Think textbook prices are too damn high? Join Textbook Rebellion

We buy used college textbooks online from and Barnes and Noble whenever possible, but it’s not always feasible, especially when the materials include disks, software keys, and/or lab manuals. My daughter’s college French texts run more than $200. I felt relieved when my son’s textbooks only cost $150 this semester. I doubt that it will ever be that low again.

It’s obvious that there’s a lot of gouging going on, when textbook prices are rising at 400% the rate of inflation. Somebody ought to do something.

Well, somebody is, and they want you to join them. Textbook Rebellion has launched a website and petition drive to put pressure on both publishers and professors to rein in the costs of college texts, which can easily hit $1,000 a year.

From Textbook Rebellion’s website:

We the undersigned believe the following:

  • Textbooks should be affordable. Publishers should stop raising prices unfairly and offer a way to access each textbook for $30 or less per term without lowering quality.
  • High-quality, affordable textbooks already exist in many subjects. Professors can reduce costs by considering these options.
  • Open textbooks are an ideal solution, because they can be freely accessed, adapted and printed at a low cost. Decision-makers should prioritize support for open textbooks.

So far, about 2,500 people have signed the petition. Obviously, more signatures are needed. Visit the website. Share this post with your friends via Twitter and facebook. Let’s do something to stop the rampant profiteering and make college more affordable.

Professor quits after failing to get parking space

This story comes from Canada. Well, the guy is from Sackville.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Danford W. Middlemiss is done looking for parking at Canada’s Dalhousie University.

After waiting in line for more than an hour on Monday to purchase a parking pass — only to learn that all the passes had been sold and that he would have to return the next day — the political-science professor pulled the plug on his career of 31 years, according to an article on the CBC News Web site.

“I went straight upstairs, I said, ‘I’m not kidding this time, I don’t have to put up with this. I’m resigning,’” said Mr. Middlemiss.

Dalhousie, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, reportedly has 2,000 parking spaces for 17,000 students and 3,000 employees. It has traditionally oversold parking passes by 65 percent, meaning that they function more as hunting licenses than as parking permits. This year, however, the university was going to cap its overselling at 20 to 30 percent and add 200 guaranteed spots for motorists willing to pay a premium. Additionally, Dalhousie reportedly has long-term plans  for more bike racks, bus passes for staff, and a large parking garage.

It’s all too little, too late for Mr. Middlemiss, who said he always had to leave his home 10 miles away in Lower Sackville by 7 a.m. in order to be assured of finding parking before his 2:30 p.m. class. He said that he’d also tried parking in a Metro Transit lot 20 minutes from his home and taking a bus but that even that lot was often full.

At long last, a ranking of unranked colleges

Gawker (a satiric website) takes a dig at college rankings and especially The Daily Beast (which takes itself somewhat more seriously) by compiling its Rankings of the Unranked.  “The 25 Most Unranked Colleges in America,” which should be read mainly for laughs, includes Savannah’s Armstrong-Atlantic University and North Georgia’s Truett-McConnell College. Transylvania was included on the list, even though it is ranked fairly high by both U.S. News and Forbes. Must be the creepy-sounding name–but you’d think Twilight fans would put it at the top of their list.

For what it’s worth, here’s Gawker’s list of the nondescript:

The 25 Most Unranked Colleges in America

25. Transylvania University
24. Simpson College
23. University of Advancing Technology
22. Dixie State College of Utah
21. University of Maine- Presque Isle
20. Limestone College
19. Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing
18. Pennsylvania State University- Shenango
17. Medaille College
16. University of Wisconsin- Stout
15. Armstrong Atlantic State University
14. Truett-McConnell College
13. Chowan University
12. Our Lady of the Lake College
11. Wartburg Theological Seminary
10. Sul Ross State University
9. University of South Carolina- Aiken
8. Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science
7. Maharishi University of Management
6. Cogswell Polytechnical College
5. Oklahoma Panhandle State University
4. Divine Word College
3. Kent State University- Geauga
2. Sherman College of Chiropractic
1. Madonna University

There is no Superman, only kryptonite

This excerpt, from a guest column by a retired educator in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, neatly sums up our situation:

Public schools today are given failing grades by many members of the public and by politicians. The reasons given are many, ranging from incompetent teachers and administrators to inadequate funding and “forced” busing. Among the offered solutions are more testing, value-added assessment, prayer in the schools, more technology in the classroom, neighborhood schools, charter schools, year-round schools, longer school days, removal of tenure laws and the breaking up of teachers unions.

While some of these may help, none is the magic potion that will solve our dilemma. Many of our brightest students, with parents who are willing to spend the time, effort and funds to ensure their success, have been pulled out of the public schools. This began in the early 1960s as a response to school desegregation, then continued with the formation of conservative religious academies and the advent of homeschooling.

