The "Vote Yes" folks are lying about e-textbooks

Crossposted on Daily Kos

This article by Clayton Trehal references the Vote NO on Propositions 1, 2, 3 movement of parents, teachers, and supporters of public education across Idaho, working together to reject the three harmful "Luna laws." These laws, ironically called "Students Come First," and are implemented by Secretary of Education Tom Luna.

This morning I heard a “Vote Yes” ad on the radio that began with a line that ran something like,“Voters are being misled about the facts” and after all the usual talking points, the narrator explained that efficiencies gained by Luna's laptops would pay for the technology without any tax increases. She pointed out that traditional text books cost as much as eight times the price of e-books, which is a patently false statement that I'd like to debunk.

One would think that an ebook would be considerably cheaper than a physical textbook, but at this point, ebooks are actually significantly more expensive than physical texts. In order to verify what the vote yes folks said, I looked up an AP US History text book I know is one of the more popular texts across the nation and compared the price of physical vs e-copy, and here's what I found: A new copy of The American Pageant, 14th edition runs $183.57 if you buy the physical copy, which is a steep enough price to make anyone want the ebook, which it turns out only runs $59.00. At first glance, it appears that one has saved a fortune going electronic, but as always, the devil is in the details. You don't actually buy e-textbooks like this one, you rent them for a period of time, and the $59.00 cost covers a 180-day period.

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Bad for children. Bad for teachers. Bad for Idaho.

Now let's compare the two versions of this book side by side from the perspective of a purchasing school board to see which is cheaper. A physical books lasts 4-8 years, depending on how well it's taken care of, so we can break down the price this way. If the physical copy of this text lasts 8 years, the cost to the district works out to $22.95/year vs $59.00/year for the ebook. If physical text only lasts for 4 years, the cost is $45.89/year, vs $59.00 for the ebook. Here's another way to look at it: If the district can get 5 years out of the physical text, its total cost for that period on a physical text is $183.57 vs $295.00 for the ebook over the same period. This is just one text, but I strongly urge readers of this to look up any textbook and you will see the same story. The bottom line is that currently, ebooks are actually significantly more expensive than physical texts because the textbook publishers want it that way.

Like so many other parts of Luna's laws, downloading textbooks on the laptops doesn't seem to have been too well thought out. If you consider that a typical Idaho high school student has somewhere between 6-8 courses, buying ebooks at 70%-200% higher prices than physical texts is certain to drive up costs for school districts quite a bit. Often the “Vote Yes” folks assert that we citizens are being misled, and indeed we are. The bit on their commercial about e-books being cheaper than physical texts is completely incorrect and seems like a pretty blatant lie to me. This is the only lie I feel like debunking today, but I personally hope some of our journalists and media outlets will take a look at the Vote Yes campaign and the misinformation they are spreading.

Reposted with permission

Why you should vote NO

Proposition 1

Teachers are some of the lowest paid professionals in the state. Thanks to budget cuts, many are making less today than they did three years ago. Some have to take a second job just to pay their bills. Yet many teachers still dip into their own pockets and spend hundreds of dollars every year just to provide the basics in their overcrowded classrooms — like pens and paper– because Idaho’s schools have been shortchanged by Luna and the legislature.

Proposition 1 takes away teachers’ freedom to speak up on behalf of Idaho’s students. It makes it illegal for our teachers to discuss classroom funding issues with their own school administrators and it bans them from talking about overcrowding in their classrooms or school safety issues during contract negotiations.

Proposition 2

You don’t choose a career in teaching to become rich — especially in Idaho. You do it because you care. Teachers are more than just educators. They’re advocates and mentors for our children. They know what our kids need to succeed. Proposition 2 forces teachers to teach to the test instead of allowing them to inspire more creative thinking in our children.

Each child is unique. It takes a dedicated, caring and highly-trained teacher to reach them. We don’t want to treat students like widgets on an assembly line. We want to make sure our kids are good critical thinkers, not just good test takers.

Proposition 3

Prop 3 imposes a largely unfunded mandate that takes away local control and dictates how and what we teach our kids. Forcing local schools to buy expensive technology and to pay for replacement parts will be much more costly than the backers of the laws claim. Kids are kids. Hardware will break. Taxpayers will be left to foot the bill.

Using computers to teach students is good, and already occurs in every school in Idaho. But we shouldn’t have to lay off teachers to buy laptops. We need teachers in the classroom to help our kids learn how to make the most of technology. One of the major providers of online courses in Idaho sent students’ English essays to be reviewed in India. The last thing we should be doing is outsourcing teaching jobs and our students’ education overseas.