Florida Approves Move To Digital Textbooks

May 17, 2011

Backpacks for lugging heavy textbooks may be a thing of the past under a budget proposal approved by lawmakers that requires schools to adopt digital textbooks in four years.

Florida would be one of the first states in the country to set up a timeline for a conversion to electronic textbooks if this measure, which was contained in an education budget bill, is signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

“Everyone realizes that digital seems to be the wave of the future and in many respects, the future is now,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, who helped craft the education budget.

The proposal (SB 2120) requires Florida public schools to adopt digital-only textbooks by the 2015-16 school year, and spend at least 50 percent of their textbook budget on digital materials by that time.

It also permits school districts beginning next year to set up pilot programs to test electronic textbooks.

“Florida is out front in producing a mandated switch to digital,” said Bob Boyd, a lobbyist for the Association of American Publishers, a national textbook industry group. “I don’t know of any that have passed legislation like this that says by a certain date everything should be digital.”

The Florida Department of Education is supportive of the switch, saying that it is coupled with a mandate to begin conducting all statewide assessments online and that is easier to update electronic textbooks.

“We don’t want to set up a situation where the first time a student has access to a computer it’s a test day or a practice test day,” said Mary Jane Tappen, the chancellor for curriculum, instruction and student services for the Florida Department of Education. “They should be comfortable accessing content and interacting electronically.”

Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, who also helped craft the education budget, said it will “meet the students where they are in their learning styles.” Coley said the timeline was needed in order to take advantage of federal grant money available through Race To The Top. A pot of money is set aside for technology upgrades under the program, she said. “The timing was critical to be able to use those Race To The Top dollars now,” Coley said.

But some schools say they are uncomfortable with a hard deadline, especially given the severe budget cuts schools have suffered in recent years, which has left them with little wiggle room to pay for big-ticket expenditures.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said school superintendents are “supportive” of the move towards electronic textbooks. “But the issue is always the same, which is how do you afford it?” Montford said. “We have to be careful that we don’t expect school districts to enter into a program that is not funded.”

Some school lobbyists echoed Montford’s concern, saying it has the potential to become an unfunded mandate.

“In a year when you’re cutting the budget by 8 percent, that doesn’t give you a whole lot of resources,” said Vernon Pickup-Crawford, a lobbyist for several school districts. “It is four years down the road. That gives us some time to start looking at what we need to do and hopefully in four years we can scrounge up the resources.”

While the cost of purchasing the digital textbooks will be about the same as digital textbooks, school districts would also have to pay for the supporting hardware, such as computers or handheld devices such as a Kindle or iPad.

“There is some cost savings, but most of the cost goes into producing the materials,” Boyd said. He explained that the cost of producing textbooks comes from the research and development, not printing costs. “My industry does not own a printing press,” Boyd said, explaining they had no stake in traditional textbooks.

Coley, meanwhile, believes that “in the long run it is cheaper to provide content through digital technology.”

Other lawmakers said they were concerned that going digital would leave students who don’t have access to the Internet at home further behind. “I am very concerned that there are children in low income families who don’t have computers or don’t have all the same resources that other children do,” said Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie.

The digital textbook proposal was born from separate education budget bills the House and Senate produced earlier in session which grappled with the issue in different ways. The Senate wanted a slower approach, using only an optional pilot program. The House wanted a more aggressive switch to digital textbooks, requiring school districts by the 2013-14 school year to spend half of their textbook dollars on digital materials.

The two chambers compromised, extending the deadline by two years and including the pilot program.

There are hints already that lawmakers intend to revisit the issue in upcoming sessions, perhaps delaying the deadline by a few years if the pilot schools find that digital textbooks aren’t helping students.

So far there is only one school in Florida that has gone all-digital: Clearwater High School in Pinellas County. That school issued a Kindle e-book reader to each of its students this school year to use as digital textbooks. Publishers say they are content neutral and have no preference about which device schools use.

