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Electronic textbooks

This is interesting.

[State Rep. Dan] Branch won unanimous approval for HB 4294, which would require the Texas education commissioner to adopt a list of electronic textbooks and instructional materials from which schools could select electronic textbooks or instructional materials to purchase.

It’s time that school districts allow students to use computers to access more information electronically, Branch said. It also will save money.

According to the House Research Organization bill analysis, the bill would “give school districts the ability to purchase electronic books or other instructional materials that were vetted and less expensive, rather than being forced to buy textbooks that sit in a warehouse. Around the state, warehouses are filled with unused printed textbooks due to reluctance to issue textbooks to each student for fear they might lose or damage them. When each textbook costs on average between $50 and $75, it becomes clear that the state must be smarter about the use of state dollars.”

How often do schools really not give out textbooks because of fear they may get lost? I wouldn’t have thought that would be permissible – aren’t all students supposed to receive whatever materials they’re entitled to? Be that as it may, I think this bill is reasonable. If electronic textbooks make sense in certain situations and can save money, then they should be allowed. Who knows, maybe some day we’ll issue kids a Kindle or something like it and deliver all textbooks that way.

I had not heard of this bill before Saturday, and if it passed unanimously without me coming across any alarms from the education community and its supporters, I figure it must be okay, or at least innocuous. But not everyone feels that way.

Although no lawmakers protested, there is some opposition. Texas Insider Publisher Jim Cardle has asked his subscribers to call legislators. Cardle calls the bill, which has not yet cleared the Senate, “a blatant vendor bill that will allows computer companies, not textbook providers, to sell Texas low-end equipment that will become dated in two to four years.”

As you know, I don’t consider Cardle or Texas Insider to be a particularly credible source. I did receive the email Cardle sent out about this, which I’ve reproduced beneath the fold. I think he’s being overwrought, but you can judge for yourself.

Despite the fact that virtually every reading or math textbook your local ISD purchases these days comes with complimentary online or CD features for use in the classroom, House Bill 4294, authored by Rep. Dan Branch (R-Highland Park) and scheduled for debate tomorrow, Saturday, May 2nd , will divert state funds from textbooks to unproven instructional materials based in technological equipment.

The legislation is very clear — The state textbook fund may be used to purchase technological equipment.

This is a bad idea — and the majority of Texas citizens agree.

But the technology lobbyists are out in full force, trying to pressure Legislators to pass a bill forcing taxpayers to fund laptops & technology that teachers don’t yet know how to use, and most children aren’t familiar with.

Do laptops or technology in the classroom raise academic achievement? NO!

In January 2008 the Evaluation of the Texas Technology Immersion Pilot: Outcomes for the 3rd Year (2006-07 ) report was released (http://www.tcer.org/research/etxtip/documents/y3_etxtip_quan.pdf ), and guess what? Based on four solid years of research, There were no statistically significant effects of (technology) immersion on the TAKS Reading & Writing.Laptops on every desk did not raise student achievement in the most important education skills a student ever learns — reading & writing.

In two polls conducted by Baselice & Associates over the last five years, 74% of Texas voters agree! We cannot replace content with technology, and the state must invest in both textbooks and computer technology.

85% of Texas voters also want textbook funding protected to ensure that money in the Permanent School Fund (PSF) is used for up-to-date math & reading textbooks, not for unproven uses like technology.

Yes, technology is changing — fast. That’s why publishers have already been developing and offering comprehensive learning systems for Texas’ public schools in both print and electronic forms. Instructional materials are much more than just textbooks, and textbook publishers already offer digital versions of their products for school districts to make flexible and informed choices on classroom implementation.

Please help support the Texas Legislature spending the constitutionally dedicated PSF funds to fully fund new Reading, Language Arts & Reading textbook materials, and call the Representatives below to say we strongly oppose diverting money for purchasing technology.

HB 4294 is a blatant vendor bill that will allows computer companies, not textbook providers, to sell Texas low-end equipment that will become dated in two to four years.

Make your voices heard — ask the Texas House to please Vote NO on H.B. 4294 today!

“It is undeniable that today’s students are geared toward a technology-centered approach to learning, and allocating more resources for the purchase of hardware and software is the best way to match the delivery of content to our children’s learning preferences. However, improved delivery is not a substitute for robust and relevant curriculum. If you fund technology but not content, you have nothing.” — State Rep. Donna Howard, Dist. 48, Austin , December 17, 2008, Austin American-Statesman

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6 Comments

  1. katy says:

    “How often do schools really not give out textbooks because of fear they may get lost?”

    I taught math at Marshall Middle School in HISD back in the ’90s. Excepting the prealgebra and algebra classes (a handful in the school), we only had classroom sets of books, kept in locked cabinets–we were supposed to count them out and in every period. And thus, most of us didn’t really use the books.

    Homework was usually a copied worksheet, if the copier were working. Or a couple of problems copied off the chalkboard or overhead, although hand-copying was seen as a waste of instructional time.

    A big part of the reasoning was the lost/stolen point, but also, our students were not allowed to use the lockers–so if the had textbooks, they would have to carry them all around.

