Digital Textbooks for CA

Written by Neeru Khosla on June 5, 2009

Dear CK-12 Community members

San Francisco Chronicle did an front page article about their response to Governor Schwarzenegger call for digital textbooks for high schools.  Here is our response for this article.

Jill Tucker’s article, “Free Digital Book Plan Costly, Educators Say,” unfortunately fails to represent both sides of the issue related to California’s initiative to “identify free downloadable, digital textbooks that align with state academic standards.” Critics who say that savings from the use of digital textbooks are lost to technology expenses are misinformed at best – or unacquainted with the concept of a printer. Digital textbooks can be used online as well as in the printed form and then photocopied and distributed to students as handouts or small booklets. This means that a single computer can service multiple classrooms and students.

As a founder of CK-12 Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to universal access to K-12 educational content and in the interest of full disclosure, we plan to submit digital textbooks to the free digital high school textbooks initiative.  Our mission is to provide a repository of up-to-date, curriculum-aligned content for free to all K-12 students around the world via the Internet.  We have developed a tool that enables next-generation textbooks called “FlexBooks” that can be customized according to individual student needs, compiled online, desktop published and photocopied for K-12 student use. FlexBooks are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license enabling the content to be shared in any form and printed, photocopied and distributed.  Our goal is to put up-to-date textbook material in the hands of every student, not a computer on every desk.

Our state budget as well as our educational system present seemingly intractable problems for our government and our educators.  But dodging them with false accusations about cost savings and claims of unrealistic pipe dreams will not move us one step closer to addressing the needs of our kids. Educators have repeatedly told us that the lack of access to high quality material is a substantive hurdle to the teaching process.  Free, digital textbooks are an inexpensive and substantive part of the solution.  As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asserted in his message to the San Francisco Unified School District during his visit last month, Californians must stop letting politics get in the way of progress and learn to be more practical in our approach to problem solving.  And what’s more practical than digital content that can be easily and simply printed out and distributed throughout our classrooms?