Press Release

How to Trouble Isaac Newton

How to Trouble Isaac Newton

Since 1976, the AAP has sponsored the PROSE Award for Excellence in Physical Sciences & Mathematics. Every year, upwards of 20 judges spend our precious hours reading about the mineralogy of meteorites, or the ecosystems of California, or solutions to boundary-value problems in diffusion science (to name but a few of the recent winning topics). You may ask, why does AAP offer this prestigious award for Physical Sciences & Mathematics? To my mind, the answer is simple. The world needs more great science books and great science books deserve to be celebrated. You may not immediately agree with that statement, but hear me out.

First, a small philosophical digression.

Ever since Heraclitus, humanity’s deep thinkers have doubted the capacity of the human mind to comprehend the mysteries of the cosmos. In the modern era, proponents of a position known as mysterianism have followed this line of argument, suggesting that the solutions to certain “hard problems” (most notably, how consciousness somehow arises from physical processes in the brain) lie beyond the cognitive reach of Homo sapiens. After all, they say, everything we are, biologically speaking, is the result of a random process of evolution. Unless our distant ancestors were assisted in spreading their genes by a deep knowledge of the workings of the universe, why should we expect that evolution would have endowed our brains with such esoteric capabilities?

There are others who find this to be an overly pessimistic view. Having identified a mystery, are we not already on the path to solving it? The philosopher Daniel Dennett puts it this way: “As soon as you frame a question that you claim we will never be able to answer, you set in motion the very process that might well prove you wrong: you raise a topic of investigation.” Speaking for myself, a mere mortal with a limited grasp of these questions, I confess to (a) a headache brought on by thinking too hard and (b) a preference for the latter, more optimistic, approach.

What has all this got to do with books? Well, if hard problems are hard to think about, they are even harder to write about. And if you can’t write about them in a convincing way, your ideas are unlikely to gain much traction. Compelling writing is no less important in the scientific realm than it is in works of literature, say, or young adult fiction. In the sciences, I would argue, books (or, to use a more scholarly descriptor, monographs) provide the ideal setting for the careful laying out of a complex argument. Journal articles, with all their constraints and conventions and need for speed, are simply not suited to this purpose; they serve a rather different function in the research ecosystem.

As an exemplar of the power of the scientific monograph, I direct your attention to the winner of the 2021 PROSE Award for Excellence in Physical Sciences & Mathematics: David Merritt’s A Philosophical Approach to MOND: Assessing the Milgromian Research Program in Cosmology, published by Cambridge University Press. If this seems a challenging topic, see above, and I don’t propose to go into too much detail here. Just bear with me through the next paragraph.

Sean Pidgeon, is a 2022 PROSE Award Judge, editor of the 2009 PROSE Awards R.R. Hawkins Award Winner, and Senior Editor at Association of Computing Machinery

In brief, MOND refers to Modified Newtonian Dynamics, a theory advanced by the physicist Mordehai Milgrom as an alternative explanation for an apparent anomaly in the dynamics of galaxies. The speed at which stars or gas clouds orbit at a certain distance from the galactic center can be predicted by applying Newton’s laws of gravity and motion, given the observed distribution of mass in the galaxy. Astrophysical measurements have shown that this holds true near the centers of most large galaxies, but perplexing deviations begin to appear farther out in the galactic disk: the orbital speed is found to be systematically larger than that predicted by Newton’s laws. In the “standard model” of cosmology, this observation is explained by assuming that galaxies are embedded in haloes of “dark matter,” a mysterious substance that has never been directly observed. By contrast, the MOND theory posits the radical idea that Newton’s laws are themselves modified in regions of very low mass density, such as the outer reaches of galaxies.

Is MOND an accurate description of what’s really going on, or should we stick with invisible dark matter? I have no idea, and Merritt does not claim to have answered that question definitively. What he does demonstrate, though, is the value of a carefully reasoned long-form scientific argument. Constructed with exquisite care over 270 pages and beautifully written for its intended audience, his book builds its argument with devastating logic. A glance at the reviews shows that even the skeptics are impressed with the way he develops his thesis. As a physics graduate myself (though in ancient times), I confess that I found the book entirely gripping, despite having to skim over some of the really complicated stuff. In some distant foggy recess of my brain, I am still pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, and wondering whether modified Newtonian dynamics might have a part to play in that.

If Sir Isaac Newton is furrowing his brow, that’s got to be a good thing: it’s how the hard problems get solved. And so, in closing, here’s my heartfelt plea to the deep thinkers of the world: write more books like this, please. And to my fellow science publishers: publish more books like this, please, and don’t forget to submit them for the PROSE Awards. If we work together, maybe we can keep those pessimistic mysterians in their place.

