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  • Marcia Philosophos

The Age of Curriculum Velocity: Why Schools Must Supplement or Replace Traditional Textbooks

Updated: Aug 9


There's no question that traditional textbooks are expensive, which is why many districts purchase new curriculum in five- or ten-year buying cycles, and some even longer. A recent article in AZ Family showed that some schools were using textbooks that were nearly 30 years old while others still cited George HW Bush as the current president of the United States. With so much information at our fingertips, why are schools sometimes slow to replace or supplement their curriculum with more cost-effective, relevant, and student-friendly options? Curriculum velocity, or the idea of the speed at which districts replace old, dated teaching and learning materials, moves at a slow pace that is leaving our students behind. If our goal is to prepare students for a modern world and workforce, the use of dated curriculum is a barrier to our students’ future.


Let’s explore why traditional textbooks don’t work, and how schools can replace these or supplement with dynamic, digital curriculum and resources to truly prepare kids for a bright future.


Textbooks can Have Outdated, Incorrect Content

Many textbook advocates argue that mathematics and English content doesn’t change and that textbooks can have a long shelf life. However, the truth remains that our world changes at a rapid pace and the content our students learn must match that speed. For instance, math textbooks might still have correct content, but if they are too old, they may no longer match the latest state instructional standards. English textbooks often include reading vignettes and nonfiction examples that can become dated fast. This is especially true when those pieces reference science, technology, or politics. Another issue is the lack of diversity in older textbooks, specifically where examples and pictures may be non-inclusive. As research shows, textbook content often neglects to include a diverse population, or one that is reflective of the student populations in today’s classrooms.


In other areas, such as career education and technology, things are moving even faster! For example, the FAA recently created a new certification around commercial drone piloting. This topic that wasn’t on our radar a decade ago and is likely not found in many textbooks. Likewise, content on bitcoin and blockchain technology, which have massive potential and career opportunities, could not have been written ten years ago because the technology was in its infancy at that point. With innovation across all subject areas, traditional textbook companies have difficulty keeping up. This is why schools should look for digital curriculum to supplement the areas that are lacking within their textbooks. Whether it’s content on technological innovation and applications, content on current events unfolding before our eyes, or CTE-focused instruction, online learning can support and fill the gaps that traditional textbooks cannot.


Textbooks Don’t Always Match the Ways Students Learn

Textbooks encourage ideas around memorization, and a recent article from Inspiration Education highlighted that students struggle to apply learning once it is removed from the textbook format. By using textbooks alone, students are unable to apply their learning, showing that they haven’t really “learned” much at all. Textbooks may be a good way to introduce content and concepts, but they should never be the only instructional tool within a teacher’s repertoire. As the saying goes, no student was ever inspired by a textbook!


Through digital learning such as online courses, students learn in new, exciting ways and are often empowered to learn more as they become fully engaged in content. By expanding learning outside of a traditional textbook, teachers can lead students to apply their knowledge in a new format. This can include things such as a project-based learning model, a written opinion piece, public speaking, or something beyond a conventional, paper assessment.


Traditional Curriculum Doesn’t Prepare Students for a Modern World

Many traditional textbooks lack real-world skills such as news literacy and financial literacy, among others, all of which are required skills to be a functioning member of society. Many students haven’t had opportunities to explore topics or ideas such as healthcare, graphic design, tech, or other concepts available in a career education program. By incorporating digital courses on topics that students are interested in exploring, starting in early grades, students graduate high school with passions and knowledge about what type of careers they may want to pursue.


Physical Textbooks Don’t Allow for Abrupt Changes in Learning Environments

When school buildings closed due to the global pandemic in the Spring of 2020, many students were at home without school books or physical materials needed to learn. While schools prioritized getting students digital devices, many schools lacked the available resources to ensure every student had the necessary textbooks.


In fact, one argument against digital curriculum used to be that not every student had access to a device. Thanks to Covid-19, schools and districts across the country prioritized digital connectivity and funding is increasingly becoming available to make sure every student has digital access. While the digital divide still exists, we are seeing it shrinking at an accelerated rate due to the urgency caused by the pandemic.


Digital curriculum fills the gap and ensures that every student with access to a device has access to content while partaking in online learning. Online tools can be updated easily, allowing schools to stay current with topics that impact students’ futures.


Let’s face it, the current snails-paced curriculum velocity is not working! Schools cannot be content waiting around for another five or more years before replacing textbooks. Administrator must start looking at ways to enhance their instructional materials with dynamic and relevant content, starting today! Failing to do so is a disservice to students who need timely topics to help them succeed in a rapidly changing world.

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