[send this letter to Secretary Spellings, Director Magner, and Congress]

The Honorable Margaret Spellings
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202-7100

Dear Secretary Spellings,

The United States Department of Education currently administers a budget of approximately $56 billion per year in discretionary monies. I am sending this letter to encourage the Department to make a relatively small, but extremely strategic, investment that would pay enormous dividends for our nation's elementary and secondary students.

For $200 million per year, the Department could create phenomenal, mind-blowing online multimedia textbooks that could be used by students all across the country. Imagine 50 teams, each made up of individuals who took a paid sabbatical for one year, working to create rigorous, standards-based, online textbooks that included text, graphics, electronic presentations, audio, video, simulations, learning games, interactive problem-solving and review activities, etc. The teams could be comprised as follows:

  • 16 expert teachers * $100,000 each = $1,600,000
  • 4 university professors * $100,000 each = $400,000
  • 8 computer / Web programmers * $100,000 each = $800,000
  • 1 assistive technology expert * $100,000 = $100,000
  • 1 national organization representative * $100,000 = $100,000
  • 1 project manager * $200,000 = $200,000
  • Communication and other software, supplies, travel, etc. = $800,000

Four teachers plus a professor plus two programmers equals a workgroup; four workgroups per team. Each team receives ongoing feedback from a representative from an appropriate national organization (e.g., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Council for Social Studies), has an assistive technology expert to ensure content accessibility by students with disabilities, and has a project manager to keep the workgroups moving along. The workgroups create content; post that content online as they go along for review, comment, and input from others; and, over the course of a year, create several units each that add up to a complete, amazing, deep, rich online multimedia textbook.

Each year would see the completion of 50 textbooks. Over three or four years, these Department-sponsored teams would create 150 to 200 textbooks for common, key courses (e.g., Algebra I, Physics I, AP English, United States History, 5th grade reading) that are present in nearly every school district nationwide. Textbook content would be refreshed every three or four years to ensure content relevance and usage of the latest digital technologies. If the textbooks were wiki-based, much of the content could be revised and updated even before their refresh cycle came due.

Once created, these textbooks then could be hosted by the Department, state departments of education, and other entities or could be downloaded for hosting on local school district servers. Federal provision of these textbooks would free states and school districts to spend funds on laptops, classroom-level high-speed wireless connectivity, and other technologies necessary to ensure the global competitiveness of our students in the decades to come. All textbook material would be free and openly accessible to our nation's K-12 students and educators.

I hope that you can see the instructional power of teachers and students tapping into expert-created content delivered via the latest interactive, engaging digital technologies. Although a few organizations (e.g., Wikibooks or Curriki) are attempting to create free online textbooks or learning materials, their reliance on volunteers has resulted in relatively little progress. A strategic investment by the Department could make an extremely powerful contribution to the K-12 educational landscape and would be a powerful lever toward ensuring that all students had access to top-quality, engaging learning materials.

Please consider instituting a national online textbook initiative. I believe that this is an idea whose time has come and would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you.


Dr. Scott McLeod
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational
  Policy and Administration
Director, UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of
  Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE)
Affiliate Faculty, Law School
University of Minnesota