Textbooks’ death not imminent
The state must attend to a lot more details before Texas schools can adopt Gov. Rick Perry’s stated preference for exclusive use of online textbooks within the next four years, according to local educators.
But it turns out some Wichita Falls teachers are already farther along than you might think in their use of online resources, including textbooks.
In a speech Wednesday, Perry proposed Texas abandon using traditional textbooks and replace them with computer technology. “I don’t see any reason in the world why we need to have textbooks in Texas in the next four years. Do you agree?” he was quoted by The Associated Press.
He justified his perspective by saying textbooks are often out-of-date before they even reach the classroom and that computer software allows a curriculum to undergo instant updates. He claimed students learn well through technology and that one could expect opposition to such a change no matter when it’s done.
Texas is spending almost $500 million of taxpayer money to buy books for students in grades K-12 next year. Last year, textbook publishers reported selling $3.5 billion of books across the country for that year, according to a Dallas Morning News story, “Textbook selection not going smoothly for Dallas ISD,” dated March 23.
Making a switch from textbooks to online — whenever it’s done— should be based on what’s best for students and should not be mandated in an all-at-once change, said Janet Powell, director of support services for the Wichita Falls Independent School District. “It’s a process, not something we can flip the switch on,” Powell said. “Every child has to have access to the book, or the information … That’s what we owe the students.”
State mandates often turn out to be unfunded, she said — a chance schools can’t take with something as crucial as textbook material.
Powell said she would expect the controversy and fighting that surrounds the State Board of Education’s selection of textbooks would increase if the online element was added. “Multiply that by 1,000 school districts, and all the schools and all the different teachers. That’s why the textbooks have been such a staple. No matter what else teachers use in the classroom, they always have the textbook as a guideline to fall back on.”
For years, textbooks have been resources in the classroom, but not necessarily the text of the day’s lesson, said George Kazanas, WFISD superintendent. “They’re not the sole driver of the curriculum in the classroom these days,” he said. “They’re one part of many things our teachers use to pull from.”
Kazanas said he agreed with concerns expressed by some that children from families that cannot even provide them lunch money would somehow have access to a computer/Kindle/smartphone at home.
Kazanas said schools would need classroom sets of whatever device — iPad, Kindle, or laptop — was chosen. “If we do that, will we have the funding?” he asked. “Will we have those in every single room, every day? How will you check those out, if needed? Will we have just one printed set, and that’s what’s checked out? We must have a process in place.”
Textbooks do fall out of date more quickly than technology, but perhaps that could be addressed by adopting new textbooks more often, Kazanas said. But that could be costly to do it in all core areas, he said.
Kazanas said he could see the benefit of both books and technology, the books for their tactile appeal, and technology for its flexibility of layout, font size, and full-color presentation. “As long as it entices our young people to want to read more and seek out the information. We don’t want anything to discourage that,” he said.
The schools are charged with preparing students for the future, but it’s unknown today what colleges, the military, and their future jobs will demand in experience with printed manuals or technology, he said.
Teen librarian Kathy Vossler said, judging from her son who is a senior, “students are so technologically adept that they could easily get along with an online textbook. I believe they would prefer it because they wouldn’t have to lug around a lot of books or be responsible for a lot of books.”
Judging from the work her son brings home, teachers already are using other resources besides textbooks, she said. Her son’s Advanced Placement classes don’t follow his textbooks much anymore, she said.
Wichita Falls High School AP history teacher Tim Swagerty also teaches dual credit courses associated with Vernon College — two sets of coursework that are already defined for him. “Where applicable, I use both (textbooks and online materials),” he said. “I’m a fairly big proponent of both. They tend to complement each other.”
Some students — especially those who don’t do well with abstract thinking — need the tactile book; others, who excel at abstract thinking like math and physics, benefit from the fast-paced online experience, he said.
Alisha Frank, who has homeschooled four children for 12 years, said her oldest son, when given the preference, would choose a textbook, but still he must turn to the Internet for much of his research.
She saw in her own family how it was difficult to share just one computer, since so much could be done online, and said an online curriculum would demand that computers be provided for all. But there are distractions online that you don’t have with a book, she said.
“They tend to sit down and switch on some music. While they wait for something to download, they check ESPN. Check Facebook. Then they begin to wonder, ‘Why did I log on?’”
When Wichita Falls High School senior Destiny Guerrero was asked what mode she’d prefer to get her school work in, she said textbooks, “because my computer at home is slow.”
But last year, her physics teacher had the entire class using an online textbook.
“They had the wrong type of books, so the teacher got us all passwords for online books,” Guerrero said.