Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 14, 2013

State offers no money for textbooks

Schools find alternatives

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — Commands like “take out your books and turn to chapter three” may not be part of the lexicon in the classroom of the future.

Nonexistent state funding for new textbook purchases is driving the search for alternative sources of information, mainly via the internet, electronic databases and licensing of e-books.

Schools also are making do with the books they have, stretching out replacement cycles and repairing worn volumes when practical.

State funding has dwindled from $21 million in 2008 to nothing in the current biennium, said Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez. The education department and the state Board of Education is lobbying for more money the next time around but 2013 isn’t a budget year, she said.

In 2001, when he was principal at Lewis County High School, his district received more than $50 per student from the state for textbooks, said Matt Baker, now districtwide programs director for Greenup County schools. “It has been several years since the state has financed the purchase of books,” he said.

His district replaces books only when “absolutely necessary,” a term Baker said is up to teachers to define. And when the district does buy books, it uses money it otherwise would use for other purposes.

Textbooks are more expensive than the bestsellers consumers buy at the bookstore — typically $65 and up per volume, according to educators interviewed for this story.

But the explosion of technology over the past decade has provided more options so teachers aren’t as bound to print-on-paper books now.

Increasingly, districts are buying netbooks and iPads and allowing students to use their own smart phones to access information.

There is plenty of free on-line educational material, and the state provides resources through an on-line database teachers can use free.

Called the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System, it contains materials for lesson planning and classroom instruction in multiple subjects, all of it conforming to current educational standards. It is available only to educators and teachers log in to use it.

For students to access and use information electronically, districts still have to spend money, either to license some e-books or to buy computers and other devices.

In some cases that means developing new policies. The Russell district is doing that so students can use their own smart phones and tablets, said chief academic officer Debbie Finley.

Doing so will require protection against misuse, such as equipment to filter inappropriate sites, she said.

In the small and decidedly unwealthy Fairview district, assistant superintendent Brant Creech ordered bookbinding supplies he and some teachers have used to fix battered books.

“If you’ve got a book a middle school student has jammed in a locker and it’s only two years old, it should still be in good shape,” he said. Professional book repair supplies bring new life to books without resorting to homemade duct-tape fixes.

Middle-school students in particular seem to be hard on books. Teachers learn to be aware of the condition of the books their students are carrying.

His district also tries to stretch the life of books beyond their typical replacement schedule.

That doesn’t mean Fairview depends entirely on books. The district has bought e-book readers and Creech sees that, along with licensing copies of texts, as a long-term trend.

Some, like Finley, foresee an all-electronic text future. But that doesn’t necessarily mean free. In fact, Finley predicted licensing prices would remain steep.

Electronic texts have one advantage — currency, she said. Because there is no lag time between writing, design, printing and distribution, the contents are more up to date when they arrive in schools.

The future is likely to be a combination of texts and teacher-generated resources, said Ashland curriculum coordinator Richard Oppenheimer. “A good teacher teaches beyond the limits of the textbook anyway,” he said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.