Press Release

SPARC Offers Myths as FACTS

SPARC Offers Myths as FACTS

In searching for the truth, one should deeply question organizations that require resorting to falsehoods to create their narrative. The new inclusive access misinformation site, developed by SPARC and their backers, weaponizes myths surrounding inclusive access to confuse consumers trying to make the best choice for their education.

For the past ten years, publishers have forged ahead with a twin focus on quality and affordability, leading to a significant decrease in the cost of course materials. In addition, publishers have been able to provide students with innovative new products that increase accessibility, decrease expenses, and provide them with a broad spectrum of options to choose from. However, this new SPARC site uses myths to conceal the progress publishers have made, while pushing fake “facts” to create a false storyline surrounding inclusive access.

Through their website, SPARC pushes a series of fictions easily dispelled with real facts published by research groups Student Watch and Student Monitor, as well as by the College Board itself. First, SPARC claims the cost of college course materials has risen over the past twenty years. This is simply untrue. Recent surveys from two different groups, Student Watch and Student Monitor, found a 36% drop in the amount students spend on course materials over the past decade.

SPARC also makes the incorrect claim that Inclusive Access constrains faculty ability to choose course materials. In reality, Inclusive Access is extremely popular precisely because its flexibility encourages academic freedom for faculty: programs can be implemented on a department level, but they can also be provided on a course-by-course basis, or even by course section.

SPARC falsely asserts that Inclusive Access limits student choice, but students are always able to opt-out, and the truth is that there is a robust market for used books and rentals for students to choose from, as supported by data from Student Watch.

Kelly L. Denson is Vice President of Education Policy and Programs at the Association of American Publishers and a former teacher.

SPARC argues that American students should be forced into a one-size-fits all solution of taxpayer funded OER when it comes to course materials. There is no question that high quality, innovative and constantly updated course materials offered by American publishers are critical to education, and in the case of some of the most iconic and groundbreaking works available, admired around the world.

Despite SPARC’s rhetoric, it is clear to everyone in the education ecosystem that faculty and students need access to first rate, professional course materials and need the freedom to choose the materials that work best for them, both in terms of quality and affordability. Indeed, the Inclusive Access programs that SPARC attacks are an increasingly popular option because they deliver on both fronts.

SPARC’s website relies on the idea that students are paying more for their course materials, and Inclusive Access contributes to that, but the data shows this is simply untrue. The facts matter, and data published by the College Board, Student Monitor, and Student Watch, shows students are spending less than ever.

While we’re always open to honest debate, we find it disheartening that SPARC has chosen to resort to disinformation to make its point. SPARC should ask themselves why their arguments rely on faulty facts as a driving force. And we should all be wary of the intention behind sites that make such obvious attempts to mislead the public.

Press Release

Education Publishers Focus on Quality, Affordability and Accessibility Made Learning Possible During Pandemic

The 2020-2021 academic year presented incoming students with the unprecedented challenge of learning in a new virtual environment. Many students – and some educators – felt unprepared and unsure of how they might access the materials they needed to succeed in this virtual learning environment. Without the ability to access libraries, classrooms, and physical materials, students, teachers, and parents alike were faced with the question of how to best serve students and set them up for success.

But as professors, teachers and students made the move to remote learning, publishers had their backs, with a wide range of new, online course materials that helped to alleviate some of the stress that accompanied this unusual – and rather unsettling — online school year. Education publishers were uniquely positioned to meet the moment and invest in change. As an industry, publishers have spent decades shifting first-rate content and learning solutions to a variety of innovative formats that better enable students to learn and succeed from anywhere at any time.

Here is some important background: in recent years, education publishers have focused on quality and affordability, as well as on ensuring that students have easy access, when creating education materials. Quality has, of course, always been a watchword for education publishers, who invest heavily – and annually – in ensuring that education materials are up to date, and top quality.