“There will be time for the Legislature to amend the time period if nothing is found to have worked,” Simmons said. “It’s so far off, we’re talking about 2015 and this is 2011.”

No matter what lawmakers decide on timelines, it’s clear the state is ready to leave traditional textbooks behind – literally. The bill makes another seemingly minor tweak that eliminates all use of the word “textbook” replacing it with the more neutral “instructional materials” to include digital materials.

By Lilly Rockwell
The News Service of Florida

Pictured: The Amazon Kindle, which retails for $139.


13 Responses to “Florida Approves Move To Digital Textbooks”

  1. Hmm... on May 20th, 2011 4:08 pm

    Lugging those backpacks is all the exercise some kids are getting outside of school, due, in part, to technology, such as video games, television, and the internet. Just saying…

  2. Hal (RSA) on May 20th, 2011 11:35 am

    I think this is great. I am either surprised by those kids who don’t have books to take home because they have to share books in the classroom, or I am stunned by those kids who are having to lug 50 pounds of books on their small backs.

    Going eBook is a win win to me.

  3. whitepunknotondope on May 18th, 2011 6:36 am

    The downside is that elementary school age boys will no longer be able to draw a mustache, dripping fangs and horns on a picture of Eisenhower!

  4. EWMS parent on May 17th, 2011 8:53 pm

    There are pros and cons…

    With e-readers – yes they hold alot of books, easy to tote, don’t take up much room…
    but – kids sit & spill stuff on books, and misplace them, with e-readers – if anything is spilled or sat on them, they’re ruined and have to be replaced…many parents can’t afford the cost of these, they’re a ‘luxury’, so where does that leave the kid whose parents can’t afford to get another one?

    As far as a computer- not everyone has one, we don’t. We’re very fortunate that we can use my mom-n-law’s, but not everyone has that option and don’t have a way to get to the library to use one there. What happens with those kids?

    Some are very good with electronics, but some aren’t.

    Everything really needs to be weighed out before just tossing all the regular text books. What subjects besides Science & History really changes that quickly? Maybe have a few ‘back-up’ text books at the schools. At least for those who aren’t good with electronics, that don’t have computer access, or for those who have some sort of ‘malfunction’ with the e-reader? Just a thought.

    …My son got an e-reader for Christmas…within a few weeks it was ruined and had to be replaced, thank God Amazon’s good with their warranties or he wouldn’t have gotten a replacement! My son is very good with books, and electronic games etc…but he had sat a couple library books on it (and not big ones), and that was all it took.

    Accidents can happen with anyone, never mind the ones who would do something deliberately to get out of doing their homework!
    …and the ones that would sell them on e-bay or something…could be students, parents, or just someone who sees and takes one…

  5. Pondering on May 17th, 2011 4:14 pm

    You are right, “different” is just that…different. I’m speaking of myself, too, when I talk about those of us who find digital learning challenging. Digital books just give us another tool to use in addition to the textbook. It shouldn’t ever replace real-life learning. It does, however, give our students the skills they will need to compete in the global job market. Me….I still will want to curl up on the couch with a book. I learn best with a pencil in my hand! That’s what makes education so challenging; keeping up with the changes that occur seemingly overnight and helping students learn in ways that make sense to them.

  6. 2morecentsworth on May 17th, 2011 4:06 pm

    The amazing part of our school system is the fact that they want to jump into all of the new technology at all cost, yet not see the full picture. My children attend Molino Park Elementary. The technology is very much available for the children and the teachers, but as with so many newer schools there is no support for the ongoing technology needs. The school district will provide the computers for the classrooms or for computer labs, but ultimately it is up to the teachers or the PTA to purchase cords that are worn out or printers cartridges that need replacing. A computer cord for 1 computer can be around $50.00. If you do the math and each class needs replacement cords then it can get expensive quickly. Sure schools have technology groups. They got new smart boards that are sometimes challenging to use. What was wrong with the boards that the classrooms were using to begin with? From where we stand they are still placed all over the school on tops of tables and in storage areas. What a waste of technology funds. When these new boards break down who will be paying for the repairs. Will they be placed in a corner unused as well?

