The Dallas Morning News had an article on November 4th titled "Schools Toss Aside Texts for e-Books."
"More and more school districts are replacing traditional textbooks with electronic versions, and a few have opted to eliminate textbooks altogether."
The article reports on Forney, Texas, which hopes to be using only electronic textbooks within two years. A school bond package on the ballot for today will provide $11.8 million to purchase laptops and upgrade the current system. "The district most likely would be the first in the state to use e-books in every classroom for grades five to 12."
A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency says that some school districts are using e-books in one or two classes, but not across the board.
This is not unheard of. Bill Gates' Microsoft group designed Philadelphia's School of the Future, which recently opened without textbooks of any kind--hardback or e-book. Another school in Vail, near Tucson, Arizona, did the same.
The article lists three factors as potential reasons for switching to e-books: (1) The electronic books are easier to update; (2) Rapid district growth. In some districts, enrollment is expected to double in the next five years. Ordering textbooks can take months, but an e-book can be loaded in hours; (3) Cost. This movement is also spreading to colleges. For university students, "It's about 50 percent the cost of buying a book in hardback form . . . They don't have to worry about trying to sell it back, and at the end of the semester their subscription just expires."
Forney explains that "The district pays $895 for each laptop, which probably will need replacing every four years. Each laptop weighs about six pounds, about the same as one sixth-grade science book." Of course, this means that students will no longer need to carry five or six textbooks around with them all day.
Kids have no trouble adapting to the switch and greet the e-books with enthusiasm.
It will be interesting to watch this movement progress. I suspect the deciding issues will be the durability of the laptops and the ability of the students to maintain them (not lose them, not break them, etc.).
I did some research on the Philadelphia School of the Future, which opened last month. The freshman class was 170 students--of which 98% are minorities and poor. The school district pitched the idea to Microsoft in 2003. According to NPR, "The project cost $61.4 million -- a normal budget for the district's high schools. The district put up the money, and Microsoft provided the technology expertise."
The school will not use printed textbooks. Every student gets a laptop and "access to" a digital camera. The student ID cards are embedded with a smart chip with tracks the student's attendance, opens his locker and pays for his school lunches.
The most interesting thing to me about the article was that it claimed "The Philadelphia school district built the school on the same budget it uses for other high schools. Microsoft donated time and expertise to plan the project."
I'll be curious as to whether this freshman class has better attendance, better grades and better percentages for students graduating from high school.
However, for those Luddites who still believe e-books are a novelty that will die out, this is a wake-up call. E-books are here to stay.