Books up for adoption

By Greg Gelpi

Clayton County schools are spring cleaning, getting rid of old books and trying to adopt new ones.

The Clayton County school system adopts books each year on a six-year rotating cycle. As part of the cycle, the system is adopting books for language arts and foreign languages for grades nine to 12 this year.

Spanish teacher Keith Hooper, who has gone through two textbook adoptions while teaching in Florida, said the proposed list of adoptions has some really good books and some that are really bad.

"Really, you want to look at acquisition of a language in a natural setting," Hooper, a Jonesboro High School teacher, said, adding that memorization isn't everything. "You have to give them the basics to do that. There are several books that do it."

The 15-year-veteran said that he sat through presentations on the textbook adoption process and feels "familiar" with the list that the public is having a look at.

Hooper said, though, the textbook doesn't "drive the curriculum," but only aids in it.

Many books can be too "flashy," but the school system should be fine with any of the choices, Melissa Niedermeyer, the head of the Morrow High School English Department, said.

"A lot of times textbook companies try to give you a lot of supplemental materials that look real neat, but don't do a lot," Niedermeyer, who has taught for 11 years, said. "Obviously, some are better than others. I think any textbooks we adopt would be OK."

She said that the books currently used aren't sufficient and aren't in-depth enough.

The process to adopt the new books began in early fall and the public comment phase of the adoption ends today.

Using a list of state recommended textbooks as a guideline, the school system narrowed its choices during the last three months of last year. Selection committee members heard presentations from the book publishers in December to narrow the choices even more, down to the list being presented to the public, Judy Johnston, assistant superintendent for secondary curriculum and instruction, said.

"It's not something we do very quickly because we'll be using the books for six years," Johnston said.

Although there's "not a particular pattern" the system uses to select textbooks, she said readability, how well the books are organized and how well the information is presented in each chapter are among the qualities the committee looks for.

The school system spent $6,186,540 on textbooks last year and budgeted $5,996,630 for the 2004 budget year, Lee Davis, chief financial officer of the system, said.

"It is a lot of money," Johnston said, adding that part of the funding comes from the state. "We spend far more than we get."

Teachers in the affected grades are also submitting their opinions on the books. The school system will compile the information and make a recommendation to the Clayton County Board of Education, which will vote on the adoptions, in the spring.

Teachers and staff will then have the summer to learn the textbooks and learn how to teach the books based on the state's new Quality Core Curriculum. The new curriculum is objective-based, rather than performance-based. This means that students will be evaluated not on how well they remember the information but also on how well they can apply what they have learned, Johnston said.

"A real key for is how closely it follows the Georgia Quality Core Curriculum," Johnston said, adding that a book must have more than just a "pretty cover."

The current curriculum for the Clayton County school system is not objective-based, requiring extensive training in the summer to prepare teachers to implement an objective-based curriculum across the board to meet state curriculum requirements in the fall.