Press Release

A League of Their Own: Non-Fiction Graphic Novels

A League of Their Own: Non-Fiction Graphic Novels

When was the last time you read a graphic novel? And when you think of them, do you think of Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes, Batman and Superman, or webcomics like xkcd?

While many people associate graphic novels or graphic narratives with comics, the truth is that these robust works are often used to explore a wide range of complex topics, including scholarly analysis of historical events, educational materials related to science and medicines, memoirs, and biographies. Although scholarly graphic novels frequently tackle the same serious subjects that are found in traditional books, readers engage with them a different way.

In fact, Graphic narratives are often used in educational settings as a way of encouraging reluctant readers. They’re usually seen as fun, especially to those who view reading a book as onerous. But it would be a mistake to say that these works are ‘simple’ when compared to text driven publications. On the contrary, by using a combination of visual and verbal communication, these works are quite complex, simultaneously engaging multiple literacies. As a result, they can be used to convey information or emotion more effectively to the reader.

Recognizing the growing importance of graphic novels, last year the Association of American Publishers created the Nonfiction Graphic Novels category for the annual PROSE Awards. This category recognizes the creativity and innovation in publishing graphic narratives and showcases the best of the genre.

Judging from the submissions we received for the 2021 PROSE Awards, the first year with the Nonfiction Graphic Novels category, publishers are making good use of the format. One great example is Witness to the Age of Revolution: The Odyssey of Juan Bautista Tupac Amaru, published by Oxford University Press and authored by Charles F. Walker and Liz Clarke, which won the category last year. Part of OUP’s Graphic History series, the work follows the life of Juan Bautista Tupac Amaru, from his participation in the unsuccessful Tupac Amaru Rebellion in the Peruvian Andes, through his imprisonment following the revolution, brutal forced travel, first across the Andes and then across the Atlantic, and eventual release and return to South America decades later.

Chronicling the experiences of Bautista, Walker and Clarke engage the reader through a hybrid approach of nontraditional narrative of the Age of Revolution, filled with highly detailed illustrations, followed by a traditional narrative with additional details of the same story, and then primary sources. Witness to the Age of Revolution is well researched and structured in such a way that it nearly writes itself into a course syllabus.

Sara Kern is a 2022 PROSE Awards Judge and Student Success & Outreach Librarian at Juniata College

As a librarian who often advocates for the use of graphic narratives in college classrooms, I like to refer to them as “sneaky vegetables”: students are often excited and, anecdotally, say they are more likely to read the graphic narrative on the syllabus. Even though they think of it as fun reading, they still engage with the material in a meaningful way.

While works like Witness to the Age of Revolution lend themselves well to classroom use, graphic narratives are not valued simply for their educational uses. The 2021 PROSE finalist, Light in Dark Times: The Human Search for Meaning, published by University of Toronto Press and authored by Alisse Waterson and illustrated by Charlotte Corden, brings together art and anthropology and asks the reader to reflect on their place and purpose in the in the world at this moment. Part of University of Toronto Press’ ethnoGRAPHIC series, the work is based on Waterson’s 2017 speech at the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference, the work offers those not present for the address the opportunity to engage with the work in a different way – in the graphic narrative, the reader is able to join Corden and Waterson, traveling together through space and time to meet more than a dozen writers and activists and engage in conversation with them, while presenting a call for action to create a new future.

I love graphic narratives because they’re fun, but also because they challenge me to engage with material I might not otherwise read. I’m excited to learn from this year’s submissions.

Press Release

Uniquely Accessible

Uniquely Accessible

“Accessible” has to be one of the best back-handed compliments: “Oh, you’ll enjoy that book; it’s very accessible.”  Wait, is that a crack at the book, or a crack at you? But accessibility in the sense of availability and appeal to a wide audience is hardly a shortcoming in the mind of a book acquisitions editor or an art director. Trade book publishers, in that sense, thrive on accessibility and make the Outstanding Work by a Trade Publisher PROSE Awards category uniquely rewarding.

Steven Heffner is 2022 PROSE Awards Judge and Managing Director Publications, IEEE

Appeal is not a disqualifier for significance, and Trade publishers have always been major contributors to scholarship. In the current publishing and academic environment, I would even venture to say that Trade publishers have a unique and essential role to play, bringing vital perspectives and distinct advantages, qualities that are helping to balance and propel professional scholarly work.

