The Etext in Action

Article excerpt




Twenty-five miles west of Cleveland in the Lake Erie port city of Lorain, Lorain City Schools is the 10th largest urban school district in the state of Ohio. Comprising 16 schools and 8,382 students, the high-poverty district (17% of the city's population lives below the poverty line) includes two high schools, three middle schools, 11 elementary schools, and three alternative schools. Ford Motor Co.'s Econoline van plant there ceased production in 2005; thousands of residents still work in Lorain's steel mills. Lorain is 69.7% white, 15.9% black, 0.44% Native American, 0.33% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 9.56% from other races, and 21.03% Hispanic or Latino of any race. The school district operating budget is approximately $95.6 million.

Two years ago, with nearly all of their textbooks up for replacement at the same time, leaders at Lorain City Schools faced the impossible task of doing what all school districts must do to survive: provide their students with a basic education. No stranger to the tight budgets that have crippled so many school districts across America, chief information systems officer Gary Brantley needed to come up with a solution.

With strong support from a tech-savvy and shrewd-negotiating superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, Brantley set out to make things go right despite the odds. Brantley asked the following question: How can we move our students into the 21st century, maximize textbook savings, minimize textbook weight, and ensure we provide our students a world-class education that won't again be obsolete or tattered beyond use in a few more years?


"We determined that we might need to take a new approach to textbooks," says Brantley, who launched an investigation into the matter and liked what he saw. "The first thing we did was look at the cost factor. We were looking at 2,300 math textbooks, or $181,000. For ebooks, you're looking at about $15,000. It was a huge difference in numbers. Huge savings. We spend a lot of money on replacement textbooks every year."

Though the numbers seemed promising, it wasn't all smooth sailing. In speaking with various publishers including McGraw-Hill, Glencoe, Prentice Hall, Pearson, and Holt McDougal, Brantley and Atkinson met with resistance. While a lot of the publishers had the con tent in place, the major sticking point was pricing models, which were not in place. Additionally, the publishers had not worked out content protection issues, not being able to monitor how much content a school district could use on any particular device.

The first year, Atkinson and Brantley talked them into a demo process. "We played them against each other and they didn't want to leave us for some reason," says Brantley. "'If McGraw-Hill is doing it,' we said to Prentice Hall, 'Then why can't you?'" That led to discussions where the other publishers admitted that they needed to do it as well, and negotiations commenced. "We had a lot of people upset with us at first," says Brantley. "Our superintendent is very savvy and was very involved in conversations with these publishers."


Initially, the companies forwarded content to the school district through email and then through their FTP sites. Lorain was able to get all the digital content it needed, but the next step was crucial: "This is an inner-city

school district, so a lot of our kids don't have access at home," Brantley says. "It was really important we were able to load content onto the hard drives of the actual netbooks."

To be clear, the digital content files are not PDFs but interactive textbooks, nearly endless in their interactive capabilities. Click on a photo of J.F.K., for example, and the top 20 J.F.K. sites instantly come up while a brief summary of historic information plays aloud. …


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