Why textbooks are a symbol of frustration for teachers news woodwardnews.net electricity deregulation

There was the viral image of an Ada girl holding a class reader that apparently was once assigned to country music star Blake Shelton, now 41. And the photo of a crumbling history book from Owasso in which George W. Bush is the current president (the district later said that particular book wasn’t in use).

These images grabbed headlines, likes and retweets but are not the whole story. There are new textbooks in Oklahoma classrooms. There are also old textbooks in Oklahoma classrooms. Some school districts can more readily invest in new textbooks than others.

A two-year hiatus in textbook funding from the state, in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, led many districts to delay buying new textbooks. While lawmakers said the money was still there, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said the funds were eliminated.

Overall spending on textbooks dropped significantly in 2016-17, the latest year for which school spending data is available, from $38 million to $22.7 million. But prior to that year, schools received a dedicated $33 million a year to purchase new textbooks and instructional materials. So how can textbooks in the state be in such poor shape?

Districts can, and do, spend other dollars on textbooks, but their ability to do so varies. For instance, many districts sought local bonds during the two-year hiatus, and district leaders said that helped keep pace with textbook replacements.

Of the $22.7 million total spent by schools on textbooks in 2016-17, Tulsa Public Schools accounted for nearly a quarter of that, investing $5.6 million on textbooks that year, compared to $1.2 million the year before. That money came from Tulsa’s 2015 bond, which included $12.5 million for textbooks and materials over six years.

“Fifty dollars is not enough, just like the amount the state gives us is not enough for each child for all the content areas, so we work really hard to be really responsible with those funds,” said Danielle Neves, executive director of teaching and learning for Tulsa Public Schools.

The physical condition of textbooks isn’t the only issue schools have. Oklahoma’s curriculum standards are subject to revisions by the state Department of Education and the state Legislature. And the standards have changed so frequently, it’s difficult to adopt and purchase new textbooks fast enough, educators say.

Oklahoma adopted Common Core State Standards in 2010, then repealed them in 2014. Completely new standards were implemented in 2016. So school districts have been making decisions about which textbooks to replace with the standards in flux for many years.

Spending on textbooks by Oklahoma schools has varied widely over the past decade. The Legislature appropriated $33 million earmarked for books and instructional materials until 2016-17, when the line-item amount was removed for two years. Districts can purchase textbooks and other books, such as literature, on their own.

Less than half of the current standards are taught in her textbooks, so she said she supplements them with material found online or through worksheets. For veteran teachers, that’s time-consuming but not too difficult. She’s concerned that emergency certified teachers would just run through the book chapter by chapter, leaving students ill-prepared for standardized tests.

Waitman said a few years ago, his son brought home a textbook to work on an assignment only to find the section he needed was completely torn out, presumably by a student who didn’t want to lose access to the material when they had to leave the books in the classroom.

One way some school districts are addressing the issues of textbook wear-and-tear and ever-evolving curriculum is through digital textbooks. Tuttle this year moved to digital textbooks and Chromebooks in its middle school. Putnam City, a 19,500-student district, is also transitioning to digital textbooks for middle-school students and several other grades and subjects.

One of the main benefits is their own teachers develop the textbooks. They start with open-source digital content, then create and organize the text, following the guidance of curriculum specialists to align the content with Oklahoma standards.

The committee reviews all materials and approves the ones that align with state standards. Those titles are placed on a centralized list for districts to use. The committee is reviewing math books and will begin updating language arts and instructional technology later this year. Districts aren’t required to update on the schedule.

The funds can only be spent on textbooks and instructional materials. The state has allocated $33 million for textbooks each year since at least 2002, except for the last two years when the line item was “zeroed out,” according to the state Education Department. Lawmakers said the $33 million was simply shifted to the state aid funding formula for fiscal 2017 to give schools more flexibility, but the Education Department’s total appropriations declined slightly that year, by just over $6 million.