As a teacher’s brother, I’m all for smaller class sizes in K-12. By all means!

Still, enough money for textbooks might be even more cost-effective in some cases even though we should budget for both.

Kids in lousy elementary schools in California benefited in a major way when money for textbooks went up from $25 per pupil to $54+, according to a study from the American Institutes for Research. Education Week reports:

As part of a 2004 class-action settlement over the underfunding of schools, California set a standard requiring each student to have his or her own textbooks and instructional materials to use in class and at home, and provided new money to buy the books. Money for textbooks increased from $25 per pupil to more than $54, and the state provided $138 million specifically for the lowest-performing 20 percent of schools.

[Researcher Kristian L. Holden] compared achievement on the state reading and math tests from 2002 to 2011 in schools that were just above and below the cutoff for additional textbook funding. The increase was on average 0.15 of a standard deviation per school in both subjects—in the same ballpark as the effect of reducing class sizes by 10 students.

Curiously, Holden didn’t find similar benefits at the secondary school level. Why? Could it be that the secondary schools are less reliant on textbooks, in line with a trend in many places? Or that the funding gap wasn’t as bad?

Other questions arise, as I see it:

  • Why are the textbook budgets so low? Even in poor districts, we’re talking about expenditures of thousands of dollars per student.
  • How about the situation in already-well funded districts? I doubt that the benefits would of increased textbook spending would be as high. But who knows?
  • In what ways and to what extent could digital tech replace paper books to drive down costs and increase learning? The tech isn’t as good as it could be. But some recent research at the college level is encouraging. And of course hardware costs keep going down.
  • To what extent should we look beyond textbooks and other structured material? How about  more money for books for recreational reading—along with well-trained librarians to the kids and their parents to read? Remember the proven relationship between academic achievement and a love of reading, as well as the special benefits of e-books?
  • Are there ways to increase the use of open-access material while maintaining quality?

Needless to say, a national digital library endowment with money for open-access projects could make a difference.

Image credit: Here.