The Mercer Island School District will kick off its "One to One" iPad initiative next month by distributing free iPads to all 10th and 11th graders. The iPads will be used by students for the remainder of the year, returned for the summer, and then redistributed in September.
Say what you want about the economic disparity that allows districts like Mercer Island to hand out iPads while other districts struggle to pay for more basic needs, but I'm guessing that this technology will be the norm in schools, not the exception, by the end of the decade. The advantages over traditional textbooks are too obvious and numerous to list. This is the future.
But there's one huge advantage that might not be so obvious about this inevitable shift away from print and toward digital: It breaks the power of the Texas Board of Education to dictate what is and is not in our nation's textbooks. Because Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the English-speaking world, publishers would tailor their texts to the state's demands, making textbook approval a highly politicized process in the conservative state. And the economies of scale of printing, warehousing, and distributing meant that the rest of the nation would get these Texas-approved textbooks too.
No more. In the digital realm, publishers are adjusting their content to the curriculums of individual states. For example, Texas students can continue to get history texts that teach that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, while the rest of our nation's students can learn the truth. A triumph of technology.
Anyway, as the parent of a Mercer Island High School student (no, I don't live there, my daughter's mother does), I'll be watching this experiment with great interest, and no doubt will report back my own observations.