Monday, October 22, 2007

Tales of textbook adoptions, part 1

The San Juan Unified School District here in suburban Sacramento is home to nine (yes nine) comprehensive high schools. This year we are piloting physics textbooks for adoption next year. Our last textbook adoption was for the 2001-2002 school year.*

Last time we adopted, I organized the physics teachers in a crusade of sorts. The district's goal was to have us adopt a single title for regular and honors physics, and one more title for AP. I wrote a thorough (some would call it lengthy) "manifesto" refuting every argument in favor of the district's "one-size-fits-all" directive. In the end, each school got the titles of its choosing. Pedagogical common sense prevailed over top down nonsense.

During the intervening years, my colleagues in biology and chemistry reported that they were forced into common, district-wide adoptions. I was disheartened, but could not gauge the voracity with which my fellow teachers rallied against the district instinct to micromanage. (Remember: if everyone does the same thing, there's only one thing to manage. Administrative nirvana.)

I kept my manifesto through the years. When the first physics adoption meeting was called together this year, I distributed copies to my physics-teaching colleagues. Most seem to support the principle of school site autonomy. We might have taken the district coordinator by surprise. We'll see if she is willing to support our position as the process moves forward.

So far, we're keen to pilot Conceptual Physics 4e (2009) and Holt Physics for regular physics and honors, and Giancoli and Serway & Faughn for AP. Those who had adopted Merrill's Physics: Problems and Principles (Zitzewitz) had less-than-complimentary reviews of it.

To be continued...

*Personal note: I had the good fortune of meeting Conceptual Physics author Paul Hewitt in 2000. He asked me to help him with the problem-solving appendix of the then-forthcoming revision of the third edition of Conceptual Physics for High School. As a result, I was listed as a contributor. Hewitt was kind enough to include me in the dedication as well. So for the past several years, my students have had the odd surprise of finding their teacher's name in the front matter of their textbook. I resisted the temptation of directing them to the dedication or contributor list, preferring that they find it (or not) on their own. When the district science coordinator (who has since moved on) saw the reference back in 2001, she asked me what kind of laser-printing trickery I employed to get my name in the book. In the grand scheme of Conceptual Physics, I play a small role. Still though, no man is a prophet in his own land!

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