Monday, April 14, 2008

Fight high cost of textbooks with Open Source Ways

I've been a book publisher and a college book store worker. Some of the books that I put into the marketplace were used as college text books.

In recent years -- I've been an advocate of open source content and open source ways.

This is what victory looks like!
Faculty members fight high cost of textbooks: "He and hundreds of other faculty members have signed a statement of intent to use free, online, open-source textbooks whenever academically appropriate.
It is GREAT to see front page coverage of open source advancements.

By the way, I had "open source" planks within my run for public office since the year 2000.

Meanwhile, in another education story in today's newspaper, on the front page of the local section, is the story that Pgh Public Schools is extending the school day by 10-minutes starting in the fall of 2008.

The benefit for education would be 100-times greater if schools and the PPS district would shift to OPEN SOURCE materials compared to the extending of the school day by 10-minutes.

All the computers should be running on open source operating systems.

All the text books should be in migration to open-source licenses.

All the content generated by the district should be placed firmly into the public domain. And, those rich landscapes of insights need to be harvested, bundled, toiled with and turned to for every task.
City school day to be 10 minutes longer Pittsburgh Public Schools officials are hoping it will give them a new opportunity to show that every minute counts in the race to raise student achievement.
We should raise student achievement. And, I feel student achievement would soar to a much higher level by going to OPEN SOURCE materials throughout our public schools. This open source approach would do more than longer school days (by 10 blasted minutes) and do more to help the budgets as well.


Anonymous said...

City school day to be 10 minutes longer
Monday, April 14, 2008
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Adding 10 minutes to the school day may seem like a minor change.

But Pittsburgh Public Schools officials are hoping it will give them a new opportunity to show that every minute counts in the race to raise student achievement.

Some researchers and advocates have suggested that school districts moving to extended days use the extra time for individual or small-group instruction or for longer classes in core subjects. They said districts might consider redesigning the school day and re-evaluating priorities so extra time is used as effectively as possible.

Because they hadn't yet briefed the school board, district officials last week declined to reveal their plans for the additional minutes, part of the new contract with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

PFT President John Tarka said he believes the extra time will be used for instruction, as opposed to teacher training or other purposes.

"The fact of the matter is, 10 minutes, if used wisely, can be of benefit to the learning process," he said.

District officials have noted that the change, in essence, adds a week to the school year.

But Elena Silva, senior policy analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Education Sector, wasn't impressed.

"No, I don't think you can do a lot with 10 minutes," she said.

A longer school day is becoming a more popular concept nationwide, particularly among urban districts trying to salvage failing schools. Some of the leading proponents of more class time are Massachusetts education advocates who worked with Pittsburgh school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt when he was a legislator and activist in that state.

In the past three years, 18 schools received state funds to increase their school days by at least 25 percent, a figure that translates to about one hour and 40 minutes of extra time, according to Massachusetts 2020, a group that has promoted the effort.

"Some of the schools have added more. The Boston schools, for example, have added 33 percent more time," said Jennifer Davis, president of Massachusetts 2020 and the National Center on Time and Learning. Both nonprofit groups are based in Boston.

Ms. Davis said schools participating in the Expanded Learning Time initiative are showing early progress and noted that another 75 schools plan to join the effort in the next two years.

But more time isn't a panacea. The Pittsburgh district struggles with low achievement even though it already has a longer school day and longer school year than the 61/2-hour, 180-day national average.

The Pittsburgh district's 2003 teachers contract set the school day at seven hours, six minutes. That increased the day by 16 minutes at high schools and by 11 minutes at other schools.

The 2006 contract established an eight-hour day at the eight accelerated learning academies. Of the 54 additional minutes, 45 minutes were allocated for instruction and the balance for staff training.

That contract also provided for 192 instructional days in an academy year, 10 more days than at other district schools.

The new contract, ratified by the union and school board in January, leaves the school day and year at the academies as is. But the day at other schools will increase to seven hours, 16 minutes, beginning in 2008-09.

In a study last year, Dr. Silva said "improving the quality of instructional time is at least as important as increasing the quantity of time in school."

She recommended that districts reflect on how they use school time. To make the best use of time, Mr. Tarka said, classrooms must be orderly,

The class-time numbers don't tell the whole story. The district offers after-school programs that keep students in class after the final bell.

Some Massachusetts schools have blurred the line between the school day and after-school programs, bringing in community organizations to offer enrichment while teachers have training.