First, we rely on Trade Publishers to strike notes with current resonance. Academia tends to remain aloof from what it perceives as transient cultural trends, maintaining a distance social phenomena deemed temporary, passing. The Trade is not bound by this particular pretense. Indeed, the Trade Publishing industry thrives on being au courant, which means its contributions are often highly relevant to the current cultural moment and, at their best, help to contextualize and define as-yet undefined areas of exploration.

In 2020, the PROSE Award for Outstanding Work from a Trade Publisher went to W.W. Norton & Company for Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall. Hall’s extensively researched work tells the story of three sisters springing from the Southern establishment who are carried by the currents and eddies of American social thought and geographic migrations to very different vocational end points. Among many other things, the story speaks dramatically to our current moment of splintered political discourse, suggesting that our rifts can be viewed in the context of America’s ongoing intellectual development, almost beckoning us back from the edge of apocalyptic interpretations of our political state. The use of rigorous scholarship to tell a politically or socially relevant story—one that is made more impactful precisely because of its meticulously documented factual detail—is a vital contribution from the Trade publishers.

Another space we look to the Trade to fill in professional and scholarly publishing is a widening gap of scholarship’s own making. Ever-increasing specialization and the curation and indexing technologies that drive professional communities into narrow and isolated channels have diminished the opportunity for (and benefits of) serendipity and cross-pollination, particularly in science but in the humanities as well. Unconstrained by rigid conventions manifest in the academy, the Trade Publishing industry has the luxury of a broader view, one that can take a chance on cross currents and meta-conclusions.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan and the 2019 PROSE Award winner for Outstanding Work from a Trade Publisher, published Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, which weaves author Lisa Margonelli’s experience following researchers in biology, computer science, robotics, and natural history into an unassuming work of observation with strong contributions to engineering ethics, the history of science and even epistemology and philosophy of mind.  It’s a fine example of the Trade Publishing industry’s ability to apply an unorthodox perspective on scholarly pursuits to produce interdisciplinary insights.

I’m personally looking forward to the submissions from the Trade publishers this year. What emerging issues will get a unique spotlight? What serendipitous encounters are being synthesized? I for one will relish the “accessible” insights.

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

Ginsburg, Scalia, and Possibly Barrett, on Copyright

As I write, the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death, like her life, was an extraordinary American story.  A pioneering scholar, lawyer, and jurist throughout her career, Ginsburg—the beloved RBG—was dedicated to the principle of equal justice for all people.  She smashed glass ceilings until the very end, becoming the first woman in the history of the United States to lie in State at the Capitol, the first Jewish-American to do so, and only the second Supreme Court Justice to do so after William Howard Taft, who had also served as President. 

The publishing industry, devoted as we are to the democratic exchange of ideas, owes more than a debt of gratitude to Justice Ginsburg for her unwavering commitment to the gender equalities, minority protections, and LGBTQ rights that have given voice to new leaders and fresh perspectives in the 21st century.  We are also grateful for her copyright leadership on the bench, which was clear, consistent, and straightforward.  Indeed, as a jurist, Ginsburg repeatedly upheld the Constitutional basis of copyright law, the plain meaning of the statute, the right of Congress to amend the statute, and the overall importance of a well-functioning copyright system to free speech and the dissemination of knowledge.   

Assuming Judge Barrett joins the Supreme Court, we have little to go on regarding her views or disposition towards copyright jurisprudence, but what we do know is this:  Barrett is a conservative scholar who embraces the strict judicial perspectives of Justice Scalia.  “His judicial philosophy is mine, too,” Barrett has said of her mentor, “A judge must apply the law as written.” 

If confirmed, it is possible that Barrett will look to Ginsburg’s copyright decisions as guideposts, a proposition that is more than theoretical if one considers that Scalia joined every copyright decision that Ginsburg authored during their mutual service on the Court.  Although the pair famously disagreed on judicial philosophy—Scalia devoted to original text and Ginsburg devoted to a living Constitution—they were mainly aligned on questions of copyright interpretation.  The alignment may have had something to do with their shared interest in the opera and other arts, but more likely had to do with the fact that the Copyright Act has clear Constitutional origins and extensive statutory text.

While serving alongside Scalia, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in four copyright cases and a major dissent in another, all of which Scalia joined.  Two of her opinions—Golan v. Holder and Eldred v. Ashcroft—involved Constitutional challenges against the government, which she handily shut down. 

The 2012 Golan case questioned the authority of Congress to restore lapsed copyrights in certain foreign works as part of an intergovernmental negotiation.  In rejecting an assertion that copyright amendments must be limited to provisions that incentivize new authorship, Ginsburg explained that Congress has wide latitude to create a copyright regime that achieves the overall objectives of the Copyright Clause, including creating international agreements.  She expressly rejected the assertion that copyright is singularly about new authorship, noting that even from the earliest days of the United States, the Framers were focused not only on authorship, but also on other issues, such as publication and dissemination.  Scalia agreed.