Today, it is not necessarily “white flight” or religious devotion that sends children to private schools. In many neighborhoods, it is simply “the thing to do.”. Sadly, when people are paying for private schools for their own families, there is less incentive to care about public institutions. The result is a distillation process in which more of the better students move to private education, leaving public schools to do the best they can with a student population of diminishing quality. This is not to suggest that there are not bright children with dedicated parents in public schools today, just that they constitute a significantly smaller fraction than in years past.

This is a strong argument against vouchers. Regardless of the stated intent of their proponents, the effect of school voucher programs would be a further degradation of public schools–a natural consequence of fewer parents caring about them. (Georgia’s private school tuition tax credit should be abolished both due to its drain on the state treasury and its adverse public policy impact.)  When elected officials promote such plans, I don’t think of it as “choice.” I think of it as a form of nihilism.

The scenario outlined in the excerpt above is especially true in my county (DeKalb, Georgia) where the underperforming  system is held in disrepute and the former superintendent awaits trial on racketeering charges. A recent “meet and greet” with the leading candidate to be the next school system’s candidate inspired a storm and fury of comment among parents on Atlanta’s most popular school blog, several of whom ended up sniping at each other. It is difficult to see the light at the end of DeKalb’s tunnel, but I hope that  Dr. Atkison can come in and turn things around.

There is no Superman, only kryptonite. And to make things better, we’ll have to treat it like asbestos, removing as much of the negative as we can before we can move forward. To make progress, we must also educate ourselves and our neighbors that if we expect schools to educate our children, we will all fail.  Schools are there to help us educate our children; schools are there to help children learn. That means to ball is always in our court.

Much is required of us, and if we ever make any real improvements, they must start with early childhood education, which means enlightening and assisting young parents (many of them single and poor) to help them help their children develop crucial skills and habits before they hit the schoolhouse door.


The sorry state of public school funding across the USA

This guest column is so dead-on and devastating, I’m reprinting it word for word. If they don’t like it, they can tow my blog. From the Aug. 25 edition of  The New York Times:

When Schools Depend on Handouts


EARLIER this month, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced that he and five other wealthy individuals had raised $1.5 million to reinstate the January Regents exams, which New York State had canceled because of budget cuts.

Although praiseworthy as a matter of personal philanthropy, the donation by the mayor and the others, whose names were not disclosed, is highly distressing as a matter of public policy. It is disgraceful that essential components of our public education system now depend on the charitable impulses of wealthy citizens.

At least 23 states have made huge cuts to public education spending this year, and school districts are scrambling to find ways to cope. School foundations, parent-teacher organizations and local education funds supported by business groups and residents contribute at least $4 billion per year to help public schools throughout the country.

In New York City, families and philanthropies are asked to pay for classroom supplies and music and art lessons. In Lakeland, Fla., a church provided $5,000 worth of supplies for an elementary school’s resource room, and paid for math and English tutors. The board of the Los Angeles Unified School District voted in December to accept corporate sponsorships and to allow the placement of corporate logos on cafeteria walls and in ball fields.

Many schools that have already reduced hours, increased class sizes and eliminated electives are also now charging fees for workbooks, use of lab equipment and other basic instructional materials; extracurricular activities long considered essential are now available only to students who can afford them.

In Medina, Ohio, The Wall Street Journal reported, it now costs $660 for a child to play on a high school sports team, $200 to join the concert choir and $50 to act in the school play. High school students in Overland Park, Kan., pay a $120 “activity programming fee” and a $100 “learning resources fee.” In Naperville, Ill., they are charged textbook and workbook fees, even for basic requirements like English and French, according to The Chicago Tribune.

In some cases, students from impoverished backgrounds are exempted from these payments if the class is required, but must pay for Advanced Placement courses or sports and other extracurricular activities. If they can’t pay, they miss out.

Public education was built on the philosophy articulated by Horace Mann, the Massachusetts reformer who pioneered the Common School: a system “one and the same for both rich and poor” with “all citizens on the same footing of equality before the law of land.” Today, that vision of equality is in jeopardy.

As anti-union sentiment continues to spread, politicians may wrongly assume that education cutbacks mainly affect the salaries and benefits of teachers. In reality, it is the students who pay the dearest price. Some California districts have reduced the number of days in the school year; in Miami, 4,500 students will be deprived of after-school programs this year; Texas has cut pre-kindergarten programs for 100,000 children. The poor are, unsurprisingly, disproportionately affected: Pennsylvania’s education cuts amounted to $581 per student in the poorest 150 school districts, but only $214 per student in the wealthiest 150 districts.

Not every state will have a Bloomberg to step in, not every school has a P.T.A. with the resources to help out, and not every child has a family that can afford fees. Depending on private contributions is inequitable and unconstitutional; public financing should fully support public education.

