Scandal of the Schoolbooks

teen talking on cellphone in bookstoreIt started with a boycott of cottage cheese. Next were protests against high apartment prices and rentals. Then there was daycare, baby items (!) and now electricity. Israelis are protesting high prices everywhere. I’m not sure there is an easy way to solve most of these problems. Health care is cheap here but apartments are not. Vegetables are cheap but dairy products are not. There are issues with corruption and cartels, yet we have  a stable economy and low unemployment. The protesters seem to want the government to control prices, and have taxpayer money subsidize most of our basic needs. While I understand the motives for the protests, the ramifications concern me.

I’m no economic expert but I do know about the unnecessarily high cost of textbooks. I’ve been buying schoolbooks for 15 years now—I’ve written several posts on the topic—and this is the worst year ever.

The problems with elementary school texts remain the same. Too many workbooks with heavy covers, thick paper and colored pictures that require just enough writing to make it difficult to pass on to a younger child. There are always a few pages that require cutting, too. I had a few books for my 3rd grader as they didn’t change the series, but still ended up laying out around NIS 800 between the two of them including the cost of a few used editions. The article says that from a random list for a fifth grader, only five of  seventeen books were available used.

But the bigger problems this year were in high school. They completely changed the math curriculum for junior and high school. Because my older 4 kids were born within 7 years  I’ve been saving these books, which tend to cost about NIS 100 each. I ended up sending nine kilograms of books to the recycling bin. When I tried my luck with another ten or so used books in different subjects, only two were sellable. I got NIS 25. I heard that the math books are good for alternative explanations or extra practice questions so if you want one of these books, ask on your local email list or stand outside the local bookstore.

I just noticed that in 2006 I wrote: “The curriculum for high school math has changed, making all previous books for grades 10-12 obsolete.” It seems to have changed again at the beginning of 2010.

The story is the same with the physics and chemistry texts. High schoolers must choose a megama, or major. My oldest two chose math and physics. When the younger two did as well, I though I was lucky. But they changed the curriculum for both subjects and almost all of the books have to be bought new. At least with physics and chemistry you can argue that the material needed to be updated.

I was able to save some by passing down five books from my now tenth grader to a friend with a child a grade below in the same school. And a friend with a son a grade ahead swapped a few books with me. Some history books are used again and again.

The schools did try harder this year, with all three of my kids’ schools hosting summer book fairs. At the elementary school, a book store brought the textbooks to the school and sold them at a discount. I wasn’t able to attend the high school fairs, where there is more swapping, but they also listed a bookstore that would sell at a discount.  Discounts are 5% at most, though.

According to this Haaretz article, the schools are completely ignoring the new guidelines:

. . . a few years ago the ministry issued a directive that schools had to stick to the same list of books for five years at least. That directive was enacted into law in the summer of 2008. The underlying concept was to let older children pass down their textbooks and encourage an active market of used books.

Another law enacted to help parents, in April 2010, bans the use of textbooks in which the children have to write out exercises or otherwise mark the books, rendering them useless for transfer. Exemptions to that rule include language-learning books for grades 1 and 2, English books for grades 1 through 9, and math books through fifth grade.

Three years after these guidelines were announced, I can hardly sell used books. And there are few to buy.

You know, I wouldn’t mind laying out so much money if the quality were better. I thought of copying out a few pages from the elementary school workbooks but I’m too embarrassed by the simplistic questions. Let them invest some more in the actual material instead of the paper and graphic layout.

So what has your experience been this year? The bookstores are already crowded, so don’t wait until the last minute.

You may also enjoy: 

School Supply Survival Guide

Excess Water Usage: Can You Help this Reader Save?

How Do Large Families Manage? Meet Tal and Talia





  1. For many items, simply eliminating the cartels and adding competition will bring the prices down somewhat. For other things it won’t help much.

  2. this is the worst year ever.
    I agree! All of our old math and science textbooks are now obsolete, and we can’t resell any of them. Our local email list is inundated with offers to sell various Benny Goren books, but no one wants to buy them.

  3. 1)We are fortunate to have actually SCHOOL books owned by school consul and lended to my daughter for several hundreds of NIS (I think bying new books would be more-and bying second hand less) but I love the idea of handing bundle back at the end of the year. On one hand I have issues with throwing away books and actually tend to salvage some from the street rather than bringing out mine.
    2)Still last year we had to buy math text book (published by HUJI) by ourselves because there were some problems with it. Our closest schoolbook stores refuse to recieve it because it is “experimantal edition” and they do not “work with it”.
    3) My daughter asked her math teacher for something useful for summer workout and he suggested Benny Goren (volume that now is considered outdated-and found mostly near the gutter ad not in the store)
    4) third grade schoolbooks are just one big polygraphic feast as usual

  4. Exactly what Mark said. The government needs to regulate more aggressively for reason like you just pointed out — let the schools loan out textbooks, and if they change the curriculum, give the kids photocopies. The parties making all the demands (the school system) aren’t the ones paying the costs (the parents). And it’s true for tons of other fields, too. Pension investment management, for starters.

    That, and people need to become smarter consumers here. So maybe you can’t get out of buying things like baby food, but you certainly can change your consumption habits if you suspect you’re being overcharged.