Nearly a decade earlier, the Court’s 2003 decision in Eldred upheld Congress’ decision to extend copyright term by 20 years, a premise that petitioners had challenged under both the Copyright Clause and the First Amendment.  Rejecting both arguments, Ginsburg explained that “copyright’s limited monopolies are compatible with free speech principles” and “copyright’s purpose is to promote the creation and publication of free expression.”  Scalia signed on.

Although Scalia did not take the pen on copyright decisions, he voted with Ginsburg in every case where she controlled the pen.  In 2001, he joined her very first copyright opinion for the Court in New York Times v. Tasini.  Her opinion rejected the premise that publishers could republish authors’ print articles in a database without further permission, because the database did not meet the statutory definition of a revised collective work.   

In 2014, in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Scalia joined Ginsburg in rejecting the equitable doctrine of laches, after a movie studio claimed that it was unfair for a copyright owner (the heir of the author who wrote the screenplay for Raging Bull) to delay the filing of her lawsuit over many years.  Ginsburg refused to curtail the copyright owner’s relief, noting that the suit was properly filed within the statutory window, and that it is wholly reasonable under the Copyright Act for a copyright owner to consider the defendant’s profits in deciding whether and when to file suit.   

Of course, Ginsburg didn’t always write for the majority, and Scalia parted ways with his colleague on a couple of occasions.  In 2009, both Justices supported the Court’s unanimous opinion penned by Justice Souter in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer v. Grokster (the famous file-sharing case), but Scalia did not go so far as to join Ginsburg’s deep dive concurrence into the Ninth Circuit’s misapplication of the Sony Betamax case. 

More puzzling—and more extreme because of the defendant’s purposeful efforts to elude the Copyright Act—was Scalia’s dissent in the 2014 case American Broadcasting Company v. Aereo, which was the final copyright case of his career.  Here, Scalia declined to join Justices Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan in finding Aereo liable for retransmitting television content over the Internet without permission.  In his dissent, joined by Thomas and Alito, Scalia rejected the premise that Aereo performed like a cable system under the Copyright Act, calling the majority’s reasoning, “guilt by resemblance.” Pointing to Congress, he quipped, “it is not our job to apply laws that have not yet been written.”

Ginsburg’s only copyright dissent came in the 2013 publishing case Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons.  Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, declined to stop an unauthorized seller from importing textbooks into the United States, although it was clear that the publisher had manufactured and priced the books specifically and solely for foreign markets.  Rejecting the majority’s reasoning, Ginsburg said that both the text and legislative history of the Copyright Act made clear that Congress had enacted a national, not international, first sale doctrine.  True to form, Scalia joined Ginsburg’s dissent, except for the parts where she discussed legislative history. 

Copyright questions are not a part of Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings, as the Senate is focused as it should be on both her qualifications and pervading questions of religion, healthcare, and social justice.  But if Barrett is confirmed, it is inevitable that she will hear copyright cases on any number of issues, from exclusive rights to fair use to first sale.  If so, Barrett would be exceptionally well-served by looking to the wisdom, clarity, and precedent of Ginsburg’s writings, as their mutual friend and colleague would surely have agreed.

Maria A. Pallante is President and CEO of AAP and a former Register of Copyrights.  She appreciates the research assistance of law clerk Renata C. Mitchell, a student at the George Washington University Law School.

Press Release

Guest Post: Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid and Former Register Maria Pallante Discuss Oracle v. Google

I recently spoke with former Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante about the copyright case Google v. Oracle America pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Maria served for more than 10 years as U.S. Copyright Office senior counsel, including nearly six years at the helm of the Office as Register of Copyrights until 2016. She is currently the President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which filed an amicus curiae brief in the case. The Copyright Alliance filed a brief as well.

In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copying and distributing huge amounts of Oracle’s popular Java SE Code in its Android phones, alleging a number of serious claims including copyright infringement. Following several procedural developments in the case, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sided with Oracle in 2014, reversing a district court opinion and jury determination in favor of Google.

To be clear, Google admits that it copied Oracle’s code without permission — more than 11,000 lines of code! In its filings with the Supreme Court, it continues to make two sweeping arguments, one asserting fair use and the other questioning the copyrightability of Java Code.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask Maria’s legal opinions regarding the case – check it out on the Copyright Alliance blog here.

Keith Kupferschmid is President and CEO of the Copyright Alliance.

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.