Books Vs. Notebooks

There’s an argument brewing in Texas regarding banning books in the classroom – and it’s not going to be pretty since Texas has a major influence on the purchasing of educational textbooks in the United States.

Over the years many educators have felt that the cost of textbooks are out of line and that digital media provides a more enriching experience for students.  Governor Rick Perry has jumped on the bandwagon and is supporting the concept that digital media replace textbooks.  A recently passed state law grants the commissioner of education the authority to select a list of electronic textbooks for districts, including open-source content.  The law also permits local districts to use their textbook funds to buy electronic material and devices.

I will not take a purely “Luddite” stand and say that digital devices (Internet and mobile devices, i.e. Kindle/iPad/smart phones) are evil.  Not only can they provide a “rich” environment for reading, but we need to understand that’s these tools are the preferred communication tools of those under 30.

At this time, there is no consensus within the education community that textbooks do not have value in the classroom; so, there’s no definitive path.  What does bother me is the cost argument.

There is a feeling by decision makers that books are expensive because the cost of printing and paper.  In a recent article published by the Dallas Morning News,  Alice Owen, Director of Technology with the Irving Independent School District, stated,  “It’s not working exactly as we thought [that costs of electronic texts would be cheaper than print] A big chunk of textbooks is going to paper and printing that could be a savings.”  There’s the problem as I see it.  The assumption that “printing” is too expensive.  No one takes into consideration that textbook content development (or news development for the newspapers) is not cheap.  Print, per se, is not the problem.

I asked Dr. Ron Davis, Printing Industries of America’s chief economist, to do a bit of research on this topic, and his findings were no surprise to those of us who are in the industry.  Per Davis, “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the price of printing textbooks has actually gone down the last few years. From 2001 to 2010 the price of textbook printing declined by 7.3%. From 2000 to 2010 the decline was 5.5%.  This reflects both technology changes and the intense competitive environment.”

Although digital technology may be inexpensive, content is not, as school districts are beginning to discover.  It should also be brought to the attention of legislators and administrators that there is the cost of computer support (they don’t take care of themselves]; hardware/software upgrades; costs of obsolescence; and an issue which is really coming to the forefront – security.

So, Governor Perry, before you start down the technology path, make sure you know what the real costs will be to the taxpayers.  What’s the old adage?  If it looks too good to be true, it’s  . . .

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