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Schools relying more on online learning than textbooks
Labs open for those who dont have Internet
Gainesville Middle School science teacher Eddie Nemec helps students Tuesday afternoon as the class studies soil horizons. Gainesville and Hall County schools are moving away from using textbooks, but some parents say they are concerned because it’s difficult to help their children with homework when teacher websites aren’t up to date.

A generation ago, students carried textbooks home every night.

They sat at their kitchen tables with math books open to page 27, doing all of the even-numbered algebra problems, followed by filling out a history study guide with the help of their social studies book.

But not anymore.

Textbooks are becoming less and less common in local school systems, a result of funding decreases and changing teaching philosophies.

"The funding provided by the state is about $25 per student," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "One textbook is priced from $78 to close to $200."

Hall County Schools, for example, spent approximately $600,000 last year on textbooks, said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

And when students need books for several classes, the cost outweighs the benefits.

"They do have textbooks. It may be that they're using a classroom set," Dyer said. "What (parents) want most is to be able to help their child with homework. We have not been able to purchase duplicate sets for students to use at home."

Dyer said Gainesville City Schools purchased all textbooks schools requested. Some of the funding for textbooks wasn't approved until the school board's Oct. 3 meeting, however.

She said funding doesn't look like it's getting any better for next year either. So the school system plans to use online textbooks and resources as much as possible.

Dyer said parents have complained to the school board about the lack of textbooks.

"We had some last year. I don't know that they were fully aware of the cost of the textbooks," she said.

Kelly Niles, a Lula resident, has two children in Hall County schools and said not having textbooks is terrible.

"At the middle school, some of the teachers will let you check out a book at night, but that's not the case with all classes," she said.

Though teachers are encouraged to use their websites to send resources and links for homework, Niles said it is "hit or miss" as to whether they keep them updated.

"Where we live in Lula, we do not get any high speed at all," she said. "We have to go somewhere. My air card doesn't even work at home. Sometimes we can look stuff up on my phone if we have to, but that's not ideal for a homework situation."

If Hall County used more online textbooks, that would be ideal, Niles said.

"That would make all the difference in the world," she said. "With websites, my child might have a different answer than yours because we looked up different sites."

A big piece of the situation is for teachers to assign homework that doesn't require textbooks, but uses other resources, Dyer said.

Instead of textbooks, the homework is usually an online activity or a worksheet, Niles said.

"It's frustrating for parents. You might look at a math problem and go, ‘I remember it from high school, but I don't remember how to do it,' and you don't have a textbook to help show you," she said.

Sue Smith, assistant principal for curriculum at East Hall High School, said educators see textbooks as resources and reference tools, not the main teaching implement.

"We're really trying to get away from that," Smith said. "The demand for textbooks is not as great. We leave it up to the teacher whether they want a class set or to issue them to students."

Smith said East Hall High teachers do want to move to a text on a CD or DVD, but there are funding issues there too.

"Those cost almost as much as a textbook. We can't just buy a master and make copies. We're buying the license for it," she said.

Chad Crumley, who oversees seventh grade education at Gainesville Middle School, said students have class sets of books that can be checked out to help with homework.

He attributes fewer textbooks to "a change in philosophy" as the state moves to adopt new learning requirements, the Common Core Standards.

"It's just a different structure," Crumley said. "Parents are not necessarily happy because it's not the way they learned in school. It's more of a discovery process."

For students and parents who don't have Internet access at home, the middle school has several computer labs open after school. He said there are no e-textbooks yet, but parents do have access to codes that give them resources that go with textbooks online.

And with additional changes coming for high school math curricula, new diploma tracks and career-based courses, textbooks might not even be needed, Dyer said.

That's something local school officials are excited about.

"I look forward to the day that we have one e-reader with all content included instead of a bookbag with 60 lb of outdated texts," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said in an email to The Times.


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