By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–Wednesday, Governor Robert Bentley signed the Alabama Ahead Act into law. The measure would create a $100 million bond issue that would be used to buy e-textbook computers for students in Alabama’s public high schools. The new electronic devices would replace the heavy stack of clunky text books that students now tote around.
The bill’s sponsor Alabama Representative Jim McClendon (R) from Springville told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’, “There is no question that this is the direction that the whole nation is going. Alabama just decided to be first, not 31st on this issue.” “We are going to move our schools forward. We are going to move our students in to the 21st Century.”
Rep. McClendon said that the first issue would be to define the characteristics of the devices that are most suitable for the program to set a standard for the school systems to follow. Rep. McClendon said that the plan is to offer pilot programs for the fall of 2013 in select school systems throughout the state beginning with 9th graders. Over the course of four years all the high school students in the state will become equipped with this technology.
Rep. McClendon said, “Currently we are spending $65 million on textbooks” although he acknowledged that some recent years have seen budget cuts into that necessary spending. “This will save the state $20 million a year on textbook costs.”
While the system would save the state money, it potentially would also provide students with much more resources and capabilities than the classic textbook with accompanying workbook format used for almost half a century. Publishers and e-textbook makers likely will provide students with access to a library of supplemental materials as part of any negotiated deal. Teachers also would benefit from the system and would be issued their own device.
Students could (in theory) take tests and assessments on the e-reader and those assessments would be graded, averaged, and recorded direct into the network where the teacher’s “grade-book” is located online. Depending on what capabilities the state demands from the devices purchased there is potential to eliminate a lot of the drudgery involved with teaching 20 +/- kids in a classroom.
The tablet devices themselves will likely cost less than a high school Algebra book does now. The state will then purchase a package of texts either separately or together with the hardware to download onto the device. The bill provides for purchase of a, “pen-enabled: tablet, mobile computer, or similar wireless electronic device for storing, reading, accessing, exploring, and interacting with digital textbooks and other instructional materials.”
Rep. McClendon said that the bill (HB165) went through the Alabama House easily and was supported by legislators from both political parties. The bill took several weeks to get through the Alabama Senate; but the bill emerged from the Senate without major changes. Rep. McClendon said that there really was no opposition in the Senate to the Alabama Ahead Act. Senator Gerald Dial (R) from Lineville sponsored the bill in the Alabama Senate.
The program will be implemented by the Alabama State Department of Education. The bill also instructs the Alabama State Department of Education to establish an advisory committee to assist in the implementation of the program. That committee would include Rep. McClendon, Senator Dial, a state representative to be appointed by the Speaker and a state Senator to be appointed by the Senate Pro Tem, as well as other persons to be chosen by the Alabama Department of Education.