School backpacks may soon be lighter as NC modernizes to digital textbooks

From the office of N.C. Rep. D. Craig Horn
Jan 13, 2014

RALEIGH — When was the last time you used a set of encyclopedias to look up a critical piece of information? Seems like the transition to the digital age has seamlessly happened as we look up facts via Google, manage our bills and banking online or send co-workers e-mails to arrange meetings.  North Carolina’s schools are embarking on the same shift as the state transitions into the digital environment in public education.


Most of the texts that the schools use can be part of a digital bookshelf kept on an Internet cloud, a more efficient way to store information and increasingly the way that students learn.  The online content is much richer.

“You've got assessments, you've got virtual labs and you've got blogging," explained one teacher.

Online history books, for example, include videos on subjects ranging from Winston Churchill to Malcolm X, science books show scientific processes in motion and online English books grade an essay and offer a student a worksheet on the proper use of various grammatical applications. The school technology directors say the textbooks can be updated three times a semester or as often as needed whereas printed textbooks are outdated the moment that they are handed to a student.

The economic advantage is clear as well.  For example, the average cost of a middle school math textbook is well over $50 — compared to a grade-level digital textbook that can be made available for a few dollars.  Even better, the digital textbook prices are rapidly falling.

The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) has correctly identified the way forward for students in this digital world.  This past session, the NCGA set aside nearly $30 million in the 2013-15 budget for digital learning and technology, $11.9 million in lottery funds and $18 million in civil fines and forfeiture funds.  The NCGA also made good on the promise to expand local control by giving Local Education Areas (LEA’s) the ability to use other sources of funds for textbook purchases. Many of the state’s districts have already moved decisively to develop and implement digital learning resources to fill their unique needs.

But the transition to digital textbook technology is only part of the ongoing discussion that has been taking place regarding textbook funding.  The current Republican Majority took on this issue after the previous Democrat-controlled legislature slashed textbook funding in the 2009-10 school year by more than $100 million.  Since then, the Republican Majority has been working to restore textbook funding which is now 10-fold greater than when Republicans took over the majority in 2011 — as well as promoting the modernization of text books through digital options.

Just as you wouldn’t revert back to looking up information via encyclopedias, the future of education is not in handing out expensive printed textbooks for students to lug back and forth from school to home.  And while digital textbooks are no panacea for education outcomes — there is much work ahead including the challenges of connectivity, bandwidth and access to devices — it’s clear that the digital approach is the future to make our students among the most competitive and best in the nation.

North Carolina’s schools will not meet the challenges of the future by focusing on the past.  Each parent, teacher, legislator and taxpayer  must be involved in making North Carolina a leader in the digital world — and digital textbooks are an essential way to start.

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