Most state constitutions, in fact, guarantee all students a sound, basic public education. These constitutional rights cannot be put on hold, even in tough times. It is unconstitutional to call on parents to pay for textbooks and lab fees for required courses. And art, music, sports, basic educational support services and many extracurricular activities that promote learning, creativity and character are not luxuries; they, too, are essential features of a sound, basic education.

California acknowledged as much last December when it settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging illegal school fees. Officials ordered school districts to halt the practice and to refund the fee money they had collected. While schools in California now must eliminate textbook and activity fees, affluent children whose parents can afford to reinstate teaching positions will continue to have more educational opportunities than their poorer counterparts.

A number of judges have begun to respond to the devastation in state education financing: in May, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature to reinstate $500 million in funds for poor urban districts, and last month, a North Carolina judge blocked cuts that would have decimated financing for a statewide preschool program.

The courts are doing their job, but litigation is time-consuming and expensive. Politicians have a constitutional obligation to protect public education. They need to ensure that adequate public funds are available, and the people need to hold them accountable for doing so.

Michael A. Rebell is the executive director and Jessica R. Wolff is the policy director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Author insists Chain Gang Elementary not ripped from headlines

 News Release

            For immediate release

N0vel Takes on Test Scandals, Culture Wars, Bake Sale Embezzlers

With its tale of PTA embezzlement and a testing scandal set against a backdrop of immigration crackdowns and bitter cultural wars, the plot of  Chain Gang Elementary (Thornbriar Press, $16.00, ISBN 978-0-9834921-0-8)  seems like it’s been ripped straight from today’s headlines.

Jonathan Grant insists his newly published novel isn’t a recent concoction, however. “I’ve been working on it off and on for more than ten years,” the Atlanta author states. “It’s just more timely now than ever. I didn’t predict testing scandals and rampant embezzlement. I just saw the potential for them, along with an unraveling of No Child Left Behind. And I’d like to say, if it’s not too late, ‘Hey kids, don’t cheat. Don’t steal. That’s grown-up stuff.’”

In explaining the book’s plot, Grant says, “Chain Gang Elementary is a tale of war between parents and administrators at a suburban grade school, with casualties. And jokes.” As for how the book got its title, Grant says, “It’s the unfortunate nickname Malliford Elementary gets after its principal institutes some ‘old-school’ discipline, enraging parents.”

Grant began writing Chain Gang Elementary when he was a PTA co-president at DeKalb County’s Evansdale School. “I was interested in publishing a non-fiction book—a how-to guide for parent leaders. Then I saw Murder at the PTA Luncheon. No, actually, while studying the subject, I came across this phrase, or something like it: ‘Every good school is fundamentally the same, but every bad school is unique.’ This got me thinking: Hmm. Unique is more interesting. Being a novelist, I decided instead to tackle the subject as a cautionary tale, a “how-not-to” guide for parent-educator relationships.”

As for being autobiographical, Grant laughs and says, “No way. I had a much better time of it than the book’s protagonist does.” Indeed, the book starts out on

Thornbriar Press News Release/ Page 2

an ominous note: “In the twelfth year of his marriage, sixteen months before the

shooting, twenty-one shopping days until Christmas, and eight hours before he reckoned for the tenth time that his wife didn’t love him, Richard Gray met a woman who would have roughly the same effect on his life a tornado has on a trailer park.”

Chain Gang Elementary has recently become available in stores and online. It will make its “official” debut during the Decatur Book Festival, Sept. 3-4 (Saturday and Sunday) at the Thornbriar Press booth near Starbucks on Ponce de Leon. Copies will be available for sale and signing. There will also be Chain Gang Coffee mugs with the book’s logo and Mark Twain’s famous quote; “In the beginning, God created idiots. This was for practice. Then He created School Boards.”

To learn more about this unique novel, visit Sample chapters are available for free download.

About the author: Jonathan Grant is an award-winning writer and editor (The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia). He publishes Georgia Colleges (, a news website covering educational issues. Grant grew up on a Missouri farm and graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English. He is a former newspaper journalist and served as a Georgia state government spokesman. He lives in suburban Atlanta with his family and has been PTA president at a five-star School of Excellence and an elected member of his local school council.

Chain Gang Elementary plot: After a fatal shooting at Bonaire Elementary, Richard and Anna Lee Gray seek a good, safe school for their son Nick in a nice, quiet neighborhood. Their search leads them to Malliford Elementary, a four-star “school of excellence.” When redistricting sends scores of minority students to Malliford, iron-willed Principal Estelle Rutherford declares war on kids to raise test scores and save her reputation. Dissident parents revolt, electing Richard to head the Parent-Teacher Organization, and tensions at the school explode. Welcome to Chain Gang Elementary, home to vast right-wing conspiracies, third-grade gangsters, and bake sale embezzlers—where toxic childhood secrets boil over, reformers go stark raving mad, and culture wars escalate into armed conflict.