The Textbook Trap » Errors in science textbooks

A Matter of Fact

A 2001 study of middle school physical science textbooks (commissioned by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation) resulted in 500 pages of scientific error and imprecision in 12 middle-school textbooks used by 85 percent of students in the U.S. John Hubitz, the lead researcher, concluded that “none of the 12 most popular middle school physical science texts was acceptable.”1

Hubitz, a nationally recognized expert on science instruction and physicist at North Carolina State University, conducted a follow-up study of the 5 physical science textbooks used specifically in North Carolina’s middle schools. He concluded that the books “contain factual errors and irrelevant information” that make the books “inadequate” to meet the basic needs of middle-school students.2

Even as recently as 2007, the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Seminar emphasized that the inadequacy of math and science textbooks continues to be a major concern.3

It’s as if their authors had decided above all not to expose students to the intellectual rigor that is the lifeblood of science.

Sometimes these weaknesses amount to just sloppy editing: a 2008 review of a 3rd grade math book published by Macmillan disclosed 89 factual errors in the student book and teacher’s manual. But often the problems are deeper.

Pamela Winnick, an attorney and journalist, complains about science textbooks used in American classrooms that “a sloppy way with facts, a preference for the politically correct over the scientifically sound, and sheer faddism characterize their content. It’s as if their authors had decided above all not to expose students to the intellectual rigor that is the lifeblood of science.”4

But it is not just the science and math texts that have weaknesses; history books also have problems.

1John Hubitz, “Middle-School Texts Don't Make the Grade” Physics Today, May 2003, p. 50.
2John Hubitz, “Choosing Middle School Textbooks: Is North Carolina Failing Its Students?”  John Locke Foundation Policy Report (Jan. 29, 2003), p. 2.
3AAAS Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Seminar Report (June 23, 2007).
4Winnick, "A Textbook Case of Junk Science," The Weekly Standard (May 9, 2005).