The textbooks that Steve Eyer uses in his Advanced Placement U.S. history and government classes at Skyview High in Nampa are so old, they barely mention President Bush.
That’s George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, not George W. Bush, the 43rd. The elder Bush left office in 1993.
There is no 9/11. No NAFTA, a signature U.S. trade agreement many believe took jobs out of the country. There is no discussion of the War on Terror, which has come to dominate the county’s recent history with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And yet those are touch points for many of his students
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“It is the stuff that is really their lives,” Eyer said.
Eyer isn’t the only Southwest Idaho teacher dealing with old textbooks that were printed, in some cases, before their students were born.
In the West Ada School District, the book from which Holly Clayton teaches 10th grade biology at Mountain View High School came before the Human Genome Project.
And Samuel Goff’s freshman earth science textbook at Mountain View hints at a warming planet, but never mentions climate change.
So what does it mean for Goff to have a 20-year-old textbook in his classroom that doesn’t mention what might be the environmental issue of the generation?
“It means this book sits on the shelf,” he said. “Climate change is a big issue kids really have to get. ”
Many school districts aimed for replacing textbooks every six year or so as a way to keep current. But the recession blew up that plan.
Since 2010, as Idaho schools faced sharp cutbacks in revenue from the state, districts have received no money for textbooks, said Cindy Sisson, West Ada curriculum director. When she’d come to the budget table, one thing that was always getting cut was textbooks, she said. The tradeoff often was keeping school days and jobs.
West Ada’s last major purchase of textbooks and related materials was for elementary science in 2007.
In a sobering report to the West Ada trustees in April, Sisson laid out copyright dates for books used in West Ada schools that date to 1990. Health books still show the old food pyramid that is heavy on carbs, rather than the 2015 pyramid that is heavy on fruits and vegetables.
But now, pushed by the need to update and to also have textbooks that reflect changes in teaching, such as the advent of Common Core, which emphasizes more rigorous thinking, districts are edging back into the textbook market.
But it is turning out to be an expensive trip.
GETTING A ‘CRASH COURSE’
When Eyer’s history class goes past the textbook’s latest entry, he sometimes reaches for Crash Course, a You Tube-based series of programs — each about 12-15 minutes long — that delves into parts of recent American history. His class also looks at current events, such as Donald Trump’s run for the presidency, and compares that to populist candidates who sought the White House in the 1800s.
But Eyer acknowledges that is hard for students to find a good selection of articles on subjects he’d like to cover.
Some of his student think the school district should do better.
“We should have the most modern books,” said Jesse Van Wart, 17, a junior who hopes to be a heart surgeon.
For history not covered in the textbook, Skyview students such as Jadyn Parkinson,17, often look outside of class. She knows much of it “only by what my parents tell me,” she said.
In West Ada, Clayton says the Internet is not the immediate resource some people might think for materials not covered in a textbook. New scientific research is complex and not presented for a high school audience, Clayton said. “A text that is pegged to a reading level of a high school student, but bringing in those new concepts, would be helpful.”
Goff would welcome a new textbook, but it wouldn’t hold a central part in his teaching earth science to students. The old one doesn’t now.
Textbooks are jammed with facts, but not in a way that engages students, he said. “I haven’t used this book as a guideline to direct my teaching,” Goff said. “I do not have kids taking notes from this book onto another piece of paper. It’s redundant. It’s boring and it doesn’t connect with these kids.”
Instead, students in his class pose questions — such as “Why does rain smell?” — and then go in search of answers in an inquiry-based learning method.
New texts will have newer information, he said. But he doesn’t need a set of 30 for every class.
“There should be 30 or 60 for the whole grade,” he said. “It’s going to be a nice reference. It is going to be a nice resource. But still our teachers aren’t going to start plugging our kids into reading this thing.”
PAYING THE BOOK BILL
After years of getting by with the books they have, Idaho’s three largest districts — West Ada, Boise and Nampa — are beginning to purchase some new curriculum materials (a new textbook often comes with videos, web programs or workbooks).
The districts are getting a lesson on the costs of books, which can range as high as $150. A book planned for psychology students in West Ada taking dual credit at the College of Western Idaho will run the district $205 each.
West Ada: The Board of Trustees this week approved purchase of a K-5 language arts book and materials, its first purchase of materials in that subject since 2003. West Ada will purchase the materials with $2 million raised as part of an emergency property tax levy, which the distract can tap to cover unanticipated increases from student enrollment year to year.
West Ada wants to return to the six-year plan for updating text books, but Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells doesn’t have a lock on an income stream to cover those purchases for the next several years.
“All we can do is hope we get a little bit more from the Legislature or a little bit of money from here and there,” she said.
The hope that digital books would somehow solve the problem remains a dream, Ranells said. Digital books tend to be as costly as printed ones. Moreover, West Ada Ddoesn’t have an electronic device for every student to access digital books, and many families don’t have Internet access at home.
Nampa School District: Voters agreed in 2015 to increase their property tax levy for schools in part to get revenue to replace aging textbooks. The $7.8 million annual levy for two years is an increase from $3.4 million a year
Nampa is working on replacing secondary English language arts texts and materials in the fall for grades 6-12 at a cost of $1.75 million.
Officials hope to replace textbooks throughout the district by 2021, but aren’t sure whether they will ask for more property tax money or find other sources of revenue. History and social studies texts could be among the last replaced because the district is putting emphasis on reading and math instruction, school officials say. That means teachers will have to look elsewhere to compensate for outdated books.
“Teachers can do it,” said Nicole MacTavish, district assistant superintendent. “It just takes a ton more time.”
Boise School District: The district is working to adopt a K-5 math text.
“Right now we are not using textbooks,” said Debbie Donovan, administrator of student programs. Idaho’s push into Common Core, which takes a deeper dive into math and asks students to become critical thinkers, isn’t reflected in old text books. The district will test some books next year.
Donovan doesn’t have a firm cost but said she expects the district will adopt it in pieces over two years. The early estimated cost is $1.3 million.