Stretched Schools Push to Extend Lifespan of Books

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Even as dwindling state funding for new textbook purchases drives the search for alternative sources of information—mainly via the Internet, electronic databases, and licensing of e-books—schools in Kentucky are making do with the books they have, stretching out replacement cycles, and repairing worn volumes when practical.

State funding has fallen from $21 million in 2008 to nothing in the current biennium, said Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky education department. The department and the state board of education are lobbying for more money the next time around, but 2013 isn't a budget year, she said.

In 2001, when Matt Baker was the principal at Lewis County High School, his district received more than $50 per student from the state for textbooks, said Mr. Baker, now districtwide-programs director for the Greenup County, Ky., schools.

"It has been several years since the state has financed the purchase of books," he said.

His district replaces books only when "absolutely necessary," a term Mr. Baker said is up to teachers to define. And when the district does buy books, it uses money it otherwise would use for other purposes.

There is plenty of free online educational material, and Kentucky provides resources through an online database teachers can use for free. Called the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System, it contains materials for lesson planning and classroom instruction in multiple subjects, all of which conforms to current educational standards. It is available only to educators, and teachers log in to use it.

Costs Drive Policies

For students to access and use information electronically, districts still have to spend money, either to license some e-books or to buy computers and other devices.

In some cases, that means developing new policies. The state's Russell district is doing that so students can use their own smartphones and tablets, said Chief Academic Officer Debbie Finley.

Doing so will require protection against misuse, such as equipment to filter inappropriate sites, she said.

In the small and decidedly unwealthy Fairview district, Assistant Superintendent Brant Creech ordered bookbinding supplies he and some teachers have used to fix battered books.

"If you've got a book a middle school student has jammed in a locker, and it's only two years old, it should still be in good shape," he said. Book-repair supplies bring new life to books without resorting to homemade duct-tape fixes.

Middle school students, in particular, seem to be hard on books. Teachers learn to be aware of the condition of the books their students are carrying.

Mr. Creech's district also tries to stretch the life of books beyond their typical replacement schedule.

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That doesn't mean Fairview depends entirely on books. The district has bought e-book readers, and Mr. Creech sees that, along with licensing copies of texts, as a long-term trend.

Some, like Ms. Finley, foresee an all-electronic text future. But Ms. Finley predicted licensing prices would remain steep.

Electronic texts have one advantage—currency, she said. Because there is no lag time between writing, design, printing, and distribution, the contents are more up to date when they arrive in schools.

The future is likely to be a combination of texts and teacher-generated resources, said the Ashland district's curriculum coordinator, Richard Oppenheimer. "A good teacher teaches beyond the limits of the textbook anyway," he said.

Vol. 32, Issue 18, Page 17

Published in Print: January 23, 2013, as Stretched Schools Push to Extend Lifespan of Books
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