  2. Kent from Waco says:

    This is rather silly. First, I’ve never heard of schools afraid to issue textbooks to students for fear of loss or damage. At my school, students are required to pay for lost or damaged textbooks or they don’t get their transcripts released and they don’t graduate. We do have a lot of textbooks in storage, but, at least in the Science Dept they are books for courses that are on longer offered.

    As for electronic textbooks, I have my doubts, especially if they are just .pdf versions of the paper books. The publisher of the book I use (Glencoe) already provides complete .pdf files of the textbook and all the ancillary worksheets and workbooks. One can already log-in and read them on the publisher’s web site or pull them off my own class web site where I uploaded them all for student use.

    For the most part, I have my doubts about the utility of electronic textbooks. Students generally do not read the textbook chapter by chapter. Instead they are given an assignment for which they will need to use a section of the book to complete. So students typically are sitting at a desk with a worksheet in front of them and flip through the text as they do their work. A laptop or kindle would probably be more cumbersome.

    Now if we’re talking about interactive web sites where students can work problems, play games, etc. on topics related to the subject matter. Then that’s a different thing. We already use computer games for some of our review work. But it seems from this bill that they are really talking about electronic textbooks not web sites, which I interpret to mean .pdf or other similar copies of the paper texts.

    Frankly, there better uses of educational technology dollars. One of the best teaching tools I know of is the clicker systems produced by companies such as eInstruction

    http://www.einstruction.com/products/index.html

    Each student is given a remote control that they use to answer questions and interact with the teacher’s lesson. It’s a FAR more engaging way to teach than to sit each student down in front of a computer. I’ve tried that plenty of times in the school’s computer labs and half the students spend all their efforts trying to surf, IM, download music, play games, or generally subvert whatever task they are assigned. Unless you are teaching an actual computer-based class such as web design, I’ve found computers to be more trouble than they are generally worth. And too much temptation for students to mess with.

  3. Kent from Waco says:

    I taught math at Marshall Middle School in HISD back in the ’90s. Excepting the prealgebra and algebra classes (a handful in the school), we only had classroom sets of books, kept in locked cabinets–we were supposed to count them out and in every period. And thus, most of us didn’t really use the books.

    Good lord, did you really have a problem with middle school kids stealing MATH textbooks? Calculators, OK I can see that. But MATH textbooks?

    So the solution to the problem of this theft of math textbooks is to give the kids laptops or Kindles? Yep, that’s going to work.

  4. Scott S. Floyd says:

    When Cardle says, “Do laptops or technology in the classroom raise academic achievement? NO!” he is exactly correct. It is all about instruction and engagement. The best tool used poorly will garner to improvements. What he fails to ask is the opposite question. Can outdated textbooks hurt academic achievement? Yes, they can. History changes MUCH faster than the textbook can be updated. Ten year cycles on updates, mind you. Now, the electronic textbook or resource can be updated daily and the student can see the change immediately. Interactive resources added as part of the content will also serve to be a HUGE benefit. Students being able to check for understanding with auto-graded quizzes as they read through a chapter or work through formulas is wonderful feedback for them as learners. Factor in the lower cost of electronic resources with NO storage fees like paper books, and the state is much better off in the long run. Will things be better immediately? No way. It will take 3 to 5 years for schools to be able to ready themselves for the resources and publishers to create them. But we have to start somewhere. This is not a vendor bill. This is a student bill of rights in some respect. They have the right to portable, up-to-date, cost-efficient, learning resources. This is the start to that end. This is a small bill with a big future. Congratulations to the House for realizing that.

  5. Charles Hixon says:

    Only one problem: who’s going to buy them?

  6. Kent from Waco says:

    Buying them is not the only problem. Who’s going to MAINTAIN them? If the kids I teach were all given laptops, about 1/3 of them would do just fine with them. The other’s? Not so sure. A whole bunch of kids would set out to crack whatever security system was installed so they could use their school laptops for gaming, messaging, music downloads, etc. It would be a nightmare of enforcement and maintenance.

    As for interactive web sites, self graded quizes, etc. All that is already out there. I already have all those resources for the Chemistry classes that I teach. I have the software to create self-graded quizes. I do this sort of interactive stuff all the the time. And there are dozens if not hundreds of good FREE online web sites with Chemistry tutorial material. My students are relatively affluent so most have home computers. But few ever take advantage of the online material I already provide.

    Speaking just for the subject I teach–chemistry. If you want to make it more engaging for the kids then start over with state-required curriculum (the TEKS) and start over with the science TAKS test. We are still teaching 1950s style chemistry because the state forces us to. And the TAKS tests that sort of thing. Develop a real-world based curriculum with lots of interesting labs and longer-term projects and the students are going to be more engaged. None of it requires computers. Right now, every single sophomore in my school (except for the severe special ed cases) takes either general chemistry or pre-AP chemistry. Both classes follow the standard college prep type of curriculum which means they are basically just watered down versions of a Chem 101 course in college. You race through an enormous quantity of material to cover all the required TEKS by the TAKS test at the end of April with little time for reflection and no time at all for any long-term projects. The best computers in the world are not going to fix that. Nor are electronic versions of the current text books.

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