    • My kids are too young for school and I don’t live in israel, so no comment re schoolbooks. However, I did wonder if you had ever heard of baby led weaning which is basically just a fancy name for allowing babies to eat family food from the day they start eating solids. Absolutely no need to buy baby food at all! saves lots of money and babies usually love joining in wih whatever others around them are eating (assuming it is reasonably healthy etc.) I have two kids and have not bought one item of baby food yet!

      • Just realized my last comment may not have been overly clear. When I mentioned not buying any baby food, I also meant not making any baby food either. Baby just eating what the family eats, not pureed (sp?) or mashed or anything like that. Hope that is clearer.

  5. I’ too feel ambivalent about the protests. I understand what they are saying and certainly feel prices should be lower, but their expectations seem to high, and asking for MORE government intervention is not the way to go.

    As far as the book thing goes, I’m pretty lucky this year. One graduated (yey!) and the other two are a year apart, so some books were handed down. But it is frustrating dealing with all you described.

  6. Without sidetracking too much, Israeli unemployment figures are artificially low because the figures reflect only people seeking work–not people who have given up or–more to the point with the protests,those Haredim who don’t work & receive many government subsidies. I’m curious about how the textbook issue works in haredi schools.

  7. I was just thinking this morning that with all this complaining about consumer prices- I wouldn’t want an American style consumer economy where you can by reams of paper towel at Wal Mart or Costco for almost nothing but you can die of an infected tooth if you don’t have health insurance. I’d rather cheap healthcare and vegetables.

    As for books. I’m on my second kid going into school. My book bill came too just under 1000 shekel, but that included some school supplies as well.

    What I really wish for is for the schools to switch to the American system where the schools buy the textbooks, they were hardcover and each grade got their had their own set. It’s like we can collectively bargain for healthcare, for schoolbooks, it’s every child for themselves. What do the really poor do? How do they buy books?

  8. I have heard that the situation with college textbooks is pretty similar here in the US – new editions are constantly published, making it difficult or impossible to make do with used textbooks, and making used books difficult to sell. My child is starting college this fall, and I’m not looking forward to the book bills.

  9. I don’t really like teaching kids to write in books. I have enough trouble at home getting my kids to properly respect and be careful with their books.

    AND we have to cover them in plastic?? It just makes them hard to stack because they slip around, and the content wasn’t meant to last even the whole school year. In addition to about 15 workbooks I had to buy my daughter, I had to purchase 19 little notebooks and 20 special clear plastic covers. If they aren’t using all the notebooks at the same time, why do they need to be covered at the same time? I think all the books I bought for first grade were fancy workbooks with the exception of a few holy books. For a first grader I think 4-9 small workbooks is reasonable for the whole year, but once the kids can read and write, they should be able to do all their work on notebook paper. AND the school requested 6 specific colored folders. I’m sure the colors will change next year. Plus I had to buy a 10 pack to get all the colors. Anyone have a teacher who requested brown?

    In the states the school buys the text books, the school chooses the books, and they are meant to last for many years. I think the biggest problem with school books here and college texts in general, is that the teacher or school chooses the book that is easiest for them to teach with, but they don’t incur the cost of their decision.

  10. We have school purchased textbooks in our town and I’m happy about it – sure, that means some are a bit beaten up but it solves most of the problems. From what I understand, all the schools in town buy together and in bulk (the only exceptions being that the mamad has a few different books for language arts, for example – and i believe chinukh atzmai)

    This was true for elementary school, where, except for math, they basically have no books they write in after 1st grade.. My oldest enters 7th grade this year and I was told by the school that they continue with the school supplied books here too.

    I don’t understand why this isn’t done in more places nor do I know how or when it started here – but its been going on for over 8 years already

  11. In France, textboks are free until the kids are 16. Then as school is no longer compulsory the parents have to pay for them. Last year the government changed all the curricula for 10t grade making all books obsolete. Now it is all changing again for 11th graders – so the same families are concerned.
    Some of them get help but for the middle-class folks (who are not all very wealthy) things are difficult.

    • Great way to encourage teens to stay in school! (sarcasm) If my family was struggling and could really use the help of our kid making some extra money or helping in the family business, having to buy their books would just add to the tough decision.

  12. I grew up in France and till 10 th grade had all my books from school. I think we had to by a few workbooks for languages etc, but that was it. The downside- by the way- was that my school sometimes kept a really old (and obsolete) book for longer than necessary in order to to have to buy a whole new set for the whole grade (at least this is what I suspect…). By the way, the same school agreed back then to give me 2 sets of books since we did not have lockers and I could not physically carry them all in my bag (I kept me 2nd set in the school’s offices!).

    Back to Israel, I have a 1st and 3rd grader this year. We actually did pretty good for once- one neighbor agreed to lend me (for free!) her son’s books for the 3rd grader and I “only” had to by the workbooks, as for my daughter a lot of what she needs is bought by her school at a very reduced price. Still came out to around 1000 nis all supplies included (nice new bag, pencil case and good quality pencils etc in large quantities for my son who tends to loose them), which I l;ess than I expected it to be