Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Textbooks

This past Friday, I was talking to a friend whose son is in middle school. She’d recently been to Back to School Night (and wondered, on a side note, why in the world back to school night happened a month after school started). She found out that the school has no textbooks. (No, this is not some progressive private school, but a regular school district school.) No textbooks, she wondered. When asked how they learn stuff, the teacher said she spends her Fridays making copies of the next week’s work for all the students. Okay, my friend thought, this cannot be saving money or the environment if each teacher is printing out thousands of pages of material for the students to look at. And since the students work on the sheets then turn them in, they have no textbook or worksheets to take home and refer to, so what happens if a student doesn’t understand something - they have nothing to study at home.

The good news is my friend plans to get more involved in the school and her son’s classes. The bad news is she’ll have to take off from work on Fridays. She’s going to offer to do all that copy-making for her son’s Math teacher so she can figure out how this is possibly going to work. Apparently the school considers it a success since, although it’s my friend’s son’s first year at this school, it’s not the school’s first year to use no books.

Maybe some colleges have a better idea.

The Jacksonville Observer ran an article about the University Press of Florida and Florida colleges.
Pay $200 for a O-chem book at the campus bookstore or $0 for an online version? Tough choice? Not really. And it may become a reality for some Florida students in the near future.
Right now they only have about 90 books in their listing, but they’re working on more. Students get the book online for free and can refer to it as much as they want or download it to their computers.
Research released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that students spend an average of $900 per year on books. And they don’t always get a lot of that money back.

Many bookstores will buy back books, but at a significantly lower cost than what they were sold for originally. Some stores will not buy certain books back because they also come with a CD that expires.
Of course, there will be those students who want or need a physical copy of a book.
And for some students, who will still prefer to have a physical copy of the book, they can pay a much lower price to have a hard copy printed and bound. However, it will be a paperback, and not the typical hardback textbook normally sold in stores.
Clearly, not every title will be available. Some may never be. But it’s a start. Maybe this will be a catalyst to getting my friend’s son some textbooks.
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33 comments:

  1. Wow, that is awful, but I'm glad your friend is getting involved.

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  2. I think having the textbooks in digital format is an excellent idea. It makes them much easier to reference. But that copier thing... I don't know.

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  4. Go digital and online. E-textbooks is the perfect answer. The schools buy rights to the textbooks they need at tremendous discount, they sell the ebook reader equipment to the students at discount, the students then can download to required reading for their courses and at the completion of their studies they sell the reader back to the school. Everybody makes money and everybody saves money.

    There is the makings of a very profitable and green friendly enterprise here, methinks.

    The Old Silly

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  5. Some of my son's textbooks (he's in 7th grade) are online. But he does have MASSIVE books that he carries back and forth. I'm ready to be done with them...I could barely lift his backpack this morning and it couldn't be good for him.

    On the 'saving money' end of things, the teachers did ask those of us who could afford to to purchase the novels the language arts class will be reading. That way the school didn't have to. I bought 5 books for him.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  6. I hear you, Elizabeth. My daughter's backpack was so heavy, I seriously worried about her back. My son's was heavy also, but he had a bit more muscle to tote it around.

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  7. How sad. A school with no books, photocopying the lessons? It's such a competitive world out there, I don't understand how these students will be prepared to deal with it. It seems a tremendous disservice to the youth there.

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  8. What a sad statement on our society that we have money to spend on war and weapons but not for our schools and children. I think text books should be provided free for all students regardless of the grade – even college students!

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  9. I'm not even sure this school was doing printed pages due to lack of funds. The way my friend described the meeting, it was their choice.

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  10. What are they photocopying? Books? That's illegal!! Besides immoral. I'm a former teacher (science) and a textbook writer. Yes -I think having ebooks is a good idea. No- I don't think having NO books is a good idea. My god- a school without textbooks- I feel sick to my stomach.

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  11. Every time I see a young boy or girl whose backpack is so heavy the child must be suffering damage to shoulders and back, I think there must be a better way.

    Online textbooks, with homework assignments that can be submitted electronically or as e-mail attachments seem logical. Copying all those pages, however, wastes paper, energy, and time. Makes no sense.

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  12. I understand the problem with weighty textbooks; my 2 teenagers have plenty! I also applaud the green concept of the digital textbooks; but...

    What about those students who don't have access to a computer at home? Or there's only one computer and more than one child all who need to get homework completed by morning?

    Elspeth

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  13. Lauri, I don't think they were copying textbook pages, but worksheets to do in class. Sorry, I didn't mean to leave the wrong impression.

    Maybe Marvin has the right idea. Kids check out eReaders and download all textbooks for the semester, then turn in their eReaders at the end of the semester.

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  15. It is past time for textbooks to be more afforable, and it appears this new incentive is going in the right direction. What your friend's son's teacher is doing is a ridiculous waste of time and paper and money. The students need to have access to textbooks electronically or in inexpensive digital printing.

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  16. Online textbooks - why didn't anyone think of this before????

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  17. I always remember when I had to photocopy things in offices. The machine would always break down and I would have to open it and pull out the crumpled paper. Start over, then, boom...jammed again.

    So that poor teacher.

