Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Doing Away With Textbooks In California

California is one of the holy trinity of HS text book states and thus tremendously important to the success of any textbook program. E-texts have been gaining and programs by Cengage, Pearson and MGH have begun to make inroads into schools as legitimate supplemental (and in some cases substitutions for) printed text books. Recently in an interview in the San Jose Mercury News, Governor Schwarzenegger indicated he would like to replace printed textbooks in HS as a way to battle his budget issues. He is suggesting starting this process in August which must have some executives in the educational community running frantic. There is an undoubted significant opportunity that may both reduce expenses and provide for a better educational experience; however, given the politics of both California at large and the materials selection process don't hold your breath thinking a change like this will happen in August.

From the Guardian:

Schwarzenegger, trying to plug a budget hole of $24.3bn (£15bn), thinks he can make savings by getting rid of what he decries as expensive textbooks. The governor is serious about an idea that might make Gutenberg turn in his grave. He appeared in class yesterday to push an idea he set out in the San Jose Mercury News newspaper.

"It's nonsensical and expensive to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators' hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources."

Schwarzenegger points out that California last year set aside $350m for school books and argues that even if teachers have to print out some of the material, it will be far cheaper than regularly buying updated textbooks.

The Governor's point of view on this matter is also warped: He believes textbooks are expensive and e-Book versions will be cheaper but neither is necessarily the case. E-Books will be better - especially true when they are integrated into a networked environment - but cheaper? Maybe but unlikely since there is the cost of the reader, (and some of these will inevitably have to be replaced every year), as well as the on-going cost of creation that publishers will want to cover on the same basis as they do now. Schwarzenegger has the objective correct: Replacing print texts with electronic versions is a good idea, but his motivation will focus the argument in the wrong place. It won't be what is best for the student but what will save California the most money, and on that basis why not just buy one text book for every three students and be done with it?

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