An article here in today’s New York Times discussions the investigations by reporters of duplications in text among competitive school textbooks. As we know from our own schooldays, when a student takes a course, a textbook has been selected for that course. The result is that what you are assigned learn as a student is essentially what is in that one selected textbook. Delivering study stuff that way made a lot of sense when I was in school back in the 1940s-50s. But today, if a student has access to the Internet, he or she has multiple sources for virtually any study topic.
Although the Times essay is about other questionable aspects of limiting 21st century kids to learning from textbooks at school, I think the math is the thundering flaw that roars out of the article:
Just how similar passages showed up in two books is a tale of how the largely obscure $4 billion a year world of elementary and high school textbook publishing often works, for these passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers.
$4 billion a year! Let’s do some math. There are upwards of 40 million students in elementary and high school in the United States (if you include homeschoolers). At $4 billion a year, every one of those kids could have a new $100 laptop every year! When the day comes that the mobile phone fully accesses the Internet, spending billions on textbooks will not add up at all.