Over the past 15 years, the size and weight of K-12 textbooks has become a topic for debate and study. AAP’s analyses of this issue indicate that a variety of factors contribute to the “size and weight” issue:
- Since the mid-1990s nearly all of the states have established academic standards which in turn have lead to significant increases in textbook content. Today’s textbooks contain far more state-required content than books used prior to 1995. As a consequence, today’s textbooks contain many more pages.
- Manufacturing specifications set by states and school districts require very sturdy textbooks that will last for six or more years. These specifications determine the size of the textbook, the weight of the paper, and the thickness of the cover. The size and weight of textbooks is mandated by the customer – not the publisher.
- The education market (states and school districts) often require books to have many graphic elements such as color pictures, four-color images, charts, and graphs. These elements also add to the “page count” of textbooks.
- Today’s students are assigned more homework than student of previous generations. They routinely carry more textbooks back and forth from school to their home. In addition, some students carry laptop computers and other personal items. Together these items can add up to a heavy load.
- Many high school students do not use lockers. A 2001 study found that one-third of all high school students don’t use their lockers, which means they carry their books with them all day.
- Many students carry backpacks on one shoulder – not two. This practice leads to physical stress. Poorly designed and poorly padded backpacks are also factors.
Common Sense Solutions
The AAP School Division continues to work closely with the National Association of State Textbook Administrators (NASTA) and the Advisory Commission on Textbook Specifications (ACTS) to develop and recommend solutions. AAP has made the following recommendations:
- Urge teachers and students to plan homework assignments so that students are not required to bring home every textbook every night.
- Deliver content electronically. However, we need to be mindful that not every student has access to a computer at home or school.
- Purchase “classroom sets” so that students can keep a textbook at home and at school.
- Encourage schools to provide lockers and allow more time between classes so students can get to them.
- Train students how to properly carry backpacks. Student should use both straps and a waist strap. Carrying a backpack in one shoulder can lead to injury. All straps should be padded.
Since the late 1990s, more than two dozen states have either considered legislation restricting the size and weight of textbooks or created commissions to study the issue. Most states concluded that legislative action was either unnecessary or impractical.
Only two states – Georgia and California – passed legislation regarding the size and weight of textbooks.
- Georgia’s law requires that electronic copies of K-12 textbooks be made available for use by students.
- California Assembly Bill 2532 (Chapter 1096, Statutes of 2002) required the State Board of Education to adopt maximum weight standards for elementary and secondary school textbooks by July 1, 2004. The legislation required the board to take into consideration the health risks to students. Based on the study of current textbooks conducted by the California Department of Education and the recommendations of the Curriculum Commission, the board adopted the following threshold weights for requiring a lighter-weight option.
- Grades K-4: Three pounds.
- Grades 5-8: Four pounds.
- Grades 9-12: Five pounds.
Any textbooks that are over the recommended weight for the appropriate grade level will have to be accompanied by a lighter-weight option that districts could purchase for their students.
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