As Demand for Digital Materials Rises, States Adjust Policies

Managing Editor

As schools increasingly forego print for digital materials, states have been forced to revamp how they select and purchase an ever-shifting array of classroom resources.

In an effort to help them make those decisions, an ed-tech advocacy group has released a set of profiles of individual “state procurement case studies” which examines the varying degrees of state or local control over the adoption of digital materials.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association’s guide offers breakdowns of four states with very different practices in digital adoption: California, Indiana, Louisiana, and Utah. The case studies are meant to offer “roadmaps” for state policymakers and district officials. They provide guidance to companies trying to make sense of those individual markets, too, said Tracy Weeks, SETDA’s executive director.

State policies for choosing digital instructional materials are all over the map, and the states SETDA choose for its detailed profiles are meant to reflect those dissimilarities, she said.

California, for instance, has a process of selecting materials guided heavily by the state, but districts have been given much more freedom to stray from the state-approved list of materials in recent years, if they can show they have undertaken a rigorous review and are meeting state academic standards. Publishers that turn in print instructional materials for adoption to the state or a district must ensure that printed materials are available in digital format during the entire adoption term, SETDA says.

Indiana, on the other hand, defers authority on adopting digital instructional materials to local school entities, the guide explains. The state has sought to offer guidance to local districts in making digital adoption decisions, including advice on meeting accessibility demands for students with special needs.

It also has updated its definition of textbooks to include digital resources. State and local funding that was available for print resources is now available for digital ones, too.

SETDA’s guide also says Indiana districts are allowed to collect “textbook rental fees” from parents, which can be used not just for textbooks, as well as subscription services, devices, and other purposes. (Those fees have their critics.)

“We have seen very different philosophies in different states when it comes to the adoption of digital materials,” Weeks said.”Most states are still trying to figure this out…the old procurement models, the old approval models for print materials do not apply.”

States making the transition from print to digital adoptions have faced a bevy of tricky questions, Weeks pointed out.

It’s often unclear to them whether secondary digital curricular materials connected to core academic resources need to go through their own, relatively detailed approval process. And state officials find that while it used to make sense to limit decision-making during adoption mostly to curriculum and instructional staff, now others with expertise in student information and learning management systems, and interoperability, also have to be brought into the fold.

In addition to the guide, SETDA also offers an online map with additional information on individual state policies for adopting digital materials.

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