California Mandates Lighter Textbooks
In an analysis of the "overweight backpack phenomena" published on the AAP's Web site, Driesler also attributes the problem to the elimination of lockers at many schools, and that many kids wear backpacks improperly (for example, slung over one shoulder).
Consultant Thurau acknowledges the extra weight non-textbook items pile on, but says limiting textbook weights is "an important first step." Textbook publishers are challenged to comply with the California law, once the maximum weight limits and compliance deadlines are set.
Publishing industry leaders and lawmakers are exploring several options. One idea on the table calls for schools to inventory two sets of textbooks. One set would remain at students' homes, another in classrooms.
Other options: Divide books into multiple lightweight volumes, or make all content electronic via CD-ROMs, DVDs, or the Web. One radical idea calls for cutting the educational content, though few experts advocate this alternative.
Drawbacks to these ideas abound. Duplicating textbooks doubles the cost to school districts, many of which are already financially strapped. "Obviously this may not be an affordable option for some school districts," Thurau says.
Splitting textbooks into multiple volumes would drive up production, packaging, and distribution costs, which would be passed along to school districts.
"A typical 750-page textbook costing $50, divided into two volumes, could cost five to eight dollars more," says Driesler of AAP. "This is a 10% to 15% increase in the cost for exactly the same quantity of content."
Putting content on the Internet, CD, or DVD shifts the increased cost from the school districts to parents. Students would be required to own and maintain a late model computer. E-publishing also raises technology access issues.
"Until the digital divide can be completely eliminated, there are major equity problems in relying on electronic delivery of content," Driesler says.
There is an obvious solution that addresses the problem quickly and cost-effectively: cut the paper, binding, and cover material weights. Of those, paper weight is the largest factor contributing to textbook weight.