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Vail, Arizona Case Study

Matching the right digital vendor to the right course spelled success

Students work on a project in class

In 2005, Arizona’s Vail School District made the news by opening the nation’s first “textbook-free” high school.

Committed to a “one-to-one” learning model, the school’s planners turned to the textbook budget to find the money needed to fund student laptops. Four years of textbooks would have cost the school $500 per student, so Vail decided to use that money to purchase the necessary hardware and to design a fully digital curriculum that eventually became a district-wide program called “Beyond Textbooks.”

Instead of their traditional approach of looking at currently available classroom materials and then “shoehorning” them to meet state standards, they started with the required standards and then found the best ways to meet each one, something the school district refers to as “inverting the curriculum.”

Program planners took it one step further and decided to find the best vendor for each individual sub-topic taught in the school. Vail School District CIO Matt Federoff explained, “No vendor can provide it all. Think iTunes: we don’t buy albums, we buy songs. I want the Civil War from one vendor, but I want WWII from another. The best bits and pieces from multiple sources that mostly match our instructional goals.”

While Vail’s program contains some “premium” content from subscription services, such as Discovery Education streaming and BrainPOP, the vast majority of the curriculum comes from freely available and teacher-created materials.

“We don’t expect to get everything for free,” says Federoff, “but we’re only going to pay for those specific materials our teachers have identified as being truly worthwhile.”

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