Can the Terminator Terminate Textbooks?

terminator-arnoldResponding to the state’s budget crisis, California’s Governor Schwarzenegger wants to save money by cutting out printed textbooks, asserting the state’s tech-savvy youngsters will quickly adapt to learning online. I think he’s right, but is he dead right?

Britian’s Sky News quotes Schwarzenegger as saying that “Today, our kids get their information from the internet, downloaded onto their iPods, and in Twitter feeds to their cell phones. So why are California’s public school students still forced to lug around antiquated, heavy, expensive textbooks?” [More… ]

Switching to e-textbooks and open-sourced content make a lot of sense in principal — indeed, an approach that we used at Pearson Education to win a California adoption in social studies — but can it work across the curriculum areas and across the state? Some feel The Aaahnold’s initiative will face barriers, possibly insurmountable ones. Writing in ArsTechnica, Ryan Paul observes:

“The effort seems very promising, but the state’s complex standards and arduous textbook evaluation process will pose major challenges.[…]

There is already plenty of textbook-ready material available on the Internet in the public domain or under open licenses, but the real challenge is compiling and editing it so that it will meet the state’s exacting standards. California is known for having the most demanding textbook evaluation practices in the country, with publishers forced to go to extreme lengths to meet state requirements. The arduous review process is forcing some publishing companies to stop selling books in the state and is also a factor that has contributed significantly to the rising cost of K-12 textbooks in California.

Among the state’s most controversial policies are those which require books to reflect society’s diversity by including representative references to individuals of minority ethnicities. Critics say that these requirements are overly burdensome and have made political correctness a higher priority than quality in the textbook production and review process. The situation has raised some bizarre challenges for publishers. For example, some textbook publishing companies controversially enlist able-bodied children to pose in wheelchairs so that they have a sufficient number of pictures of “disabled” students to appease state textbook reviewers.

Now that the state is taking up the task of compiling textbook material itself, it will be forced to contend with its own labyrinthine mess of ambiguous and conflicting requirements. It’s not a problem that one can simply crowd-source. The open textbook development process will likely be closely scrutinized by critics and advocates on both sides of California’s divisive textbook standards debate.” [More…]

Personally I think Schwarzenegger’s efforts are long overdue and that in spite of the high hurdles — indeed, maybe beause of them — he’s the right person in the right place to make this happen. Your thoughts?

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