Textbooks on way out

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Prepare to see a lot more school textbooks in Rowan County’s recycling centers.
A school system with nearly 20,000 students goes through mountains of textbooks. But the chairman of the county commission was so concerned about a pile of textbooks and other materials recently placed in a county recycling center that he summoned local legislators to bear witness to the waste.
The legislators might not have quite the reaction he expects. Though county employees have gone to considerable lengths to assemble and display the discarded books — and you always prefer to see books handed down rather than discarded — the employees’ recycling center discovery is less a scandal than a harbinger of things to come.

The General Assembly is encouraging schools to take education into the digital age, and that includes textbooks. Under a law passed this year, school systems have until 2017 to align curriculum with digital devices and make the transition to digital material. State allocations for textbooks have gone from $59.6 million in 2009-10 to $21.2 million this year.
In the process of saving textbook money, lawmakers believe digital devices can “raise the level of academic performance of the state’s students” and provide students with “high-quality, up-to-date information that can be customized for individual students throughout their educational experience,” according to one piece of legislation.
Recently the Mooresville Graded School District — recognized repeatedly for its advances and accomplishments — expanded its partnership with Discovery Education to bring digital social studies textbooks to middle schools. Mooresville was already using Discovery’s Science Techbook and other programs, now used in 41 states and Canada.

As schools discard outdated textbooks — used and new — the push has been to make sure they recycle the books instead of dumping them in the landfill. One Environmental Protection Agency report said approximately 640,000 tons of books were discarded into municipal landfills in 2009. Ideally, the schools would offer outdated books to others who might use them, such as other schools, individuals, libraries. That’s the first line of recycling — reuse. The second line is sending the material through recycling centers. Lo and behold, this month we’ve learned Rowan County has a third line: pulling the books and materials out for a little bit of political recycling. Think twice before recycling in Rowan.