Thursday, May 3, 2012

WP > Free Internet Lessons Challenge Textbook Market for Public Schools

Michael Alison Chandler /  May 1 2012


For a modern take on Shakespeare, Montgomery County middle school teacher Amy Soldavini recently borrowed an online lesson comparing hip-hop artists to the Bard. Math teachers at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County sometimes assign students to watch free instructional Web videos at home so they can solve more challenging problems in class.

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With Maryland, more than 40 other states and the District basing instruction on the same standards for the first time, they will not be forced to shop for separate textbooks. Instead they can pool resources, hire the most talented curricula writers and subject experts, and share the results.[snip].

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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduces the Why Open Education Matters Video Competition.

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Some states have invested in online textbooks that can be easily updated and printed and offered to districts for free.

A free digital textbook initiative in California launched in 2009 led to the creation of nine open-source math and science books. In Utah, the state office of education is developing open-source textbooks in language arts, science and math that could be ready by the fall. Virginia also created an open-source physics “flexbook” in 2009; ... .

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OER Commons, a California-based organization, maintains an archive of free educational resources and offers a new tool to measure how well aligned they are to national standards.

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The publishers also offer complete packages of content, including print and digital textbooks, and a range of supporting quizzes, activities and materials, so teachers don’t have to work so hard to assemble lessons.

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To adapt to the changing market, major publishers are moving beyond textbooks and into a broader world of educational technology and consulting.

At a particularly turbulent time in public education, with legions of reform-minded programs transforming classrooms, the companies are positioning themselves as experts who can walk school systems through the changes and help improve student achievement.

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The traditional printed textbook is dying, said Peter Cohen, chief executive of Pearson School, and that’s a fact that makes industry changes inevitable. “The only real question is when,” he said.

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Enterprising teachers have long scoured the Internet for ways to improve on their textbooks or local curricula. Now, though, lessons accessed via the Web are proliferating in the classroom as never before and are challenging the position of the powerful education-publishing industry in public schools.

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As classrooms become better equipped with interactive white boards and other gadgets, more teachers are looking for digital content and adopting an assumption that prevails in much of the World Wide Web: That content should be free.

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Most school systems across the country have delayed new textbook purchases, which often run on a six- or seven-year rotation, to bridge budget gaps and to wait and see what the next generation of standardized tests will look like. New tests, tied to the national standards, are scheduled to begin as early as the 2014-15 school year.

Sales of textbooks and “core instructional materials” dropped from more than $4 billion in 2008 to about $3.3 billion in 2011, according to the Association of American Publishers. Pent-up demand for new materials could lead to a buying spree.

But advocates for open-source materials — free online content that can be shared and customized by users — say the national standards offer a unique opportunity to create high-quality curricula at low cost.

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