Say goodbye to school textbooks. Wake County moving to free online materials

Paper textbooks are on the way out in Wake County math and language arts classes as teachers, students and parents make the move to free online resources.

The Wake County school system has picked new materials that will be used in high school math courses and language arts classes in elementary and middle schools beginning this fall. But instead of buying materials from the big textbook publishers, Wake will use free online materials provided by a pair of education nonprofit groups, EL Education and the Mathematics Vision Project.

School leaders say the cost savings mean they can spend money on training people on how to use the new materials instead of on buying textbooks.

“Open source is free to the public,” said Brian Kingsley, Wake’s assistant superintendent for academics. “We will be able to leverage much of those savings to reinvest it in the development of our teachers and school leaders and our community in how to use these resources.”

The new materials will be phased in over the next three years, starting in the 2017-18 school year with Math 1 and language arts in grades three and six. Mandatory training sessions for teachers in those subjects will begin in June and run through the summer.

The new materials also represent the first time in nearly eight years there will be a standard set of materials used in every Wake school. School officials said the cut in state textbook money during the recession resulted in schools deciding on their own with their limited dollars what materials to purchase.

State funding for school textbooks went from $111.2 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year to $2.5 million the following year. It’s at $71.5 million this fiscal year.

A year ago, Wake school administrators began the process of picking new materials for high school math and language arts in grades three through eight. The public was asked to evaluate a short list of vendors at community meetings in February and March. Teachers also field-tested the new materials.

“The buy-in from the community is going to add so much success to what you’re doing,” said school board member Roxie Cash. “It’s exciting.”

On Tuesday, Kingsley recommended using the Mathematics Vision Project and EL Education, formerly called Expeditionary Learning.

“Both resources are created by teachers for teachers,” Kingsley told school board members, who supported the recommendation.

Both groups are open educational resources, meaning they provide material that’s in the public domain or can be freely used and edited. School districts and universities around the country have turned to open educational resources instead of traditional textbook publishers as a low-cost way to provide material.

While the new materials are free, Kingsley said they’re also high quality.

“There is a ton of independent research that’s out there, as well as what you can find in ed reports, that validates the decision we made in terms of these curriculum choices,” he said.

The materials are available online 24 hours a day. Kingsley said the district will print materials for students who don’t have online access at home.

“If they need print, print will be available for all students, not just within the school day but at home,” he said. “That’s a priority item.”

Kingsley said parents will love the new materials, which come with guides for how parents can help their students.

Suzanne Ladd, a Raleigh middle school parent, said she conceptually liked the new math materials but isn’t sure as a practical matter how they’ll work in class. For students and parents, she wants to know more about what will be available online.

“Traditional textbooks aren’t coming back the way we know them,” she said. “That’s fine as long as what replaces them has the proper reference materials.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui