We have a textbook crisis here in the overly-large school district.
Ok, “crisis” is probably too hyperbolic for what’s going on but there’s still lots of chatter around the topic of the electronic versions, and most of it isn’t positive. Plus the superintendent has heard from some loud and influential parents on the matter, which in turn makes the situation a “crisis” we get to fix.
The story started a few years ago when our school board decided we needed to begin using digital textbooks with an eye to replacing the paper editions, the price of which is steadily climbing. So, they waved their magic wand and told the super to make it happen.
As a result, last year social studies teachers in upper elementary and middle school got online texts for some of their classes, ones that are little more than enhanced pdf files embedded in a really crappy interface that both teachers and student found difficult to use. Â But we moved on anyway and this year we have online math books which include a combination of Flash, pdf, and web-based materials.
So, what’s wrong with that?
I don’t have time or temperament to cover all the problems so let’s just hit the highlights.
First, the books are online and cannot be put on a stand-alone reader, which means they won’t work on the most affordable devices available like Kindles and Nooks. Also making the materials inaccessible in places without an internet connection, like school busses, and difficult to use in homes with multiple people all trying to access a single machine.
Then there’s the matter of the Flash and Java-based content which isn’t playable on iOS devices and, it turns out, is inconsistently supported on Android devices running a variety of different versions of the OS.
I also find it interesting that the publisher’s tech support centers close around 6pm. How many kids do you know that even start their homework before that time?
Then there’s the lack of equipment available for students to use at school, especially during times when it must be dedicated to testing. And that’s becoming all year round with our increasing craving for data (aka practice tests), a rant for another time.
However, the biggest problem has nothing to do with any of the technical problems. Or with the publishers, and the fact that they are far more interested in “protecting” their products than in providing quality instructional materials.
The worst part of this crisis is that our school board and administration are so short sighted that they continue to buy what the publishers are selling: generic, unmodifiable crap that’s written at a slightly higher interest level than most Wikipedia articles, with mediocre graphics and worksheets containing the same rote process problems that have been around for decades, if not centuries.
Math instruction in K12 needs a major overhaul and we should start by throwing out the generic textbooks (adding video and animation is just window dressing) and then take a serious look at what math skills kids need to have when they graduate.
A good chunk of what we do is irrelevant and useless, not to mention boring, just like the textbooks, digital or otherwise.