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KY Schools Prefer Digital, Open Resources to Textbooks

In many Kentucky districts such as Owensboro Public Schools, a lack of state funding for classroom materials combined with the flexibility and selection of digital texts has made traditional textbooks less common.

(TNS) — Many students aren't lugging around backpacks laden with books from class-to-class these days.

In fact, it's been about 10 years since traditional textbooks were regularly purchased by local school systems, and it's been even longer since districts were provided the funds from the state to purchase them.

When the Common Core was unrolled in 2010, it came with several changes in classroom instructional material markets.

New York and Louisiana came out with an online curriculum that was free and available to anyone, which popularized open educational resources, according to Jana Beth Francis, Daviess County Public Schools assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Open educational resources are in the public domain. They are teaching and learning materials that can be digital, or printed. They are available at no cost, and educators may choose how they wish to use them, Francis said.

"It's the idea that educators can access a digital copy of something, then the district only pays for the printing cost," she said. "You, as a district, would still have to print off the materials."

Still, paying for the cost of printing materials is substantially cheaper than purchasing traditional textbooks, she said.

Steve Bratcher, Owensboro Public Schools chief academic officer, said for the first time in more than 20 years the district purchased a common textbook for its kindergarten through eighth-grade students. The curriculum, which is for English and language arts, is also an open resource meaning some of it was available at no cost.

Still, the district paid $93,000 for the textbooks, which were acquired with federal pandemic relief fund dollars.

"If we didn't have the (refund dollars), we couldn't have purchased that curriculum," Bratcher said. "Many, many years ago we used to purchase a new series of textbooks every five years. It's been a decade or more since we have done that."

That is, in part, because the state hasn't funded classroom instructional materials for several years. It is also because technological advances have allowed for more students to have access to digital devices, which provide a wider range of offerings.

Last year, OPS formed a committee to research which textbooks and curriculum to purchase for its K-8 students. They decided to opt for a common text because the district is transient.

There are students in and out of various schools throughout the school year, and educators thought it would be beneficial if all K-8 students in the district were learning the same things at the same time.

"That way if a student transfers from Foust to Newton Parrish, they can pick up at the same place because we are using common languages for all elementary and middle students," Bratcher said. "We haven't seen the true benefit of this, but we believe in a few years it will really pay off."

Francis said another positive that came out of the Common Core and the rise of open educational resources is that an actual, unbiased rating system of materials and curriculum popped up, called

Essentially through that rating system, teachers could see how resources were measured against education standards, which ultimately helped them to build a better curriculum for their students, she said.

Most educators also prefer to have a wide range of instructional materials for students. Instead of having a textbook in social studies, for example, social studies standards would prefer students use primary and secondary source documents.

Another notable difference is English classes. In the past, there may have been a textbook or an anthology which included a collection of stories. Nowadays teachers use the actual books themselves to teach students, Francis said.

Traditional textbooks are still used in some instances. A lot of college classes that students take for dual credit, and AP courses require them, Bratcher said.

He said online learning provides more choices, but they can be frustrating when several schools may be using different materials.

"When you are talking about a kid moving from school to school, and not having continuity to the instruction, it can be difficult," he said.

©2022 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.