Over the last two years, at least 22 states have taken major strides toward digital textbooks, said Douglas Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association. Until recently, Levin said, states struggled to collaborate because each had its own curricular standards, a particular burden for smaller states. That burden has been eased now that 48 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards, a set of uniform benchmarks for math and reading.
“There are opportunities for the federal government to encourage states and districts not to reinvent the wheel,” Levin said.
A school district in Huntsville, Ala., launched an effort over the summer to transition fully to digital textbooks. To do that, districts first must ensure that every student has either a laptop or a tablet computer. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills in September aiming to make his state a national leader in electronic college textbooks.
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Still, many districts, already buckling from diminished budgets, don’t have the bandwidth or the equipment to make digital materials available to every student. That’s created a new challenge for the educational publishing industry as it works to market products to districts across the technological spectrum.
“We haven’t produced anything that’s print-only in over three years. One hundred percent of what we have is available to school districts electronically,” said Vineet Madan, senior vice president of new ventures for McGraw-Hill Education.
A central tension in the movement toward digital materials is what it means for textbook publishers whose profits rely on replacing old, worn-out textbooks with new ones. Yet to be seen is whether textbooks, like music, will become easy to steal or copy without payment, or whether the industry will find new ways to make money off of teaching materials.