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One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Overdue Books

Schools struggle and strain to meet budgetary restraints every day, so it should come as no surprise that some fall behind in updating certain educational materials, right? Well according to a story published in mid-April by the Chicago Tribune (here), schools are failing to supply what they called "the most basic tool of learning: a current book in good condition."

Seems they did a survey of 50 schools-- so let's not holla 'bout statistical relevance here-- and found that 80% of those schools had textbooks in use that were more than eight (8) years old.

For you home-gamers, it's worth noting that most textbooks operate on a five-to-six-year revision cycle.

In other words, it's conceivable that students are schlepping social studies stacks that don't know the outcome of the 2000 election (which doesn't explain why so many adults don't know it, either, but still ...). We hear constantly about a "pre-nine-eleven world" and a "post-nine-eleven-world," but we're using pre-nine-eleven books? Biology texts that don't know about cloning or stem cell research? Math texts that ... well, OK, the new math isn't that new and two plus two still equals five ... but come on.

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to save a few bucks, is this really the right way to do it? Consider the fact that textbooks and similar educational materials (workbooks, homework sheets, manipulatives, maps, globes, etc.) typically account for a national average of about five or six percent of a school's budget, and one must wonder ... is this the right place to save money? In other words, if you went a whole year without buying ANY materials at all, you'd save about 5% of your budget. That's barely enough to "move the needle," as my boss's boss's boss might say.

Sure, there may be perfectly good textbooks whose content doesn't age, evergreen subjects where the life cycle of the book is determined more by the condition of the cover than the content. So students are lugging around six pounds of ragged, incomplete, defaced, and outdated textbook? The textbook publishing industry takes plenty of heat for "overpriced" books and "unnecessary" materials. But the whole industry only accounts for 6% of school spending. (And by the way, blame NASTA for the six-pound tome!) Educational publishers would LOVE to move out of color and paper and cardboard, producing lighter and less expensive black-and-white print materials that complement an online or CD-based "core text." But state committees and federal guidelines and this group and that consortium say "pshaw!" to that approach. Your kids schlep a newer version of the same product you used in gradeschool, and it's not because the publishing industry hasn't figured out a better way. It's because the educational system is largely the same as it was when you went to school.

Don't even get me started.

But back to the Trib story-- they claim that 22% of their surveyed schools are using materials that are more than fifteen (15) years old. Fifteen. A DECADE-AND-A-HALF. Of course, in that social studies book, the president is still George Bush. And there's still a reference to war with Iraq.

Is it time to show up at the local school board meeting, ya think? Maybe ask your kid's principal when they're ordering new books? Here's a hint: take a look at your kid's textbooks. The copyright page is the one on the back of the title page. Look at the copyright date. Subtract at least one year, because books are published a year ahead of their copyright year (books coming out now are copyright 2007). If the copyright is earlier than about 2001, it's time to update.

Fifteen years. Sheesh! Fifteen years, indeed!

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