    Technology savy students can be great, but not every student has that technology at home. Multiple students do their projects at school because their families either choose not to bring the internet into the home or can not afford technology in the home. How will those students study without books? If our students are not allowed to take ipods and misc. items on campus without the worry of someone stealing them, then how is this any different? My child had a book take from her desk this year immediately after it was issued. We had to pay for the book. The cost was approx. $90.00. We were told not to worry that it would probably turn up. It did. It turned up in that class room over a month later. How will this be handled if we are all technology? I can see these devices being bought and sold by unlawful people/students. Easy buck if you really think about it.

  7. Michael on May 17th, 2011 3:32 pm

    The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The legislature is not thinking of the large percentage of low income students who do not have access to computers at home. At what age do we start? kindergarten?

    This “legislature” really did a number this year… I hope many are not re-elected.

  8. Byrneville Resident on May 17th, 2011 11:24 am

    “Research is beginning to show that the brains of individuals who have grown up with digital/electronic technology in their hands from early ages have very different neural pathways.”

    “Different” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” Many in this e-world today do not know how to do things for themselves, how to reason out an answer without the benefit of a computer. Computers are great, (and I don’t “fear” them) but sometimes we just need to look around us and learn from observing nature and all this big old world has to offer. Yes, I’m older. But I have been blessed to grow up without computers and such. We learned to think for ourselves and learned to research things on our own. Now, I can choose which method I want to use. There’s a lot to be said for and against both sides.

  9. GRITS on May 17th, 2011 10:36 am

    This will make things so much simpler for so many. Now, instead of losing a science book or a math book, the kids can lose all of them at the same time! ;)

  10. mehere on May 17th, 2011 8:57 am

    Not fair, this will hold many behind. All of us are not made for computers and digital textbooks. A large percent do not have computers are home as they cannot afford the internet. I was a teacher and students each learn differently. One method does not work for all in learning. There should be a choice.

  11. grey lady on May 17th, 2011 8:35 am

    There are pro and con arguments to this issue, but it will save money in the long run. An electronic reader can have the selected passages downloaded and only those passages or chapters will be needed. Students would not be required to have access to the internet at home for this, just have the e-reader on hand. All schools have internet access now. Even thought people think the initial cost of an e-reader is prohibitive, they need to realize the average high school student is issued textbooks that cost more than $500 per year, and students in Advanced Classes sometimes have $1000 of textbooks issued annually. Textbooks in some disciplines (Science especially) are required to be replaced every three years, and, actually, information that is in a hard copy textbook is usually at least five years out of date, and more likely to be ten years out of date. E-readers will make more up-to-date materials available to students. A district can save money by having just the needed chapters downloaded. Talk to a teacher, and you will seldom find one who uses every single chapter in a textbook.
    This will also help in students save their backs by not having to carry 20-30 pounds of books in a backpack. Schools can do away with lockers, which will save money.

  12. Pondering on May 17th, 2011 7:35 am

    Research is beginning to show that the brains of individuals who have grown up with digital/electronic technology in their hands from early ages have very different neural pathways. Their brains are wired differently for learning! Educators “of a certain age” who can remember getting the first computers in the classroom and life without cell phones, much less smart phones, are going to have to become less fearful of these tools. We need to look at what these tools can bring to the classroom rather than the “trouble” that they may cause (theft, damage, access to inappropriate material). As much as I love holding a real book in my hands and turning pages, students love holding and using digital devices. Now for the flip side, that the article mentioned. Show me the money. Legislators are fond of mandates that make them look forward-thinking and brilliant, but are unfunded.

  13. Elizabeth on May 17th, 2011 6:30 am

    1990’s: “I don’t have my homework because the dog ate it!”

    2010’s: “I don’t have my homework because my science book crashed!”

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