article on the schools in MNPS with 95% economically disadvantaged students, classes with 35+ students, and buildings literally crumbling.

Probably because it's easier to discuss at a board meeting a sensational issue of old textbooks instead of focusing on real issues like class size, teacher turnover, poverty, crime, and the endless list of tough problems our students face in underfunded schools.

By: boyer barner on 9/15/11 at 9:52

This article is a joke and is poor journalism.

It's a typical "leading question" story.

It should have a video with a talking-head, blonde bimbo, attached to it.

(Maybe CP needs raw video reports like they do at The Tennessean, sent in for free via cell-phones).

By: gdiafante on 9/16/11 at 6:36

My question would be, how much cheaper would it be to replace the ones with duct tape? I can go online and find a book of any edition in reasonable condition. And if it's an older edition, probably at a cheaper price.

I mean, honestly, regardless of the edition you're using, duct tape??

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 9/16/11 at 6:51

There must not be a positive correlation between shiny new text books and academic achievement. There are many reasons students at that school excel, and it apparently is not connected with the quality of the pre-calculus books.

By: skeptic1 on 9/16/11 at 7:56

Wrong again, Swindle---Are you always wrong? How much do you think the principles of math change in 10 years? Ask Pythagoras?

By the way, I still have my Granny's 1931 high school Home Economics textbook. The cover and binding are the worse for wear, but the recipes in there still work after 80 years.

New textbooks are a notorious scam. Ask any college student. It's not about need or obsolescence; it's all about "Show me the money" and who gets paid.

The main thing that changes in 10 years/25 years/50 years is the quality of students. How do you think today's over-fed, over-stimulated students measure up?

By: localboy on 9/16/11 at 8:32

If the 1998 edition was preferable to the 2004 edition, why were the 2004 edition books bought in the first place? As gdiafante posts, some older editions in reasonable condition may be available online.

By: Nitzche on 9/16/11 at 8:35

how much money is the school budget? does anything or anybody get paid? where does the money go? who is running this thing Madoff, Enron executives?

By: conservarage on 9/18/11 at 6:31

so, has pre-cal really changed that much in 13 years? are all the pages intact? if so, then who cares. just because a book is newer, doesnt make it better - often it just makes it more filled with fluff and other useless garbage to make the book bigger and cost more.