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Per capita cost based on total school enrollment in free-textbook States (Table 1)...


Average price per book in elementary and secondary schools in New York
City (Tables 2 and 3)..........

Extent of free-textbook movement..

Laws relating to free textbooks (Table 4)..

Uniformity of textbooks.

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Comparative cost of required basal schoolbooks for elementary schools in uniform textbooks States (Table 5)..


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Digest of State laws relating to uniform textbooks (Table 7).


State uniformity....


Township uniformity..

County uniformity.


History of the State printing of textbooks in California...
State publication of textbooks in Kansas....


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By P. P. CLAXTON, Commissioner of Education.

In the elementary and secondary schools of the United States textbooks play a more important part than in similar schools of most other countries. In almost all subjects teachers and pupils depend on textbooks both for facts and for order or presentation. Few teachers correct errors in statements of facts; fewer still attempt to improve or are able to improve faulty arrangement of material or illogical or unpedagogical development of subjects treated. Lessons are assigned, learned, and recited in the order given in the books. The adoption of textbooks for use in any school or system of schools therefore determines in large degree the courses of study. Of the three factors in every school-building and equipment, teachers, and textbooks-it can hardly be said that textbooks constitute the factor of least importance. Frequently the textbook is the teacher, while the man or woman called the teacher is only a kind of taskmaster or policeman driving the children through the pages of the textbook. This is especially true of a large number of one-room country schools in which the teachers "hear the lessons" of from 25 to 35 classes a day, giving from 5 to 10 or 15 minutes to each lesson. It is therefore a matter of great importance that the best possible textbooks on all subjects of school study be put into the hands of teachers and children, and the methods by which this is attempted in the several States, cities, and individual schools must have interest for all school officers.

The cost of textbooks, like the cost of any other part of the schools, is also a matter of great interest, about which people at large have little accurate information and about which there is much wild speculation. It is frequently stated that the annual cost of textbooks for use in the public schools of some State of average size is many millions of dollars, and the legislators are told that by some new scheme of adoption and purchase of textbooks several millions might be saved annually to taxpayers or to parents. A careful study of the subject, however, shows that the total value of all textbooks manufactured and sold in the United States is not more than eighteen millions of dollars a year, and that the cost of textbooks for eighteen and one-half million children enrolled in the public elementary and higher schools of the United States is not more than fifteen million dollars a year, an average of about 80 cents for each child. This shows that the cost of textbooks is approximately 2 per cent of the total cost of the schools. If the value of the time of the children be counted as a part of the cost of education, then the cost of textbooks is only a fraction of 1 per cent of the total cost.

In view of the very important part which textbooks play in our schools and the insignificance of their cost as compared with the total cost of education, it would seem to be utmost folly to adopt books upon any other consideration except that of merit, or to fail to provide a means by which all children in the schools may be supplied promptly with all the books needed. Only in this way may we hope to obtain satisfactory returns from the time, money, and energy expended on the schools. When school boards remember that a difference of 10 per cent in the cost of textbooks means a difference of less than one dollar in a thousand of the total cost of education, they will hardly adopt inferior books or rely on any means of supplying books which involves any unusual risk of forcing inferior books upon the schools.

In their efforts to find the best methods for selecting textbooks and getting them into the schools, school officers and people will find much help in the results of a study of this subject made by Mr. A. C. Monahan, this bureau's specialist in rural school administration.




Furnishing textbooks at the expense of the community, free to the individual school children, is not a new idea in the United States. It began as a movement in city school administration nearly a century ago. Philadelphia made provisions for free textbooks in 1818. Other cities, principally in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts, soon followed. A list is included in this section, compiled from data published in the Report of the Commissioner of Education for 1902, giving the names of the larger cities and the dates when free textbooks were adopted. Only those are included which furnished books free before 1884, the year the first State-wide adoption was made. In addition it should be remembered that many smaller cities furnished free books before 1884.

Cities among the 159 largest in the United States adopting free textbooks previous to 1884.

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Massachusetts was the first State to pass a mandatory State-wide free-textbook law; this became effective in 1884. Before this date 16 towns were furnishing free books. The dates when similar laws were passed in the other 14 States where mandatory legislation is now in force are given in the table on page 10.

The movement for free textbooks is a logical part of the movement for free education. The idea that every boy and girl in the United States shall have an opportunity for an elementary and secondary school education seems to be firmly established; also the idea that the support of the schools where this opportunity is given shall be

1 See Report of Commissioner of Education, 1902, vol. 2, page 2390. The list there given is of the 159 cities in the United States with a population of 25,000 or over in 1900 which had free textbooks in 1902. The dates of adoption and the grades in which books were supplied are also given. According to this source 93 of the 159 citios furnished free textbooks.

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