Curriculum

Textbook Publishers Face Digital Challenges

October 08, 2008 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It seems it’s getting a little scary to be a textbook publisher in the digital age.

At least that was the mood at a meeting that the school division of the Association of American Publishers, the industry’s trade group, held recently in Arlington, Va.

Publishers who gathered at the one-day “technology summit” on Oct. 2 contemplated a rash of challenges to the decades-long dominance of school textbooks over other curriculum materials and methods, and to their historical grip on school budgets.

Use of open content, virtual schools, and “authentic” content from original sources were among the upstart trends that attendees jotted onto notepads, as they listened to the researchers, state and school district representatives, and some of their own colleagues on the podium.

“Virtual schools are not using print textbooks,” Liz Glowa, a Washington-based researcher who has served as a consultant for the Southern Regional Education Board, said in a presentation at the meeting. She added that five million K-12 students, most of them high schoolers, have taken at least one online course.

Making the case that growth of virtual education will keep accelerating was Michael Horn, a co-author of the much-talked-about new book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. The book predicts that by 2019, half of all high school classes will be taught over the Internet.

One publisher, Steve Dowling, the president of Pearson School Companies, told the hall of about 200 attendees that the book’s chapter on the basal textbook market made him feel “like you have a target on your back.” His company, like other traditional publishers, has invested in creating digital versions of textbooks and other educational products.

Dowling said his former boss liked to describe the textbook industry as “a castle with a moat around it.” That’s no longer true, he acknowledged.

Also chipping away at that fortress are classroom delivery of original source material and teacher-created “open content,” some speakers representing school districts and states said.

Schools can’t individualize education with printed textbooks, said Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Wilhoit observed that textbook publishers have an “interesting dilemma,” because investing in creating advanced digital curriculum products will eventually cannibalize sales of their old, still-profitable, print products.

Even so, several educators reassured publishers that school districts still trust and value the quality and vetting process in traditional textbook publishing.

“We need your content,” one educator said, while urging publishers to roll out flexible, digital versions of their products, so schools could purchase just the sections they need and combine those materials with others, using learning management systems.

Joe Hairston, who runs the Baltimore County Public Schools, one of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, was adamant that publishers must step up their game if they want his business.

The superintendent said he has cultivated partnerships with defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. because “technology goes to the military first. They hang onto it for 20 years, then give it to the commercial sector until they are done with it.” Only then does the technology filter into products for education.

“I want to cut out the middle man,” Hairston said.

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

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Librarians Fight Back Against Efforts to Ban Books in Schools
Book defenders have employed a variety of strategies, including petition drives, protests, and direct pressure on school board members.
David Montgomery, Stateline.org
8 min read
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Curriculum From Our Research Center The Topics That Lead Book Ban Requests, According to School Leaders
A new survey of teachers, principals, and district leaders sheds some light on book ban and censorship requests.
3 min read
Image show a page of fiction with black marks hiding sentences or words.
Getty
Curriculum Opinion The Evidence-Based, Broadly Appealing Way to Teach Kids How to Succeed
There is broad-based support for teaching that getting a degree, job, and married—before kids—makes one more likely to avoid poverty.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Curriculum Opinion Data Science Is the Future. Let's Start Teaching It
The subject needs to be part of rigorous math prep leading to college and careers, argues Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt.
Steven D. Levitt
4 min read
Conceptual illustration of a data being examined through a smart phone
Ben Currie for Education Week