Science

Evaluating Calif.'s Open-Source Textbook Plan

By Katie Ash — June 11, 2009 1 min read

About a month ago, we mentioned a new initiative that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger set forth to explore free, open-source digital textbooks. This AP article gives a few more details about why the state is pursuing the plan and how it’s being received.

Using open-source textbooks statewide is an extremely ambitious plan, say most educators, and has never been attempted in this country at such a large scale. But with the state facing a $24 billion deficit, it seems that Gov. Schwarzenegger is hoping to pinch pennies in whatever ways he can.

This is a clear example of the way that this recession and the budget cuts that have resulted from it are forcing leaders to look at new and innovative ways of delivering education. But even supporters of open-source textbooks have their doubts about whether this is a viable plan. From the article:

The online material would supplement textbooks that teachers already use, meaning California will continue buying traditional books. Also, California's K-12 standards for core subjects are among the most rigorous and complex in the nation, meaning that much of the material online may not measure up.

In addition, the ratio of students to computers in California is about 4 to 1, which is obviously not ideal for this initiative. Both critics and supporters of this plan say that the state will need to invest more money in technology infrastructure and professional development if it is going to work.

And so, as it seems to be with most endeavors in education, saving money really shouldn’t be the primary motivation for pursuing the use of digital, open-source textbooks, experts say. Supporters of open-source textbooks are commending Gov. Schwarzenegger for exploring and evaluating these resources, but I do hope that the students in California aren’t short-changed in the adoption of an ambitious open-source textbook initiative simply because of financial desperation. Ultimately, educators’ first duty is to educate students, and it’s essential that those students are provided with the resources they need to succeed academically.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.