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Official: Old books hindering students

February 14, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Brown paper book covers have been concealing a situation Washington County Public Schools officials can no longer ignore: Outdated textbooks that it will cost a projected $7.9 million over the next five years to replace.

Officials say they hope to buy $2.6 million worth of books for the 2003-04 school year.

After years of giving staff salary increases, benefits and development priority over the purchase of up-to-date class materials, the school system has textbooks that date back to the 1980s, said Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Patricia Abernethy.

The older textbooks will be of little help in meeting the requirements of the No Child Left Behind act, which asks that educators take a "no excuses" approach to closing student achievement gaps within school systems, Abernethy said.

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Middle and elementary school science books, some up to 10 years old, are on the list for replacement. Officials said $300,000 is needed for the middle school books and $400,000 for the elementary school books.

"We have very old-fashioned books," said Abernethy, who noted that state science assessment tests for grades 6, 7 and 8 will be given in 2005-06.

Boyd Michael III, executive director of secondary education, said county students are using advanced placement physics books that were published in 1985.

School officials have estimated $1.3 million is needed to implement a consistent countywide reading program for elementary school students.

Director of Elementary Education JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown said the school system plans Tuesday to start an eight-week pilot program under which elementary schools will use textbooks endorsed by the federal act.

If the program is successful, the school system hopes to purchase those books, she said.

A countywide elementary math textbook already has been adopted, she said.

A countywide system would enable students who transfer from one school to another during the school year to keep up to speed, she said.

Michael said it will be hard to prioritize one grade level's textbook needs over others because the federal act's mandate places pressure on schools to ensure that students of all ages achieve.

Abernethy said $1.2 million in Bridge to Excellence funds, formerly known as Thornton Commission funds, have been set aside for textbook replacement next year.

She said she doesn't know of any grants for buying textbooks, but said the school system applies for grants when they are available.

Abernethy said the amount of money that state and local governments allocate for education will determine whether the remaining $1.4 million worth of textbooks will be bought next year.

"That $1 million that we don't buy doesn't just go away, it just compounds itself," she said.

She said that for the past seven or eight years, the school system has allocated the same amount of money for textbook replacement, while textbook prices have skyrocketed. A typical high school textbook costs about $40 and some elementary school books - for reading or math skill development - can cost $140 per student, she said.

"That's why we make such a big deal out of covering books," Michael said.

Abernethy said teachers are the school system's top priority, but class materials are a close second when it comes to bolstering student achievement.

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