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July 2009
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Idea From Democrat Think Tank: Give Every Student a Kindle

Photo by Bill Ward

Photo by Bill Ward

Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a think tank made up of Democratic Party members, thinks that education’s future lies in the Kindle.  Their proposal, entitled A Kindle In Every Backpack, makes the argument for moving towards an eTextbook environment for K-12 education.

Their argument is a compelling one.  Hardly anyone would disagree that the dominance of eReaders is inevitable, and the DLC is simply arguing that there is no point to wait.  Although overhead costs at the start of the project would be high, eReaders would save the government a lot more money in the long run.  Also, giving every student an eReader would help address the discrepancy between well-funded schools and those in disadvantaged neighborhoods by making textbook access universal.

Here’s exceprt from the paper by Thomas Z. Freedman explaining long term cost benefits of textbooks going digital:

Over time, this could provide enormous savings. Over the first four or so years of an eTextbook system, we would spend about $9 billion more—in total—than the traditional textbook scheme. Yet by the last year of that initial period, we could have already supplied Kindles, or the digital equivalent, to 100 percent of our students. At that point, the savings would kick in, beginning at over $700 million in the fifth year before holding steady at around $500 million annually in the years immediately following.

I don’t think the plan will be launched within the next couple of days, however.  With the current recession, any multi-billion initiative is going to have trouble getting off the ground.  Also, the price estimates offered by the DLC are based on assumed drops in manufacturing costs and not really indicative of the cost to roll out the plan today.  The accessibility issue would also need to be taken care of before any national plan could be enacted.

But once these issues are resolved, it won’t be long before every child does have some sort of eReader.  Hopefully, one that’s is somewhat child-resistant too.

9 comments to Idea From Democrat Think Tank: Give Every Student a Kindle

  • A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

    Hasn’t anyone stopped to consider that private, parochial, and home schools provide a better product at a cheaper per student cost? More money down the public education rathole won’t change that. They could give every kid a Kindle, load it up with every book known to man, and still turn out uneducated, ignorant, illiterate graduates.

  • They might be slightly ahead of themselves here…

  • The value of private, parochial, and home schooling is not in contest here, @Jerry. The value of this proposal is to go from spending billions a year on textbooks to millions a year. Argue the concept, not the politics.

    And as one who graduated from public schooling just over 10 years ago, I take exception to the implication that public schooling churns out uneducated, ignorant, illiterate graduates. Particularly since 100% of the people I’ve met who are home-schooled really do qualify under “ignorant.”

    Public schooling runs with public money because that’s where Thomas Jefferson believed was the source of true American patriots.

  • Jennifer

    As an English teacher, I have to say I love this idea. Not only will it make it easier for students to carry their books with them (and their bookbags really do weigh a ridiculous amount when they have to bring all the books home), but it will also ensure students are getting quality copies of books. I had to teach Lord of the Flies to my students where more than half of the books were literally falling apart and had to be held together with rubberbands. Some of them even lost their pages and the students were unable to complete their homework. With a Kindle, that wouldn’t happen.

    I think it’s a great thing, and I hope I get to see it happen soon.

  • admin

    Wow, people, lets not get personal here.

    Jerry, I would actually disagree with you. The merit of public schools is completely separate issue (however I do believe that they should exist and be funded).

    The question that is relevant in this post is the following: should money allocated for public schools be spent on medieval technology that is also more expensive in the long run or should schools keep up with progress.

    Same argument could have been used against bringing personal computers into public schools that were already well equipped with abacuses :)

  • Susan

    While in concept this is a great idea. The e-book reader is a pretty delicate item. My 13 yo nephew has one. Is a careful and responsible kid, BUT he has broken 2 in 7 months!!! My guess is the cost of this proposal is not the inital costs but the replacement costs. Until the reader is more durable, I dont’ think it is a workable option.

  • Morgan

    Am I reading this wrong??

    If the additional cost is $9B over four years, and the subsequent annual savings is $500M (with one year of $700M), then it would take 17 years (($0.5B/y * 16y) + ($0.7B/y * 1y)) for this plan to pay off. Plus the initial 4y cost period. So, the Kindles will have paid for themselves after 21 years. At which point, they will be totally obsolete.

    That doesn’t quite sound like a winning plan. Replacing books would seem less expensive. Of course, this doesn’t solve the weight issue…

  • admin

    Morgan,

    The plan doesn’t call for using same hardware that we have today 21 years down the road. It’s about keeping schools modern and protecting the environment. There’s more to it than monetary benefit.

  • Morgan

    I love my Kindle and I love not printing everything. Still, modernity for modernity sake is not my guiding star (paper is inexpensive and still is the most stable archival material for the printed word). While I haven’t read the full report, your excerpt from it implies that cost savings is a key driver. I’m simply saying that spending $9 *billion* dollars on shortlived hardware to save about 1/20th of that annually is a disingenuous way to claim to be saving money. It’s not like you’re buying new double-paned windows or re-insulating the house. The payoff is similarly long, but those products will make it to the end of the period.

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