Plan To Ditch Textbooks, Go Digital Draws Criticism From Local Lawmaker

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- State Rep. Phil Williams says the state of Alabama is racing in the wrong direction with calls to borrow $100 million to put laptops in the hands of all children.

“I’m concerned we’re about to make a boneheaded move,”Williams told our news partners at The Huntsville Times Wednesday.

Williams is chair of the House Technology Committee and vice chair of the Education Policy Committee. He said fellow lawmakers that are pushing to spend money on hardware fail to understand how quickly technology changes or how technology is even used by children.

“The device is the mistake,” he said, meaning the state was already missing the latest trends by focusing on hardware purchases.

Read Full Bill Alabama-2013-HB293

Williams said the “pen-enabled tablets or mobile computers” called for by the Alabama Ahead Act could be obsolete in two or three years. One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Jim McClendon, says if passed this session, the state could start saving taxpayers between $15 to $20 million a year by avoiding the replacement of traditional textbooks every seven years.

The Alabama Ahead Act, passed in 2012, at first would have provided devices for high school students, but lawmakers have yet to vote to pay for the plan.  McClendon recently filed an updated bill for the 2014 session that would provide devices for students in all grades. The bill is the first bill filed in both the House and the Senate. 

Lawmakers passed the Alabama Ahead Act in 2012, which set up a committee to study implementation. A measure earlier this year would have triggered the $100 million bond issue; that measure failed. McClendon filed a bill that would set up the same fight over borrowing $100 million in the 2014 session to enact the bill.

McClendon says the bill would require each school system that participates to cover a quarter of the hardware costs. The updated bill also allows them to spend money on "infrastructure readiness."

"Wireless connectivity is the number one thing that has to be done before we put in wireless devices,"  McClendon told our news partners Wednesday.

"I guess he thinks we need to stick with Gutenberg technology," said McClendon, referring to the early printing press. He said it's impractical to expect all students to bring their own wireless devices. "That's like expecting parents to buy textbooks."

Huntsville City Schools last school year supplied every student with a laptop or tablet.

(Read more coverage from our news partners at


  • VeritasMiner

    This is a massively bone-headed idea. Pearson has not developed the software to the point where it works effectively. I’ve watched a Valedictorian level student struggle for over an hour just to get the answers formatted correctly for a math exercise. With paper she would have been done in ten minutes.
    Don’t forget an on-line class in Huntsville a couple of years ago. The teacher was outside of the district and never responded to questions from the class. The end result – an entire AP level class failed, except for the one student who managed a D. (Still no recourse on that one)
    Laptops break. When my son’s broke it took 5 days and another 2 to get it back to the school. I can wipe and reinstall an OS in a day. HP and Dell computers have a built-in repair that usually takes less than an hour. If I try to fix his computer, he gets expelled.
    A recent article in Electronic Design states that laptops are going the way of desktop computers. Alabama should not take out a loan to bolster a sagging market, nor buy overpriced Apple products. A basic color book reader without the full power of a computer is all they need.
    Let the teachers teach and not become overqualified Day Care workers.

  • Sandra Gray

    “The state could start saving taxpayers between $15 to $20 million a year by avoiding the replacement of traditional textbooks every seven years.”

    That’s nice and all, but I’m pessimistic that the Alabama taxpayers will ever see a reduction in taxes – It will just go to another category and we’ll never see it.

  • Amanda

    Food for thought: has anyone thought about the production of text books? Jobs for people at paper mills, book stores/companies, etc. Fewer textbooks purchased = fewer textbooks made = fewer people with jobs..

    Just a thought….

    And I do not believe the overall money saved will ever be seen in the taxpayers pocket. Plus I’m sure they will be spending that extra money on replacing laptops/tablets that are not taken care of (these are children) and someone to fix issues with programs not working, technology and software updates, etc.

  • k

    What happened to schools complaining that students were getting too much “screen time” and the potential hazard to their vision? I guess it’s ok now that they want to put the “screens” in the kids’ hands. What happened to knowing how to read a book, or know which way the pages go, the concepts of front to back? Not everything needs to be completely digital. I think this is a big mistake. Technology is great, but it should not be a sole source of education for our children.

  • Donna McDaniel

    There is research that says during the years of early brain development (birth – 8 years) screens can cause children’s brains to develop in different ways than is normal in child development. The explosion of ADD and ADHD could very well be one of the results of screens (video games, computers, television etc) Last year I visited a school in Japan and was surprised to find that they did not allow their kids to have regular computer classes until the age of 10. Reason – they had read the research. The countries that are ahead of us in test scores (Finnland, Singapore, etc) do not shove IPads into the hands of their babies. The technology changes so rapidly that it truly doesn’t matter if children wait a few years before learning to use all these devices. But even the overuse of technology in teens is causing social problems. When we make technology our god we will dehumanize ourselves. The ones who are really benefitting from this movement are the corporations who are raking in the money we are throwing at them like mardi gras beads at a parade!

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