I’m Brian Bridges. Besides being President of the Board of Directors for Computer Using Educators, I’m director of CLRN, the California Learning Resource Network, a state-funded technology project that reviews electronic learning resources including digital textbooks, data assessment tools, and free web resources.
First, I’d like to recognize Assembly Member Torlakson’s contribution to education technology. Through a variety of bills, including one that reauthorized CTAP/SETS, he’s demonstrated his commitment to K-12 education and professional development. As such, CUE recognized him last spring with our Legislator of the Year award.
All is not well in the education tech community, though. Despite Assembly Member Torlakson’s contributions, K-12 education suffers from a lack of vision from our leaders. Education Week’s annual report, Education Counts, gave California a D+ regarding our students’ Use of Technology, while it graded our Capacity to Use Technology with a B+. This clear discrepancy between performance and ability requires a technology IEP, or Individual Education Plan.
Funding would help. Not since the Digital High School program ended eight years ago has California funded technology at the school level. They’ve only passed on federal funding to districts. Still, there’s no substitute for leadership and vision and it’s unfortunate that California stands still while Florida, Texas, and many other states promote innovative initiatives.
One area where California has started to show leadership is the Digital Textbook Initiative. Last summer, CLRN reviewed 20 open source math and science textbooks for their alignment to content standards. Widely touted as a means to save money and criticized for being impossible because districts don’t have hardware, the initiative was actually about two separate revolutions that are taking place worldwide.
Open Source Textbooks
The first is open source textbooks. Across the county, an increasing number of college professors are creating their own textbooks and releasing them with an open source license. This in response to out-of-control price increases from textbook publishers. These resources are easily found in repositories like Rice University’s Connexions, the private foundation CK-12, and CalTECH Books. The majority of resources CLRN reviewed for the Digital Textbook Initiative came from college professors.
Last year, two California bills aided the momentum: SB 247 allows districts to use textbook funds to purchase electronic textbooks; and AB1398, allows districts to use textbook funds to pay for electronic devices needed for these resources.
Texas leadership, though, went further. H.B. 2488 and 4294, both which are now law, encompassed California’s legislation and added several features to fuel the revolution’s momentum: districts may use textbook funds to purchase subscription-based textbooks and the equipment to access them; and K-12 open-source textbooks may be created by state colleges or organized by state education officials. Where is California’s leadership?
Texas State Representative, Scott Hochberg said, “We’re due to spend about $225 M to replace Grade 6-12 literature books. We can buy the content for under $20M.” That’s a cost savings.
I’d recommend legislation that would promote open source textbooks, allow the state to assemble and adopt them, and authorize districts to use them.
The second revolution is one actively embraced by the textbook industry, namely a transition from printed textbooks to comprehensive, online resources. This is a trend we’ve tracked at CLRN for several years. While the resources we review average 27 standards per program, half of our work deals with resources that contain more than 100 content standards. By comparison, Algebra I has only 31 standards. These programs are quite popular for tutoring, home and charter schools, and remediation. Both McGraw Hill and Pearson are actively creating the next generation of textbooks, which won’t be paper-based. Instead, they’ll be online, interactive, subscription-based resources with text, video, “live” links, and assessments. An example is Discovery Science, which was just adopted by the Oregon State Board of Education.
Rather than listening to those who criticize this movement, consider what critics might have said when Kodak created a one-megapixel camera in 1991 for $13,000. It would be easy to ignore. You might consider it a fad. But, you’d never imagine that someday everyone would own a digital camera and that Kodak would stop selling film. You do and they did. Disruptive Innovations work like that.
Once invented, they take time to evolve, mature, and gain critical mass. They don’t go away though. Taking the initiative, however, is one, inexpensive way for California to demonstrate leadership.
Peter Cohen, US CEO of Pearson Education recently said, “We are now in a transformational period. Everything we have has to be of two worlds: print and digital. The future of learning is going to be high-quality online material and, to a lesser extent, textbooks.’’ Houghton Mifflin’s senior vice president, Wendy Colby commented, “The textbook is no longer the center of the educational universe.”
Where is legislation that would allow districts to use textbook funds to subscribe to these resources?
Finally, we’d like to address the eLearning revolution. This movement is not new, but data continues to show that eLearning resources increase in popularity each year. According to a Center for Digital Education survey of 44 state policy makers, online education is a path to reform and 21st century learning. Being a disruptive innovation, these online learning experiences are still immature, but they have attracted a following with non-traditional consumers, particularly credit recovery, tutoring, rural schools that don’t have a critical mass of students to support a subject or qualified teachers to teach them, and home schools. eSchool News reports that at least 25 states now lead statewide online-learning initiatives, including Florida’s Virtual School which is ranked at the top. The Florida Virtual School boasts 125,000 students, a 25% increase over last year.
California is one of only 12 states that have no online learning program or plans to offer one. Louisiana, Idaho, and Arkansas are all in the top 10. What is our vision? When will California once again assume the role of innovator by creating a state-led online school?
Virtual or Online Schools have many advantages: 1) they offer courses that schools do not or can not provide; 2) they allow students to earn credit toward academic advancement; 3) students participate for credit recovery; 4) they offer access for students with disabilities; 5) they address teacher shortages or over crowded classrooms; and 6) they make it possible for rural schools to find qualified teachers, allowing students to take courses they are unable to access.
With or without California, online learning will continue expand its reach as it matures and as students and educators grow comfortable with these new education tools. Clayton Christensen, in his book Disrupting Class, predicts that by 2019, half of all high school courses will be taught online. Will California students be among them, or will we still be using 20th century tools to teach 21st century students? The decision is yours.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input.