The Anoka-Hennepin school district is the largest in Minnesota, serving approximately 40,000 students in surburban communities north of the Twin Cities. Similar to many districts across the country, Anoka-Hennepin has faced budget cuts that have forced the district to serve students with increasingly scarce resources. For example: the budget for curriculum adoption, which includes funds for textbooks and other instructional materials, has dropped to $1.5 million from a high of about $3.5 million. Typically, Anoka-Hennepin revises its curriculum and buys new textbooks every 7-10 years. In 2010, as it was nearing time to replace the Probability & Statistics textbook, district officials, led by Bruce DeWitt, the district Technology Facilitator, decided to try a new approach.
Rather than spend $200,000 on new texts for Prob&Stats, the district instead decided to write their own from open source materials. There was growing interest in integrating technology into the classroom and scarce resources with which to do so. DeWitt, along with teachers who also advocated a custom book, convinced the district to allow the math department to keep the cost-savings to purchase classroom technology, including tablet devices and wireless infrastructure. Using CK-12 Foundation’s Probability & Statistics FlexBook as a starting point, teachers began work on writing a custom textbook.
How CK-12 Foundation Helped:
Annoka-Hennepin decided to use CK-12 Foundation’s FlexBooks system to write their custom book. Since they had CK-12’s standards-aligned Probability & Statistics textbook to use as a starting point, the task felt much less daunting. The team put a plan in place to prepare a custom book for the 2011-2012 school year.
The summer before the school year, three teachers were selected to author the books. Additionally, six math teachers were chosen to be editors. The district budgeted for about 300 authoring hours, 100 per teacher, for the process of reviewing CK-12’s FlexBooks and making any additions/customizations desired. Each teacher authored two chapters of the final book.
Anoka-Hennepin’s Prob&Stats book totaled just over 200 pages and debuted in the Fall semester to more than 3,000 students. Students were given various choices to access the book. The district printed and bound 1000 books – at a cost of about $5 per book – and made them available for purchase. Students had the option to access printed copies in the library. Digital access was provided online through a Moodle Learning Management System and on CDs given to those without internet access. Students also had the option of viewing PDF and ePUB files on laptops, tablets, and on mobile devices.
The reaction from various stakeholders – teachers, students, and the community – has been largely positive. The Associated Press covered the adoption, with many in the public lauding the district for its innovation. Most of the 12-14 teachers teaching Prob&Stats have been happy as well. “I like it a lot, especially the problems we added. I’ve heard mostly good feedback – some people just rave about it,” says Heather Haney, a 20-year teaching veteran who was one of the three authors. Teachers are already looking forward to next summer and the opportunity to make changes/updates to their textbook, something that would have been unimaginable in the prior 7-10 year adoption cycle.
Students have also benefited from the custom book. They had the option to purchase their textbook for only $5, as well as had unlimited free online access. In addition to cost and access, many students seem to appreciate that their book has more practice problems and examples, something that the teacher-authors explicitly decided to include. The generally positive feedback will be coupled with more robust evaluation. The district will be collecting and comparing data on formative assessments on performance before and after the implementation of their custom textbooks. DeWitt hopes that, with the initial success of this program, the district can try their hand at more subjects and take a leadership role in working with other districts to follow suit. “We need leadership from the state to bring districts together to create and share,” says DeWitt who has been presenting about the process at conferences in and around Minnesotta.
In the end, after factoring in various costs including paying teachers for their work, Annoka-Hennepin spent about $25,000 on its Prob&Stats book. This was a cost savings of about $175,000, as the district was slated to spend $200,000 on adopting a traditional textbook.
- Costs savings is important and, with the money saved, the district could purchase up to 350 new IPADs but…
- Costs savings can’t be the only benefit:it’s important to have teachers on board who see the curricular benefits of a digital curriculum.
- Start early and have small deadlines: once teachers at Anoka-Hennepin began customizing their books, they had a lot of ideas they wanted to incorporate in their text and it was a rush to get everything done in time for the school year
- Teacher teamwork is essential - “It’s important to have a good team of 3-4 teachers, and divide up the chapters and help each others, says Michael Engelhaupt, one of the authors in the project
- Involve multiple stakeholders: Anoka-Hennepin ensured that someone from every school was involved, either as a writer or on the team of editors. This assured broad buy-in throughout the district
- Someone has to own the project: in the case of Anoka-Hennepin, technology facilitator Bruce DeWitt served as the project owner, coordinating efforts between district and teachers at various locations