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Department of Education hires experts to produce and maintain public domain textbooks - potentially saving billions in education per year

The textbook industry is a $30 billion a year industry.

If the department of education simply hired subject matter experts, over the course of a year, their combined efforts should easily be able to produce quality textbooks. They could also act as managing editors and receive contributions from educators all around the world as a means of updating and improving content quality.

The books would be free to use, download, copy, print, or even edit and modify as each state and school district sees fit. As just one idea of how it could work, They could use low cost tablets that are loaned to students. Another way might be to have the Dept of Education print them up and distribute them at cost to the schools. The possibilities are endless.

If they produced 100 of the most common textbooks used, with 3 subject matter experts per book each earning $100K a year, the cost to produce and maintain up to date, free text books would be only $30 million a year. If we include a pool of graphic artists, photographers, writers, editors and management, we are looking at maybe $40 million per year. Almost 1000 times less than buying commercially produced textbooks..

Any thoughts? Ideas for improvement? Potential pitfalls?


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  • Jan 15 2013: Interesting debate. The transition from standard/expensive paper texts is already underway and a not-so-quick search of the USDOE site (as well as the 50 State DoE sites) will yield much in the way of the conversation: how to save money, how to ensure updated content, how to provide more engaging lessons, how to reach/teach 21st century students, etc. Textbook publishers will learn to adapt to the newer technology environment or they will go out of business (think about how many Blockbuster Video Stores are still in your neighborhoods). MIT has content online for free. AcademicEarth has free content. iTunesUniversity has content. Using a tablet students can access hundreds of periodicals and newspapers for free. SAT and ACT test prep is available as a free app. State-run and privately run virtual classes and virtual schools exist offering all subjects/grade level with access to onjline books. The list is endless. It is not the same as 20 or even 10 yrs ago. And in 10 yrs it will be exponentially more of a change.

    I do believe that the USDOE has issued various publications about identifying and incorporating high quality technology tools and virtual content, several States have followed suit, but I would stop short of suggesting that the USDOE create and distribute the primary resources to the local school districts
    • Jan 16 2013: Transitioning away from paper publications and moving towards e-publications is not what is being discussed here, although, that is one, very good way to implement it.

      Please re-read the original ted-conversation description. This is about producing and maintaining textbooks for the public domain such that local school districts (and anybody, for that matter) can use them, free of charge. The textbook industry can choke on it's past price gouging and dirty practices for all I care, all the while fading into the abyss.
      • Jan 17 2013: I read your main points as reducing (eliminating?) the cost of purchasing texts from private publishers; providing a distribution method for texts that can be edited/updated locally; and use of tablets for students.

        Reducing cost is admirable and right now a necessity for schools and school districts. All I was saying - leaping forward a bit - was that much of what you suggest is already happening. Material is available to download, edit, etc. Some of this is coming from traditional companies, some from new companies, and some from schools/districts/State DOEs. Students do have increasing access to laptops and tablets, and the result will be a less burdensome drain on finances.
        • Jan 19 2013: There are open textbook projects, but they lack continuous funding and standards to ever be used in earnest. Funding and standards is what I propose. The Dept. of Education is the logical place for this to happen. They have the most to gain from the savings, and as such have the most incentive to do the project right.

          Private industry typically has a profit motive, even when they release 'free' materials. There is nothing wrong with private industry, but that doesn't mean we must buy their products.

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