    Online textbooks is a good answer.

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  18. This disturbs me. Right to the core. EMail got rid of the eagerly awaited letter, maybe cradling precious photos, perhaps sprayed with a mist of perfume. Now, no books. Helen, you can insert my mother's favorite saying here...

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  19. My daughter teaches middle school in Salt Lake City, and has to buy her students' books and school supplies since moving to a new district. Her salary went up to $51,000 a year after ten years of teaching but the cost of supplies is astronomical. She swears every year that she's going to quit but is voted the school's "Favorite teacher" every year by the students, so she's still hanging in there, like most of us writers. :) Unfortunately, the average writer earns less than $15,000 a year.

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  20. My husband has been traveling around the world doing work with Intel. Can you believe many third world countries are supplying the students with small laptops and all homework is done digitally, the lessons are digital. So much cheaper and practical. Plus, it's green! The US is so behind on this, so behind. I can't imagine that poor teacher. And the wasted paper!

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  21. Oh my gosh...I was just THINKING this as I was reading that first paragraph. It needs to all be electronic. I could see that working a little better on college campuses, where students bring laptops to class. Not sure how it would work for elementary school...

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  22. It would probably work in elementary schools since today's kids probably know more about working a computer than most adults over 50.

    Ah, Lisa, you brought a big smile to my face!

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  23. I dunno. Having seen some of the textbooks - falling apart, out of date, misleading etc. - maybe they've got a good idea.

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  24. Ah, the paperless society! It just was a dream! But good on your friend for getting involved!

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  25. Maybe no paper textbooks is good, but no textbooks at all? Not so sure about that. It'll be interesting to talk to her in a few months and see how it's going.

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  26. Helen, you always bring such interesting blog posts. Always different, always vital and involved with life. Thanks.

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  27. Online textbooks is such a great idea. I remember lugging huge books to school and back, and at the end of the school year having to decide which of the books I may want to keep for later, and which to get rid of. Even now, thirteen years after I took my last exam, I have a cupboard full of text books that I can't bear to get rid of, just in case.
    This would solve all those problems, not just the problem of cost and the weight to be carried to school and back.

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  28. Online textbooks is such a great idea. I remember lugging huge books to school and back, and at the end of the school year having to decide which of the books I may want to keep for later, and which to get rid of. Even now, thirteen years after I took my last exam, I have a cupboard full of text books that I can't bear to get rid of, just in case.
    This would solve all those problems, not just the problem of cost and the weight to be carried to school and back.

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  29. Rayna, I have no doubt that somewhere in storage I have college textbooks. You never know...

    Now what am I gonna do, Sylvia? My head's gotten so big after reading your comment that I may not be able to get my t-shirt off. (Thank you, by the way.)

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  30. I love the idea of online textbooks! Like Rayna, I remember lugging books around campus until I got a backache. I only recently finally got rid of most (but not all) of my college textbooks -- decades after I graduated.

    My daughter is now in college. She has paid more for one book than I typically paid for a whole quarter's worth of books, and then she lugs them around campus until she gets a backache.

    With a laptop and Wi-Fi, who needs paper text books?

    Why are teachers still copying worksheets on photocopy machines when the kids could complete online forms that the teacher could compile and grade much more easily than paper?

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  31. Textbook writer here...My suspicion is that teachers without text books for the entire class do, indeed, copy textbooks. Worksheets are designed to reinforce concepts taught in texts, not to be substitutes for basal texts.
    Online books for college and senior high seem appropriate. But for the lower grades...not so much. First, young (K-5) students could easily find themselves at unsafe websites. This might be mitigated by e-readers or some sort of closed-circuit network or dedicated server where students can access only the material to be learned. Second, as someone mentioned, online texts would mean 5 computers for a family with 5 elementary school children. Third, students learn by reading, hearing, repeating, rephrasing, and writing information. I don't think that there are any studies that show keying in an answer is as effective as writing an answer longhand. For some students, technology will be great, for others technology will offer yet another obstacle to learning. There has been some movement in producing single-topic soft cover texts, eliminating the need to haul 30 pounds of books to and from school. Schools really need comprehensive programs to meet the needs of the variety of learning styles present in a single 30-student class. That may be textbooks for some, audio tapes for some, and interactive activities for others. Also needed is an evaluation system with an emphasis on answers requiring higher-order thinking skills—more than a simple a), b), c) or d).

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  32. Re: Heavy books
    Student textbooks are designed to meet the manufacturing standards and specifications for textbook (MSST) NASTA (National Association of State Textbook Administrators) Guidelines. The guidelines ensure that the books are physically sturdy and of high quality and will withstand several year's usage. In most states, texts must meed these guidelines in order to be considered for adoption. The rules apply to dimensions, printing, paper type, binding and cover requirements—not the content.
    The guideline document is almost 100 pages long!

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  33. Bonita said: "Schools really need comprehensive programs to meet the needs of the variety of learning styles present in a single 30-student class."

    What a concept! Educators have studied "learning styles" for decades (and really good teachers have intuitively understood them for centuries), but the public schools have done little to accommodate various learning styles. I know: financial considerations, time, too few teachers... yeah, yeah.

    What is more important than educating our children?

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