The Massachusetts initiative requires schools to add at least 25 percent more time to the school day because officials determined that's an important threshold for achievement gains, Ms. Davis said. She was careful to avoid criticizing the 10 minutes Pittsburgh will add, however, saying careful planning can help to make the time worthwhile.

Dr. Silva recommends that schools consider adding 30 percent more time, or about two hours to the average 61/2-hour day. "It's not too much," she said. "It's not too little."

Joe Smydo can be reached at or 412-263-1548.

Anonymous said...

Faculty members fight high cost of textbooks
Monday, April 14, 2008
By Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In choosing between two good textbooks for an honors mathematical studies course, Carnegie Mellon University professor Robert Pego employed a bit of economics.

He chose the one that lists for about $60 hardbound, not the one that lists for $166.

"Why should I make students pay that?" he said.

Dr. Pego is among faculty members nationwide who are paying attention to how much textbooks cost and trying to do something about it.

He and hundreds of other faculty members have signed a statement of intent to use free, online, open-source textbooks whenever academically appropriate.

The statement is part of an effort by the Student PIRGs -- Public Interest Research Groups -- which expect to announce tomorrow that they have reached 1,000 faculty signatures.

Like college tuition, the price of textbooks has soared faster than inflation. From 1986 to 2004, textbook prices nearly tripled, according to a Government Accountability Office report in 2005.

The GAO said the best explanation for the increase is the development of new products accompanying the books, like CDs and other supplements.

Nationwide, the GAO figured that textbooks were about a fourth of the cost of tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities and as much as three-quarters of the cost of tuition and fees at two-year public institutions.

Carnegie Mellon estimates that books and supplies cost students $966 a year. Pitt estimates it at $600 to $1,000 a year.

Nicole Allen, Student PIRGs textbook project director, said textbook prices for a course can exceed tuition at community colleges in California.

"It can really be a tipping point expense for lower- and middle-income students. They have to face a difficult decision whether to drop out, take on more loan debt or undercut their own learning by forgoing purchasing textbooks," she said.

Examples of some of the available open textbooks, which generally are free if used for noncommercial purposes, are on the Web site,

The list includes texts on physical oceanography, economic analysis, physics, linear algebra, probability and programming.

The Student PIRGs also are pushing Congress to address the textbook price issue.

The House version of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act, which is in conference committee, would require publishers to tell faculty the price of the book, the history of revisions and whether any lower-cost formats are available.

It also would require publishers to offer textbooks separately rather than only bundled with other materials like CDs. And it would require schools, to the "maximum extent practical," to put the list of required texts in registration materials so students would have time to shop for lower prices.

J. James Bono, a doctoral student and teaching fellow in English at the University of Pittsburgh who signed the statement, said the total cost of the books for just one of his graduate level classes he took was $400 if purchased new.

Last week, he was headed to Hillman Library to pick up a box of 15 to 20 books he had requested. He also belongs to the New York Public Library, which has an on-demand print service for materials in the public domain.

But, he said, "the lead time is sometimes a problem."

For students in the writing for the public class he teaches, Mr. Bono said, "I try to use open source and freely available materials when I can."

He still has a textbook for the class he teaches, but it replaces a more expensive book and has been in use for a while, so students are more likely to find a used copy. lists the book at $59.60 new, but also shows used copies as low as $7.99. He supplements the book with freely available materials.

Of his seminars, he said, "I've noticed my faculty members increasingly using online resources and distributing them digitally."

Juan Manfredi, a math professor at Pitt who signed the statement, said he thinks demand will shift toward customized materials that use only parts of big textbooks. He compares that to the music industry, in which many consumers buy individual songs over the Internet rather than a whole CD.

"I don't like the fact that regular calculus books cost $150," he said. "They pack everything into the book -- the material for calculus 1, 2 and possibly 3. Some students might not take the three courses."

This term, his honors class on introduction to analysis is using a regular textbook because Dr. Manfredi couldn't find a suitable alternative. sells the book for about $112.

For some other courses, he has turned to a publishing house that offers books in the public domain for $10 to $30.

"I always look for alternatives," he said. "These days, with easy Internet access, there are more and more resources available. We have more and more opportunities to provide affordable information.

"I think it's only a matter of time before we can rely essentially on some sort of electronic distribution of textbook materials."

Education writer Eleanor Chute can be reached at or 412-263-1955.
First published on April 14, 2008 at 12:00 am