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Irving, Texas Case Study

Sometimes implementing a digital curriculum means changing state law.

In March, 2009, as the Texas legislature was beginning a debate on the pros and cons of allowing schools to spend textbook money on technology, the Dallas Morning News ran a story on Irving Independent School District’s challenge with the unused textbooks sitting in the district’s (ISD's) warehouses.

“The state spends millions of dollars every year on textbooks school districts don’t need, but they have to take them because it’s the law,” began the news commentator, who went on to explain the disconnect between Irving ISD’s increasingly savvy students and the state law (at the time) requiring schools to purchase one textbook per student in every major subject area—whether the book was being used or not.

Irving ISD’s challenge was that it was ahead of its time. With many of its students having access to laptop computers on a 24/7 basis, the district’s teachers were finding it preferable to send students home with computerized versions of texts rather than heavy, easily lost textbooks.

In addition, says Irving ISD’s Executive Director of Technology Alice Owen, the faculty—even those teaching elementary and middle school students where the computer-to-student ratio was not one-to-one—has really shifted its teaching approaches away from textbook learning. “They’re using a wide array of digital content,” she says. “Students are taking charge of their own learning—collaborating, innovating, and publishing, as well as learning from experts in the field.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that the cost of the 146,000 unused textbooks was equivalent to 15,000 new laptop computers. With the passage of HB 4292 into law, the district was finally able to use the money for such technology-based tools. Today, Irving ISD is a leader and model of 1:1 laptop program implementation at the high school level. For the 2012-2013 school year, all students in grades 9-12 have laptop computers for use at home and school. Netbook computers are available for all middle school students to use during the school day.

This focus on technology and digital content has earned three Irving ISD high schools the Silver Badge Award from U.S. News & World Report, with all three high schools ranking among the top 7.6% of 22,000 high schools nationwide. Irving ISD is a great example of standing up to do what’s right, even if that means taking a state the size of Texas with you.

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