When it comes to affordability, publishers have embraced a wide array of new, affordable digital choices, including digital rentals, and inclusive access programs, that have helped fuel a phenomenal 36% decline in student spending on course materials over the past decade, according to independent researchers Student Watch and Student Monitor. In contrast to the overall rise in tuition and other college costs, the decrease in student spending on course materials is a rare bright spot, making the efforts of publishers more than a little noteworthy.

Kelly L. Denson is Vice President of Education Policy and Programs at the Association of American Publishers and a former teacher.

Because the focus on digital options isn’t new – publishers have been developing these materials for many years now — some instructors were already well versed in using digital alternatives when teaching, giving them a great advantage in switching to virtual instruction at the beginning of the pandemic.

To quote Donna Vandegrift, Dean of Rowan College at Burlington County,

“As a Dean, when COVID hit, we definitely had to readjust in a lot of ways. My division was uniquely prepared to pivot to support our students as they were learning remotely because we were using a lot of inclusive access materials. Our students and our faculty therefore had easy access to materials. Because our students and our faculty were familiar with the materials, they were able to readjust quickly to provide learning opportunities for their students in a remote environment. Students already knew what to do, and they were ready to do it. And our faculty didn’t need to take time to readjust. All of those new materials were easily accessible for the students and for the faculty.”

We’re proud that publishers made a positive academic experience possible during the pandemic, and even more proud that they make quality, affordability and accessibility their watchwords year in, and year out, making every academic year better, and some academic years – like the one we just had – possible.

VIDEO: Multi-Year Decline in Spending on Course Materials

INFOGRAPHIC: Student Watch Report

INFOGRAPHIC: FACT v. FICTION: Student Spending on Course Materials

Press Release

Publishers Meet the Moment: Creating Solutions for K-12 Education

It is around this time of the year that the days seem shorter and the air slightly cooler, all signs that summer is drawing to an end and fall is inching closer. Typically, the Nation’s K-12 students would be trading their summer freedoms for the classroom setting, ready for new academic challenges and excited to reunite with teachers and peers.

But this fall is anything but typical. As schools remain adversely and profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and students are picking up where they left off last spring— uprooted from the familiarity of their classrooms, abruptly forced to abandon their daily routines, teaching styles, learning strategies and social interactions. With entire school communities now immersed in remote education, publishers have joined stakeholders from across the education ecosystem, including teachers, students and parents, to incorporate lessons learned as well as unique digital opportunities.

How will such changes come about, exactly? How do we apply lessons learned with the least disruption possible? Although many countries hard hit by COVID-19 have a national education system—making the question of when and how to reopen schools a top-down decision—it is important to remember that education in the United States is governed at state and local levels.  Response plans are therefore governed by community-specific factors, including local infection rates and diverging political perspectives, which make for a spectrum of decisions across the country.

New York and California, for example, home to our two largest school districts, have enacted very different laws and policies. Citing a record low infection rate, New York’s Governor granted permission for any school to conduct in-person instruction, with the caveat that local officials and superintendents must first submit their plans to the State’s education and health departments for approval. New York also mandates contingencies for every mode of instruction – in-person, remote, or hybrid — and insists that the school’s positivity rate must remain below five percent for in-person instruction to continue. By contrast, California is basing decisions on whether a school’s county appears on a list designed to track infection rates. If a school’s county remains off the list for two weeks, that school will be eligible to open for in-person learning provided the infection rate remains below five percent. Other urban school districts, including Washington, DC, will begin with remote instruction in the fall, with non-specific plans to eventually transition to a hybrid model later in the term. Meanwhile, Florida and Texas have actively encouraged schools to reopen for in-person learning.

Within this dynamic system, education publishers are uniquely positioned to meet the moment and invest in change. As an industry, publishers have spent decades shifting rich content and learning solutions to a variety of innovative formats that better enable students to learn and succeed from anywhere at any time. Always at the forefront of online education, publishers today offer a variety of digitally interactive content, assessment tools, and learning platforms, as well as customizable tools that help teachers connect with their students, monitor their progress and administer tests. And publishers continue to develop new eBooks, adaptive learning tools, apps, simulations, interactive labs, and other types of education software and instructional materials to drive personalized and self-directed learning.

