Widely Adopted History Textbooks


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The information most frequently requested from the American Textbook Council is lists and rankings of the most widely adopted and used history textbooks. The details of textbook volume and sales are not as easy to obtain as researchers and marketers hope they are. Educational publishers are secretive and do their best to keep their products and their performance opaque.

The Council's databases, developed since 1986, survey publishers’ websites, key states and large school districts to determine what are the nation's most widely adopted textbooks in history and social studies. These lists apply solely to textbooks (instructional materials) and not to trade publications, which from History of Us (Oxford) to A People’s History (HarperCollins) have wide classroom audiences. These lists have been updated to the 2011-12 academic year.

Elementary School

HarcourtSocial Studies
Houghton Mifflin/HarcourtSocial Studies (2008)
Macmillan/McGraw-HillSocial Studies
Pearson/Core KnowledgeHistory and Geography
Pearson/Scott ForesmanSocial Studies
Houghton Mifflin/HarcourtWe the People (Backlist)

Middle and High School

The stand-alone titles below do not include junior high school texts from, and other publishers that are parts of multi-volume programs or series. The following books have been included in major adoptions that, combined, hold an estimated 80 percent of the national market in United States and world history, grades eight to twelve. Glencoe, Holt McDougal, and Prentice Hall also have middle school offering as part of multi-grade programs. The Holt world history is sold stand-alone but is part of a series created for California. Backlist books are widely distributed in classrooms but sometimes difficult for teachers to locate on publishers’ websites.

A. United States History

The first group of textbooks aims for the eighth grade-level even though they are widely adopted and used in high school classrooms as easy readers. Eighth-grade U.S histories are also available in generic multi-volume series.

Glencoe/McGraw HillAppleby American Journey
Prentice Hall/PearsonDavidsonThe American Nation
Holt McDougalStuckeyCall to Freedom (HRW Backlist)

The second group of textbooks aims at general-level eleventh grade classrooms.

Glencoe/McGraw HillAppleby American Vision
Holt McDougalAyersAmerican Anthem
Prentice Hall/PearsonCaytonPathways to the Present
Holt McDougalDanzerThe Americans
Prentice Hall/PearsonBoorstinA History of the United States (Backlist)

B. World History

This group of textbooks is aimed at grades six through eight and in the case of the Holt volume is part of a multi-volume series.

Holt McDougalBursteinWorld History
Glencoe/McGraw HillSpielvogelJourney Across Time
Pearson/Prentice HallAhmadWorld Cultures

This group of textbooks is aimed at grades nine and above. Some text versions appear with title variations. For example, the Pearson World History, sometimes called Connections to Today, also appears as The Modern World and The Modern Era.

Pearson/Prentice HallEllisWorld History (Connections to Today)
Holt McDougalGarciaPatterns of Interaction
Glencoe/McGraw HillSpielvogelWorld History
Glencoe/McGraw HillFarahThe Human Experience (Backlist)

C. Advanced Placement United States History

There are approximately fifteen to twenty-five major college-level American History survey textbooks, depending on one’s markers and metrics. Such books are available to high schools and recommended for all able high school students, not only Advanced Placement. Some college surveys are relatively easy to read and have strong narrative threads. Widely used episodic and chronological histories with differing interpretive views include:

BrinkleyUnfinished Nation McGraw Hill
DivineAmerica Past and Present Prentice Hall
FaragherOut of ManyPrentice Hall
HenrettaAmerica’s HistoryBedford/St. Martins
KennedyThe American PageantHoughton Mifflin (Cengage)
NortonA People and a NationHoughton Mifflin (Cengage)
TindallAmerica: A Narrative HistoryNorton

Texas and California Policies and Standards

In 2010, after a year of conflict and the media spotlight the Texas state board of education adopted controversial social studies standards. Texas is important because of its national impact on instructional materials, larger than California’s because it adopts textbooks at all grade levels. In addition, California suspended textbook adoptions in 2009. California state policy is in flux. It appears now that the state will abandon its longstanding kindergarten through eighth grade textbook adoption process.

Click here to go to the 2010 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies code.

Today millions of Americans think that in 2010 Christian extremists on the Texas state school board engineered a radical history overhaul destined to corrupt textbooks nationwide, whatever the fine points and actual language of the final version. If it was a conservative victory, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

At the time multicultural leftists on the board tried to use the hearings to their political advantage. "They are re-writing history," fumed Mary Helen Berlanga, a longtime board member and Hispanic activist. She told the New York Times, "They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don't exist."

The state board’s Christian activists soon thereafter, losing credibility to Americans of all backgrounds, exulted in their power, exposed themselves as ill-informed on the subject of Islam in the curriculum.

In 2009 strident Christian education activists on the board had stirred deep animosity in Texas and across the nation insisting on recognition of anti-evolutionary Biblical literalism during state review of science standards.

During the 2009 science adoption, they attempted to strong-arm creationism into Texas science standards. Board president Don McLeroy, a man of few doubts, said that the world was 10,000 years old and insisted textbook publishers acknowledge this fact. His demands and bluster made him no friends, and intra-board animosity grew from then on.

Texas liberals, especially pro-choice and anti-Christian progressives, were looking for trouble. Kathy Miller at the Texas Freedom Network, a leftist coalition that has the ear of the mainstream media, invented the talking point that the right wing had stricken Thomas Jefferson from the document. (A calculated misrepresentation that made it into the New York Times and Washington Post.) With headlines like "Texas Textbook Massacre: Ultraconservatives Approve Radical Changes to State Education Curriculum," the Huffington Post ramped up the leftist rhetoric, countered by a Fox News-led effort to defend the standards and make heroes of the Texas board.

Board president Donald McLeroy had a thin grasp of vexing interpretive issues that bedevil thoughtful historians. He knew better than the experts. He was out of his league but didn't seem to care. He was enjoying his media moment. His loyalty tests and votes offended state experts who might have been his allies. When much of the press tried to smear him as a rural cretin, it only strengthened his resolve.

Diversity advocates like Mary Helen Berlanga and Kathy Miller, no matter what concessions are made, can never get enough. They insist on remaking history their way, victim by victim. When they don't get their way, to create shock, they often exaggerate, accusing their adversaries of heinous offenses, with most reporters uncritical of their complaints.

If what has happened in Texas is any indicator, all future efforts to check diversity themes in social studies will be tagged "a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings," as an inflammatory California legislative act soon claimed.

Multicultural revisionists label their adversaries racists, bigots, nativists, and other ugly names with the intention to suspend all critical examination. Whether or not these epithets and techniques will continue to work politically in the future is an open question.

Texas was not re-writing textbooks. The new standards on the whole conformed to what's already in textbooks, and the impact on history textbooks nationwide will be very limited.

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