Outdated books at some schools hamper learning
By Dave Aeikens
St. Cloud Times
ST. CLOUD — Aimee Hein had a math class at Apollo High School that didn’t have enough books to allow her to take one home.
It made preparing for class and doing homework more difficult, the senior said.
"It’s harder to study for a test if you don’t have your own book," Hein said. "It made it hard to do assignments. If the lesson went long (in class),
you didn’t have enough time to do it."
It’s a common complaint among students in St. Cloud schools. Years of squeezing budgets have left the school district’s textbooks worn and outdated. In many cases, there are not enough textbooks for students to take them home, and some of the books are older than the students who use them.
Classes often come up short of books when enrollment numbers grow in certain courses. Students who are sick often can’t get access to books to catch up on the work they missed, and the books kept in the library for students to take home often are not available.
The district is reviewing its inventory and trying to determine how much more it needs to spend to make sure there are enough books and that they are current. The district spends about $150,000 a year.
"You can’t run a school district without textbooks. You can’t say, ‘We are not going to have textbooks until somebody gives us money to have textbooks,"’ school board member Jerry Von Korff said. "There are certain fundamental things that are required."
Textbook shortages are a national problem, and the issue has been raised recently in New York, California, Illinois and Texas. In Minnesota, the money for textbooks comes from the same budget as the building repairs, supplies and equipment. St. Cloud in recent years has tapped into reserves from that budget to maintain class sizes, programs and services.
"I think we know we haven’t had the budget to be able to afford textbooks in all the situations where we would like to," Superintendent Bruce Watkins said.
Watkins said the district wants to determine how much is needed and how the district can budget for several years to bring the textbook supply to where it should be.
Textbooks are just a part of the resources that teachers use to help students learn subjects. Lessons are supplemented with DVDs, compact discs, computer work and other items teachers find and develop.
In many classrooms, the textbook is a key component, and teachers and students say without access to them after school it slows the learning process. Students get books in class and have to turn them in when the bell rings. Some of the information is outdated and requires teachers to point out the changes.
Chris Ann Johnson, a physics teacher at Apollo High School in St. Cloud, said she has a book that talks about the U.S. someday planning to visit the planet Mars. Johnson said teachers have to supplement the books that are out of date with current information.
"It’s more the real life relevant examples — those change," Johnson said.
The district has a schedule for replacement and teams of administrators and staff who are assigned to review and monitor textbooks. Some new books are bought each year. In 2007, St. Cloud bought new government books to supplement instruction in a revamped class taught to seniors about American government. The district spent about $40,000 on those books, according to Julia Espe, the director of curriculum instruction and learning. That’s almost a third of the budget on one class for a book that sells for $80.
Textbooks from the four core subjects — math, science, social studies and English — are mostly no more than 10 to 12 years old, according to a St. Cloud Times review of St. Cloud school district’s textbook inventory. Espe and teachers say that books probably should be replaced every six years.
Get outside the core areas and into the elective classes and the situation is more troubling.
"We have work to do in this area," Espe said.
The welding textbooks are from 1982; woodworking, from 1986; drafting, from 1987; and automotive repair, from 1981. The elementary science materials are from 1993. The metals textbook last was replaced in 1976. With the exception of the new government books, advanced placement history textbooks are from 1994, and sociology are from 1995, according to district inventories.
The district has focused on updating areas to make sure they meet the state standards that have evolved in the past five years. Social studies was one of the most recently changed state standards.
"We do have a few needs. We are probably better off than other areas of the school district because our standards were so recently updated," said Mike Berndt, a psychology teacher at Apollo who oversees the textbooks in the social studies department.
Effect on students
The challenge, Berndt said, is that the some of the tests that advanced placement students take are about cutting-edge research that the books don’t reflect. He said good teachers will just supplement.
"The new government books, it will be interesting to see how long those will have to last us," Berndt said.
Apollo senior D.J. Kayser said the condition and availability of books is disappointing for students. He said he had a calculus book that was not in good shape. He has had to go to the library to check out textbooks to take home.
"There were a couple of times, you had an assignment and there aren’t enough books in the library. It’s very frustrating," Kayser said.
Johnson said teachers are usually understanding of those situations.
"It slows the process of moving onto other things a little bit," Johnson said.
Bart Gibson, who has taught industrial arts at Technical High School since 1992, said he doesn’t have the budget to replace textbooks and some of the aging equipment in the wood, metal and auto shops. He buys one copy of a textbook and provides copies of relevant material for students.
"I think it curtails the excitement. When the children have the resources, when they have the books, it helps to kindle the fire and build the excitement and the interest and helps them make a decision on what they do with their lives," Gibson said.
Hein, the Apollo senior, said the older books do take a bit of the spirit out of student enthusiasm for a subject.
"When a book is really old, you are like, ‘Do you know what you are talking about?"’ Hein said.