Arguably, the New York City school system has its share of problems. Any system educating that 1.1 million children in grades kindergarten through high school spread out across nearly 1,700 schools obviously would. But one frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to take Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s seat sees a lot of their problems being solved by better use of funds, namely in replacing the print textbooks with digital.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has been at times both an avid fan and a worst enemy to Mayor Bloomberg, gave a speech before a crowded meeting room of educators last week in which she unveiled grand plans for the school system which could cost upwards of $330 million. Unlike other proposals which have called for tax increases, Quinn believes the money is already in place but needs to be better spent. She cited the $100 million spent annually on print textbooks, which could be reduced with the adoption of digital textbooks, and the $450 million spent on teachers’ professional development, which again, could be reduced by exploring online and virtual professional development options.
While Quinn’s speech stopped short of really exploring both of those opportunities but was rather more of an overview of ways to address a growing number of problems facing the city school system, she did open the doors to the discussion on a much larger scale of looking at ways other successful schools systems from around the country and adopting those best practices. For many of those schools, the technology behind learning has opened up financial resources that used to be spent replacing worn or outdated print materials.
But digital adoption isn’t simply a matter of downloading an ebook. One of the obstacles that sits in firmly in place to wider school adoption of digital textbooks is the variety of quality available. Someone would have to vet the textbooks for student use, a hindrance to speeding the process along. Also, a number of schools have struggled with whether or not it is the schools’ responsibility to pay for the digital device, and if so, where that funding is to come from. Many others have to take into consideration the online safety of their students and teaching digital citizenship before unleashing this technology in the classroom.