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Christine Quinn Wants to Replace Textbooks with Tablets

By Jill Colvin | January 15, 2013 12:33pm

WEST VILLAGE — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to make school textbooks a thing of the past.

The all-but-declared mayoral candidate announced a plan Tuesday to replace all public school kids’ textbooks with tablets loaded with material available online.

"Technology has changed what we need to teach, and it's also changed how we need to teach," said Quinn during a speech outlining her education vision at the New School Tuesday morning.

According to Quinn, the Department of Education already spends $100 million a year on text books — enough to buy a tablet for every one of the city's more than 1 million students.

The savings would also cover the cost of equipping tablets with open-source texts and other interactive programs, which are already available for free, staffers said.

During the speech, Quinn also called for longer school days at low-income schools, a stronger focus on literacy and more parental involvement, which she insisted "isn't just some abstract, kumbaya idea that makes people feel good."

She proposed a new CompStat-style tracker to log parents' calls to the 311 system, and a new online "Parent University" where parents can access information about city schools and tools to help their kids.

Quinn said the inspiration came from her favorite online shoe-shopping site, Zappos, which prides itself on standout customer service.

"If Zappos can bring that level of commitment and urgency when they're dealing with shoes, the greatest city in the world should be able to do the same thing for our parents and children," she said.

Quinn also called for a new "red alert" system that would identify struggling schools faster, so that more support could be directed their way. She criticized the Bloomberg administration for rushing to shut schools too quickly — something that many education advocates and the teachers' union have tried to halt.

She also criticized the administration for an over-emphasis on testing, and vowed to bar companies from testing trial questions on city kids, which can add nearly two extra days to test-taking.

"We pay companies like Pearson millions of dollars to administer the standardized test," she said. "I think they can afford to test new questions without dumping the burden on our children and on our teachers."

The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the plans.