The Governator Ponders Digital Textbooks

The digital reading revolution is here. Maybe it’s still a preschooler, but digital reading is shooting up like a weed. There’s the Kindle and other digital readers available. Project Gutenberg and Google Books have a wealth of literature for your reading pleasure anywhere you can get online. I advocated for digitization of our libraries in January. It is a no brainer that schools should be incorporating this technology. Students are using it already. Why not teach them more creative and helpful ways to utilize technology. “And you know,” said the bespectacled accountant, “digital textbooks would save us a ton of money.”

With state government’s around the nation looking for the least hurtful ways to cut spending, we could expect to see many states move to digital textbooks. Toughs times are often the sparks of innovation. Times couldn’t be tougher in the Golden State, which is why it should come as no surprise that the Governator is pursuing digital textbooks.

from Christian Science Monitor:

By next fall, Governor Schwarzenegger intends to make free, open-source digital textbooks available for high school math and science classes throughout California, a move that he says will help reduce the more than $350 million the state spends annually on educational materials.

Some critics doubt the idea will result in any immediate cost savings – and question a plan that might require investment in technology and teacher training at a time when schools face deep budget cuts.

But if California embraces open-source materials, which are now increasingly used on college campuses, a nationwide debate over traditional textbooks is bound to follow.

The cost cutting benefits are just one of the draws of digital textbooks. The shear weight of texts can cause serious pain and injury to children. Consider that a child often carries more than 20% of their weight in their backpacks. Digital textbooks relieve a large amount of that weight.

Text books have a long life cycle. The average text book state’s use stay in circulation for about six years. Six years ago Pluto was still a planet, an African American had never been elected President of the U.S., the economic crash was still years away, and we had just gone into Iraq. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s likely your child’s book is at least that outdated. If we are trying to maintain some standard of education that is more than an illusion, such obsolete learning materials are unacceptable. Digital texts can be updated at a much faster rate. Open source texts, on a wiki type model, are even faster.

The downside is computer access. Most schools do not have one computer per student. Even though home computers are prolific, you can’t expect every student to have one at home or internet access. In Maine that problem is mitigated by the Maine Laptop Program, but what about states without a similar program. Well the solution is not as impossible as one would think.

from CSM:

[Neeru Khosla of CK-12] says all a school needs to make open-source digital textbooks available to every student is a printer. “You don’t need a computer in every student’s hand to do this,” she says.

While not all open-source books are free, they usually have more lenient copyright licenses than do print textbooks – or digital books provided by mainstream publishers. Educators can download and distribute them at will without facing additional costs. Typically, the cost of producing the text is offset by foundations or private donations.

We must continue moving education forward. Technology should continue to be integrated into learning, providing students with greater advantages. Digital textbooks are the next step ahead. We sure as Hell can’t afford to stay standing still.


Is the Governator Strong Enough to Lift California’s Budget?

A little something for my Cali readers.

from KCBS:

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushes for a swift agreement to fill California’s $24 billion budget deficit, he is also pushing several ideas for reforming state government, including a state constitutional convention.

In an exclusive interview with KCBS, the governor said there must be a fundamental reform of state government from top-to-bottom, but California has not had a constitutional convention since the 19th century. The Governor says that having another convention is an idea whose time has come once again.

“Everyone who has looked at [the state’s governmental system], not just Californians but people from the outside of California, looks at it and says we have a dysfunctional system.”

The idea of holding a constitutional convention is being pushed by the Bay Area Council, a local business group.

The governor says also he wants to see changes made to the initiative process.

“It’s outdated. One has to revisit it again, and kind of bring it up to date so you don’t have to go to the people for every little thing.”

A dysfunctional system eh? The same state that brought us the twinkie defense, LA riots, rolling blackouts, and an election featuring a liberal Greek blogger, porn mogul, porn actress, washed up child actor, and a watermelon smashing prop comic is dysfunctional? Well that sounds like state governing as usual.