Will change be immediate in K-12 education?  No, of course not, and nor will it be uniform or static. But as publishers pivot—and help their partners and customers to pivot—here are a few issues that should be top of mind for the foreseeable future:

Teacher Training and Instruction:  In the absence of a physical classroom, teachers are confronted with the challenge of providing intellectually challenging work in which students learn how to think critically by analyzing text, drawing conclusions, and performing complex math problems and task. This will require creativity and potentially a new skill set for many teachers, especially as they shift to new multimedia content, modalities, and platforms, made more challenging by a virtual classroom setting and varying levels of student ability. As conditions continue to shift and the demand for better virtual classrooms builds, schools will be tasked with identifying and securing both the appropriate content and the appropriate technology to ensure all students have a quality online learning experience.

Student Engagement:  While interaction with high-quality curricular resources contributes to a student’s academic success, so too does a student’s level of interpersonal engagement with their teachers and peers. In a virtual setting, teachers must build and maintain rapport with students they may never see in person, making the normally routine monitoring of a student’s academic, social and emotional wellbeing vastly challenging.  As teachers work to bridge this gap,  they will need not only great content but a wide variety of creative tools and technologies to foster all types of connections including one-to-one, peer-to-peer, small groups and full class interactions. Equally important is finding ways to reach students with disabilities and special needs whose learning is somewhat dependent on hands-on activity and face-to-face instruction. Such interactions  are a vital part of the learning process and critical to an individual’s academic success.

Equity and the Digital Divide: The inequity in learning that exists for those who do not have internet connectivity, a device, or both, has troubled the school community and policymakers for far too long.  In a pre-COVID context, educators could find temporary fixes through library resources, shared or borrowed laptops and wireless connections offered by local businesses.  There are current federal and state initiatives underway to expand broadband access in schools, libraries and at home; and to provide more WIFI hotspots and digital devices to the underserved communities. But in the interim, schools will need support from all parts of the education ecosystem if they are to reach students who simply aren’t connected to the Internet or are without devices.

Learning Loss and Assessment:  The gap in learning that began last spring might be the most pressing issue for teachers, students and parents. It will be a challenging fall for teachers as they work to identify students who are behind and devise solutions to get them back on track. School districts will need to support more tutoring, more tailored content, and more tools, such as  digital polling, hand-raising, chat rooms and chat boards. To educate a student, schools will not only need to spend more time on assessment, but also more time building individual student confidence so that grade-level competencies and other success stays within reach. And teachers will need better and more efficient diagnostic tools to address learning loss.

While the issues outlined above are challenging for all involved, they can be mitigated by the public-private partnerships that have served education so well for so long.  Less clear is the impact that diminishing state revenues will have on learning objectives, driven by a slow economy that has put an enormous strain on school budgets.  What we do know is that, depending on whether the annual budget was set before or after COVID, states may be forced to make up for the shortfall by funding cuts to education either now or in anticipation of shortages in future budget cycles, which could be a year or two from now. Moreover, while stimulus funding in some cases has been stabilizing, it does not address the expected multi-year shortfall predicted by experts. At any rate, funding is decreasing while the demand for health and safety equipment/services as well as investments to support remote learning is increasing.  All of the above has potential longterm effects on a student’s academic, emotional and physical well-being.

We are at a moment when traditional teaching and learning practices may be out of reach or inapplicable, requiring more creative approaches to augment the remote learning experience. It is imperative that we improve, enhance or fix parts of the system that aren’t working but it is also a moment, rather an opportunity, to embrace new teaching skills and new learning technologies that may serve to reinvent K12 education in the near future.  Publishers will pivot, and in doing so will help their partners in the education system do the same.

Kelly L. Denson is Vice President of Education Policy and Programs at the Association of American Publishers and a former teacher.