Digital instructional materials are here, but classroom equity rules still apply

As school districts in California continue their transition to new educational standards, they may be purchasing new instructional materials for students, and many are looking at digital materials. In fact, some schools have already begun piloting digital instructional materials in lieu of textbooks.

tablet in front of textbooksWhile the way instructional materials are delivered may change, what hasn’t changed are the laws that require those materials be distributed equitably – along with the California Constitution’s guarantee of a free public education.

The state education code defines sufficient textbooks or instructional materials to mean each student “has a standards-aligned textbook or instructional materials, or both, to use in class and to take home.” The instructional materials may be in a digital format as long as each pupil can access the same materials in class and at home.

The free schools guaranty prohibits public schools from requiring students to buy materials as a condition of participating in educational activities. Just as schools cannot charge students for required textbooks, school districts also cannot require students to buy devices or provide their own device, pay for Internet access, or pay a fee to access required course materials.

So, what might this look like for your child?

If a district provides students with standards-aligned electronic textbooks, each student must have the electronic equipment necessary to access the materials in class and at home to meet the sufficiency standard. Depending on each school and each student’s situation or preference, some students may have a tablet with a .pdf of the textbook installed, be given a license to use the materials online or be provided with a hard copy textbook.

Schools that adopt electronic materials may run bring-your-own device programs in which students who don’t have a device are provided one free of charge from the school to use during the year. If the materials are web-based, then each student must have the equipment necessary and an active Internet connection to get access to the materials in class and at home. If that isn’t possible, school districts can meet the sufficiency standard either by providing printed instructional materials that are identical in content to electronic or web-based instructional materials or by providing students with the equipment and Internet connectivity they need to access the materials in class and at home.

Keep in mind that while the method of delivery may be different, the required content remains the same. Digital and printed materials must be comparable and interchangeable with printed texts.

You can get more information on textbooks and instructional materials from the California Department of Education frequently asked questions web page.