Joking aside, I’m not entirely sure what Schwartzenegger hopes to accomplish. You need more power to do what exactly? More of nothing? This is nothing but a diversionary tactic, slight of hand so no one realizes Arnold has no frigging clue how to fix the mess he’s in.

Fatal Merit Pay Flaw – Funding

Paying our teachers $100,000 plus a year is a noble idea. After spending a tour of duty in school district tech support, I firmly believe government school teachers are underpaid. Reforms tout the merit pay method as the savior of our schools. Michelle Rhee is a known fan of merit pay and has proposed the idea in D.C. NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg too.

Can states really afford to reward their teachers at this level?

I questioned whether merit pay would be feasible budget-wise a few days ago.

from The Maine View:

Then there is the cost. The idea of a $100,000 plus a year teacher. As long as schools still run on tax dollars I don’t see that big a pay rate feasible. Something else would have to be cut. Sports, music, other teachers perhaps. I wouldn’t mind cutting the fat and more efficient spending in schools. In fact it should be a priority. None the less I don’t see many states being to afford such increases.

In Texas they have dropped one of two incentive programs

from Dallas News:

The TEEG plan began as a pilot program ordered by Gov. Rick Perry in the 2005-06 school year. It was expanded to a statewide program a year later by the Legislature, which put up $100 million for teacher bonuses at 1,150 schools.

Proponents said targeting the money to the best teachers at schools with a large number of low-income students would motivate teachers to do better and improve test scores and achievement at those schools. Individual bonuses were based primarily on test score results.

But studies showed that although affected teachers liked the extra money, more than three-fourths said the bonuses had no effect on the way they taught or their performance in the classroom.

Here we have a program cut because it just plain failed. Poorly planned and poorly executed, TEEG was a waste of money. It seems as though there wasn’t much more thought in this plan beyond a straight injection of money. The plan was especially flawed when taking into account that TEEG drew much needed funds from the already questionable state wide DATE plan. Of course this is not the first fumble in Texas education policy.

The situation in California is dire. The state is in a financial disaster. California’s budget is short an estimated $24 billion. No matter what the Governator decides to do, it is a given that education will take a hard hit.

from LA Times:

The governor would take $3 billion from public schools if the ballot propositions pass and $5 billion if they fail — potentially forcing a seven-day reduction in the school year — on top of billions the state cut several months ago. California’s public colleges and universities would lose $1 billion if the measures pass and $1.2 billion if they fail.

Administration officials said the education cuts would be cushioned by incoming federal stimulus funds.

But a lobbyist for school districts, Kevin Gordon, questioned whether the U.S. government would allow the state to use federal money to replace its own.

Such cuts would violate “the spirit of what leaders in Washington, D.C., intended,” Gordon said. The federal money, he said, was not meant to enable the state to cut its own spending.

You can bet merit pay doesn’t look like such a good idea when your pockets are empty. When the private sector is cutting back, employ bonuses will almost certainly be cut. Now imagine those bonuses are being funded by public tax dollars. Stretch that vision even further if you will, and picture that you’re now starring at a budget billions of dollars in the red. Extra pay will take a hit.

Perhaps we should think of implementing merit pay like getting to the Moon. It took almost a decade to get everything right and still it was a long shot. How many rockets blew up on the launch pad before we could even get one in orbit? Creative dedicated minds at NASA finally got it right. It took innovative thinking from those scientists to solve their problems. Maybe we need to start channeling a little of their ingenuity into this merit pay conundrum.

Nightly News Roundup – Blagojevich, Wall Street, California State Workers, Loan Help, Maine Low On Cash, Snow

I’ve decided to ad some local news to the mix for my Mainers. Here’s the headlines.

CBS: Bye bye Blago

NBC: Obama gives Wall Street a verbal spanking

ABC: Will they be back?

WGME13: A little money lesson

WCSH6: Augusta low on dough

WMTW8: In case you didn’t know we got some snow