The Extinction of Textbooks


One of the biggest selling points for using Skubes in schools is to provide parents and students something to follow along with at home, or to use when help is needed with homework.  When I was in school, and I didn’t understand my math homework, my dad would tell me to get out the textbook, and we’d follow along with the chapter that my homework was based on and with plenty of fussing, we’d work through it till my homework was finished.  No more than a decade ago textbooks served this purpose.  Most people I talk to assume the reason textbooks have disappeared from their children’s book bags is that they are now digital or online.  Although, the same parents who believe they are digital have never seen them online and couldn’t show you where their child’s school is hiding them.  Most textbook publishers do make digital, online versions of their textbooks, however, very few school systems have purchased the rights to distribute them to their students.  In reality, the death of textbooks has not come at the hands of the internet but rather the unintended consequences of state and federal politics.  But don’t expect the politicians to recognize the role they are playing in the extinction of textbooks.  So now that I’ve pointed the finger let me explain how the political promises and good intentions of those trying to get re-elected have led directly to the extinction of textbooks. 

Let me go back to 2011, the year Skubes first videos were starting production.  It was national news at the time that Common Core would become the curriculum used in Georgia, where we are based.  Replacing the curriculum that Georgia had only adopted four years earlier.  As I began to talk with teachers and discuss our decision to use Common Core as our curriculum map, a trend in their responses became noticeable.  In a nutshell, they warned us not to get too hung up on any one type of curriculum because it will change again very soon.  The consensus was that Common Core wouldn’t last more than three years.  None of the teachers had seen or taught Common Core yet.  Their prognostication was based on history.  Georgia changed curriculum again in 2015, making the teacher's predictions accurate to the year.  Why am I telling you this story in an article about textbooks disappearing?  Every time a state changes its curriculum, the county's must find new books to follow along with the new curriculum.  An average size county will pay tens of millions on math textbooks alone.  In the past, a purchase that large wasn’t as much of a burden since the books would often wear out before the curriculum would wear out. In most states around the country, curriculum changes have become commonplace.  In the 1970’s and 80’s, almost no states made significant curriculum changes.  Starting in the 90’s politicians began seizing on education to stump on during elections seasons.  In most cases, the mantra was a cry to increase test scores, which politicians do not know how to do, so they changed the one thing that would be noticeable the curriculum.  The average state now changes curriculum every 3 to 4 years.  The average county can not spend tens of millions of dollars every 3 to 4 years and so they have settled on going forward without textbooks.  I can point to several counties in Florida and Georgia that purchased new math textbooks in 2010, only to have all the textbooks sitting in warehouses two years later when the curriculum was changed to Common Core. 

I’m not going to give a thumbs up or down on anyone curriculum, we’ll get into that in a later article, but every time we elect people who promise to change curriculum, we should understand that those changes are very costly and in my view a huge waste of school funds.  Counties must adapt test, paperwork, and everyone from teachers to administrators must re-learn and re-organize what they are teaching.  Any books purchased based on the former curriculum must be sidelined and new materials bought.  States do not provide a change of curriculum fund for the counties, which means that expense is coming out of the counties general education funds.  The same funds they use to upgrade schools and hire teachers. 

Lastly, curriculum changes have become more frequent over the past 20 years, and yet test scores and SAT scores have gone down.  Constantly changing curriculum has even broader unintended consequences, which adversely hurt grades and make it harder for our children to succeed in school.  Something to think about the next time you hear a politician running on a message of changing education.  In my opinion, politicians need to get out of education altogether, but I don’t get to make those rules. 

I’ll cover the consequences of constantly changing curriculum in my upcoming article about curriculum.