New Indiana textbook law: digital and flexible
May 5, 2011 by Geoff Fletcher
As I sit here parallel-processing like the youth of today, watching a video stream of the recognition of the National Teacher of the Year and reading legislation recently passed by the Indiana Legislature that codified the change of definition of a textbook first embraced by the Indiana State Board of Education in February 2009, I once again feel the fetters of inflexibility taken from teachers' and students' brains. The Indiana SBOE's courageous action two years ago, now in law, allowed school corporations to use money heretofore tied to bound textbooks, for computer software, other digital content and the equipment necessary to display and use digital content. I chronicled one result in an earlier post, Indiana Moves Digital, and you can read about further impact of this change in the June issue of T.H.E. Journal.
The new law took another step in flexibility beyond what the SBOE did with their redefinition, by creating a new vetting process for the state. The law calls on the department of education to evaluate the curricular materials based on alignment with standards and reading level and to post a list of materials evaluated and a summary of those evaluations. There is no kicking "textbooks" or materials off the list, just a posting of evaluations, and it will be up to the school corporations to adopt whatever materials they want. They may, but don't have to, use the list (except for reading, which is much more controlled).
A final piece of flexibility is allowing school corporations to keep materials longer than six years, but they also can adopt other materials to update the content where necessary. As a result, in areas where there is little change such as algebra, school corporations can use money that may have gone for new but unneeded books to provide additional digital content, equipment or to replace the fraction that were lost or had become worn out.
One minor flaw in the bill is that it did not explicitly mention Open Educational Resources (OER). While the term 'digital content' could include OER, a specific mention of the term would have gone a long way to encourage school corporations and their teachers to seek out and use, reuse, modify and grow OER. The good news is that publishers of OER can easily submit their content and have it 'evaluated' and included on the list that the department of education publishes.
Spread the word to publishers of all kinds, including OER: submit your work to Indiana.