As a student, I always loved the start of a new school year. The weeks leading up to that first day meant new shoes (though I was never able to buy the expensive brand names, and <tear> never owned a pair of Air Jordans). It meant new school clothes (for me, typically purchased from the husky department at Sears). And it most definitely meant a visit to the stationery store, where I got to choose from a plethora of new pens, notebooks, and other “needed” supplies.
To this day, I am still a pen guy (though my tastes are much more expensive now). And I was extremely excited to take my oldest school supply shopping a few weeks ago, as we prepare for the demands of the first day of kindergarten.
In reading the latest news, though, it seems the one thing I took for granted at the start of the school year was always expecting there would be new textbooks waiting for me in the new classroom. The smell of fresh print. The crack of a new spine. The opportunity to be the first name in a textbook that would be circulated for the next six or eight years. The issuance of textbooks was a central part of the start of the school year.
Unfortunately, many kids down in Texas won’t have that experience this week. According to the San Antonio Express-News, many school districts could be waiting months before they have this year’s new textbooks. The reason? The state decided to change the textbook procurement laws, and, as a result, districts didn’t begin to place textbook orders until August 8 (when they typically make such orders in April). A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency told the Express-News that “publishers just couldn’t get them shipped to all the districts in the state in time for the opening day of school.” And that’s a cryin’ shame.
The exception to this disappointing development seems to be Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which yesterday announced it has had “no problems fulfilling orders to date, and remains on schedule to get education materials to classrooms across the state in time for the start of the 2011-12 school year.”
But what about those classrooms that didn’t order for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? Do they patiently wait for books to arrive in time for Christmas? Do they squeeze another year out of texts that should have been replaced several years ago? Do they try and switch suppliers? Or do they look for other options?
Those districts that have discretionary dollars have some options. They can turn to supplemental suppliers, who can provide content not typically offered by the basals (and content that could then be used well after the textbooks arrive). They can look to tap into open education resources and available online resources, assuming they have the technology and teachers necessary to maximize such offerings. They can look to implement a stop-gap solution so learning doesn’t slow or stop because of lack of expected materials.
Unfortunately, most districts don’t have such discretionary dollars these days. Those districts are left to either make do with decade-old materials or hope they made the right choice in selection a textbook vendor that could accommodate needs for the entire academic year, despite changes in how textbooks would be ordered and funded. And while that may work for the middle manager filling out POs, it certainly doesn’t work for the kids in need of textbooks or the teachers expected to actually instruct come the start of the school year.
I’ll let EdSec Arne Duncan and Texas Gov. Rick Perry slug it out on the quality of Texas schools and the student test scores resultant from them. But can anyone truly start the school year without English, math, or ESOL textbooks? And can anyone possibly say, with a straight face, that any child going a few months without a textbook isn’t going to be impacted in the long run?
If you can, I may have a book to sell you … if you can wait a few months.
(Full disclosure: Eduflack has advised Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and other publishers, basal and otherwise, over the years.)