(This post was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey, Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California)
California became the first state in May to offer schools free, open-source digital textbooks for high school students. “California’s Digital Textbook Initiative gives school districts high-quality, cost-effective options to consider when choosing textbooks for the classroom – not only during these difficult economic times but in the years to come,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. The digital books are standards-aligned and may be viewed on a big screen or a computer, downloaded, or printed for classroom use so schools can take advantage of them using existing hardware – even if they do not have laptops for students. This week the Governor released the results from Phase 1 of the Free Digital Textbook Initiative, which found of the 16 free digital math and science digital textbooks reviewed, 88 percent met 90 percent or more of state standards-giving schools a better array of choices to meet students’ needs. Trouble is technology alone will not change states’ rigid curriculum mandates. In California, for example, this requires a 28-step process “spanning four years, and involving two state agencies, two committees, a state Curriculum Commission, and several expert panels.” For all that red tape, a recent audit found 427 factual errors in just five textbooks alone used in California schools. Better to let the real professionals, expert teachers, put technology to the best possible use in meeting students’ needs, and letting parents decide which schools do the best job of that for their children.