California Eyes Digital Textbooks; Standards, Student Access Likely Hurdles

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

California Eyes Digital Textbooks; Standards, Student Access Likely Hurdles


Byline: Kristi Jourdan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The California Department of Education is moving forward on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to scrap printed high school textbooks for digital ones.

But issues surrounding student access to computers and the credibility of the information could pose potential problems for educators.

The Free Digital Textbook Initiative aims to research free digital high school textbooks that meet state content standards - allowing them to be easily accessible and quickly updated.

The goal is to help decrease the state's $23.5 billion budget deficit. Last year, it spent $350 million on textbooks alone, which was down from $419 million the year before.

Tom Adams, director of the state's Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Division, said local school districts will decide whether to use the free digital material, which must be a full program, covering a year's worth of standards.

These are free digital textbooks, and no one has ever reviewed those, Mr. Adams said.

Schools won't pay a dime for the material, but the research is costing the group, he said.

But free doesn't always mean quality.

Schools need to know the difference between digital and open-source texts before making the switch, said Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division at the Association of American Publishers Inc., which publishes high school texts.

Major school publishers certainly have digital materials they make available to schools that is purchased and is a comprehensive curriculum aligned to a state's standards, Mr. Diskey said. But open source is free online digital material, which may not be [based] on state educational standards or sound research.

Illinois officials began looking into digital textbooks this year, but that plan is contingent upon state appropriations, said Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

If the money comes in, officials would test digital technologies in three geographically diverse school districts, part of which would include looking at alternative textbook formats. As of right now, nothing is mandated, Mr. Vanover said. …

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