June 10, 2009 By Chad Vander Veen
Earlier this week California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger held a press conference at Calabasas High School to announce the launch of the California Digital Textbooks Initiative. Along with a host of school administrators from regional school districts, the governor explained the initiative and why he believed it would benefit both students and state coffers.
Textbooks, the governor said, are outdated, antiquated and expensive. With California being the "world leader in technology and innovation," Schwarzenegger said a better solution was possible.
"That's why I'm so excited about California's Digital Textbook Initiative," he said. "Starting this fall with high school math and science, we will be the first state in the nation -- the first state in the nation -- to provide schools with a state-approved list of digital textbooks. Think about this. Traditional hardbound textbooks are adopted in six-year cycles, so as soon as they are printed, then the next six years you don't get the latest information."
Citing the rapid changes in fields such as medicine, science and economics, Schwarzenegger explained traditional textbooks do a disservice to the state's students.
Dave Moorman, president of the Board of Education, Las Virgenes Unified School District, was one of many educators participating in the press conference. Moorman expounded on the governor's comments, noting that the oft-changing world means billions of dollars in textbook revisions. With digital textbooks, the information students are being taught can be updated almost instantaneously.
"When Pluto loses its status as one of our planets, this is not about going back and rethinking the textbooks, doing a new adoption, having billions of dollars wasted and resources used in order to create new textbooks," he said. "This is about making one change electronically and having that instantly available in all of our classrooms everywhere."
The Las Virgenes Unified School District, of which Calabasas High School is a part, has already been using digital textbooks for math and science. Administrators there credit the digital textbooks for helping the district achieve high graduation rates as well as a number of awards and accolades.
Schwarzenegger said that if each of California's 2 million high school students had access to digital textbooks, not only would academic achievement improve, state schools could expect cost savings on the order of $400 million annually -- welcome news as the governor concurrently looks to significantly cut school funding to ease the state's crippling fiscal crisis.
"To me it's amazing, when you think about it, that for so many years and decades we are trying to teach the kids exactly the same way," Schwarzenegger said. Later, speaking on the timeline for rolling out digital textbooks statewide, the governor cautioned the process may proceed slowly as school district and textbook publisher resistance sets in.
In addition to the financial and academic rewards digital textbooks could bring the state, the fitness and ecologically conscious governor also pointed out the physical burden traditional textbooks place on the backs of students and the environment.
"No. 1 you don't have to carry around this heavy load in your bag, in your school bag, which my kids always complain about. You know, these 50 pounds of school bags that they're schlepping around," Schwarzenegger said. "And then, No. 2, I think it will help because you don't have to cut down as many trees. Think about that, how much paper is being used in those textbooks. And it makes education and learning much more fun because it's interactive and it helps the bottom line in our schools and helps them with their finances."
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