Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Textbooks: They Just Don't Add Up

I'm going to be blunt: I hate textbooks.

I've been in my new position now for a couple months and I have heard so much discussion about textbooks that really frustrates me.  I'm working on how to have this conversation and here are my selling points:

First off, I read a Genius post by Tom Whitby @tomwhitby:

Second, I borrowed the technique of the math from Tony DiLaura @anthonydilaura

Now, here's some math I'm going to use to have conversations with my colleagues:

Buying 40 books per 4 teacher team:

$67/book x 160 books =

So let's work with that budget:

What if teacher’s made the “book”?

4 teachers = $100/day (for subs) = $400/day

At $400/day we could take 4 teachers out of the classroom for 26.8 days and create a textbook of our own.

Can we make a better book in 26.8 days?

That's not ideal AT ALL, but at least it seems doable.

Now imagine if we "paid" teachers to do it outside of the work day.....

If we assumed $15-$20 per hour in the summer/after school time x 4 teachers/grade level for a total of $60-$80 per hour....

the $10,720 budget to pay teachers would mean we could have anywhere from 134 to 178 hours of work to pay (dare I say invest in) teachers to make their own book.

Can we do it better? Can we do a better job of keeping it updated? Allow it to be ours?

What if we "OPEN SOURCED" our learning?

Can you believe that video is from 2006!!!!!!!!!!!! And we are still having this conversation.

I mean let's be crazy:

What if we published it and sold it online? To schools and homeschool organizations?

I know I drank the "apple Kool-Aid," but
Let's be honest, they do it better...

There are many pieces of technology available to help us.  What if we purchased 4 Macbook Airs ($4000) and downloaded the iBooks Author Software (FREE) (Tony's How to) as well as the pages app ($40) that leaves us with over $6000 to pay teachers or subs to make our own book....

I just don't get it, let's just face it, purchasing textbooks just doesn't add up...


  1. Chris, I am often inspired by your approach to education but I'm afraid I'm having the opposite feeling on this issue. Maybe it's because our district seems to be poised on the brink of ending textbook purchases in lieu of issuing students iPads and asking teachers to become authors of their own textbooks. At any rate, I value your thinking so I'd like to give you some feedback and hear what you have to say. I do appreciate the limitations of physical textbooks and look forward to more flexible and "open sourced" texts for my students. However, there is still a hugely cynical side of me that believes this transition is/will be based more on saving money than maximizing learning outcomes. Worse, the "savings" come at the cost of already stretched teacher labor. I'm not against saving money, but I'm deeply resentful of the idea that the cost of the savings be on the backs of teachers. Your formulas are unconvincing and alarming. You were a teacher mere months ago. Think back to your colleagues then:

    Wouldn't they be offended by the suggestion that 26.8 days of substitutes could effectively do their job? That's over 5 weeks of school, half a quarter of instruction time. P.S. there are also some parents out there that would lose it if you suggested it would be an okay scenario for their child's learning.

    Ok, but I know you say that's not the ideal (sorry, but still, *really* massive understatement as I think you know it's completely undoable and therefore not really a sound way to build your case or win over an audience of teachers). It's also hardly ideal to expect teachers to be enthusiastic about several extra weeks of work to make this authoring happen, especially at what amounts for most to be half pay at best according to your "formula".

    If we go with the high end of your estimation at $20/hr (*not* what most teachers get per hour normally) and 134 hours of labor you get just a hair over 3 weeks of work out of your budget. Do you honestly think 3 weeks is what it takes to collaborate with specialists in a field to produce a high quality textbook, digital or otherwise? If you spread it out during the school year it's nearly an extra 4 hours a week of work on top of a full-time schedule... an extra half day *every week*.

    I do think a plus side of a self-generated digital text is the ability to keep it updated ourselves and the idea of ownership, while intriguing at first, is ultimately very naive the way you present it. "Allow it to be ours?" you ask, followed immediately by the idea of publishing it and selling it. To whom do you refer when you say ours, then? To whom does it really belong? If this intellectual property is "sold" online or to homeschoolers, who gets the income?

    It's just too much money talk, Chris, which, pardon the pun, isn't at all the strongest selling point for digital texts. It's bound to be really off-putting to teachers to start that sell from this perspective. Before you even get to your punch line about things "adding up" you already pull out 40% of your budget for technology expenses, cutting directly from the pay for your human resources.

    I hope you'll engage in my critique, because I fear decisions where I teach are being made without proper discussion and arguments may be prevailing uncontested along the lines of what you propose here.

    Finally, we can't lose perspective here about what matters, which is the positive impact on the mind of the learner on the other "side" of whatever the "text" is that we may choose, whether it be digital, ink on paper or simply the world around us. To put a different spin on your mathematical/economic arguments presented here, it is that mind and the learning that happens in there that is truly priceless.


  2. Sure this idea isn't without flaws... but I like it! Mostly because a textbook tends to be something a beginning teacher (or veteran teacher teaching a new class) relies on. The experienced teacher gravitates away from it more and more. Only in my 2 and 3 rounds teaching particular classes, and I hardly use the textbook anymore. Most of the time I use it it's only for practice problems anyway. I could whip up a textbook in no-time with the experiences that I've had!

    This is seriously an interesting idea, and I think that you should invest in getting it out there. Obviously many teachers will hate it, mostly because they don't want to do extra work (like creating a textbook), but many (including myself) I think would actually prefer it.