Going online for instructional materials

Going online for instructional materials

(Fla.) One Florida district plans to nix textbooks for reading and mathematics at the elementary level in a move school board members say will still meet the state’s academic requirements and save the district $10 million.

The Duval County School District will pull free materials from EngageNY, an online database of professional development and educational materials, including curriculum and instructional resources, created to meet the rigorous requirements of the Common Core State Standards.

Although developed and maintained by the New York Department of Education for the state of New York, Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the materials fit with the district’s goals.

“As we continue to modernize education we’re moving to more digital content, not just what’s developed by a few big publishers,” Vitti said during last week’s board meeting.

He noted that “severe gaps” exist between the rigor of their current textbook materials and Florida’s state standards.

Districts across the country have been clamoring to find new sources for curriculum after adopting Common Core standards, which expects students to gain more complex thinking skills in English Language Arts and math. According to a report released last year by the Council of Chief State School Officers, 26 states are using or promoting some form of open educational resource such as EngageNY. One of the more common reasons given for the transition to online materials was the lower cost.

A 2012 report from the Federal Communications Commission shows that K-12 school districts spend more than $8 billion per year on textbooks. With free online resources, however, materials can be updated as necessary and schools would not have to replace textbooks every few years.

The Duval School Board and Vitti originally agreed to purchase new textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for $13.2 million. Vitti said that nearly 100 local teachers, principals and others from the community evaluated EngageNY and recommended the board consider its curriculum. The district will now spend $3.4 million printing materials and supplementing them with programs, saving approximately $10 million over two years.

A couple of members of the board raised concerns about the material. Board member Becki Couch said that she received anonymous objections to some of the books recommended for third grade students under EngageNY’s curriculum.

Couch said that books such as “Nasreen’s Secret School” – which includes a character whose parents are kidnapped in Afghanistan – and “The Librarian of Basra,” – which follows an Iraqi woman trying to save books from firefights and bombs – may be too intense for 8-year-olds and may not reflect positively on our military.

Another concern raised by Couch and board member Paula Wright was that students would not be as engaged with black-and-white printouts as they would with full-color pictures and illustrations in their textbooks. Valery Drury, a San Jose Elementary teacher speaking in support of EngageNY, said the print-outs were to be supplemented by full-color projections in the classroom.

Parents have until July 16 to examine and comment on any learning materials the board adopts.

EngageNY was developed in 2011 and its materials are used as the main curriculum or as a supplemental resource by districts from states including New York, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Idaho, New Orleans, Mississippi, Connecticut and Washington.

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