NEW YORK (AP) – In his three years teaching in New York City public schools, Maurice Ducoing has spent hundreds of dollars of his own money buying books and copying papers for his students.

This is the first year he has had enough social studies textbooks. But he needs more workbooks for his students. And while he’s at it, he could use a new thesaurus. He said the one the school provides doesn’t even include the word “happy.”

“It can be a very disillusioning and disconcerting situation,” said the 24-year-old teacher at Luisa Dessus Cruz Middle School in the Bronx.

It is a refrain heard in many parts of the nation’s largest school system: There simply aren’t enough textbooks or workbooks, and what is available is often outdated or otherwise flawed.

Textbook shortages and upkeep appear to be a problem in urban and poor rural districts nationwide, but there’s not much data collected on the subject, said Arnold Fege, director of public engagement and advocacy for the Public Education Network, an umbrella organization of educational support groups.

One attempt to size up the problem came in 2002, when the National Education Association and the Association of American Publishers surveyed 1,000 teachers across the country on textbooks. Nearly one out of three teachers said they didn’t have enough textbooks to allow all students to take a book home.

In New York, the true extent of the problem is unknown and, for the most part, untracked.

City Council Member Eva Moskowitz, who chairs the education committee, has heard so many complaints about book and copy paper shortages that she held a recent hearing on the two subjects. Moskowitz, a frequent critic of the city’s Department of Education, blasted its representatives for what she said were shortfalls, especially in poorer schools.

Those representatives emphasized the department is investing more in textbooks. They said spending on “printed materials” has jumped to $151 million in fiscal year 2005 from $93.5 million in fiscal year 2001.

The department insisted it hasn’t had problems with “core curriculum” materials that cover math, social studies, and literacy, but they also said much of the responsibility for textbook buying and upkeep rested with schools themselves.

The decentralized system means a great deal is unknown. The education department doesn’t know the total tally of textbooks in the schools. Beyond certain core curriculum materials, the department doesn’t maintain a book replacement schedule, and it doesn’t keep track of textbook ages.

“It is a shared responsibility,” said Laura Kotch, the education department’s executive director for curriculum and professional development, during the tense hearing. “There’s no way we can know what’s going at 1,400 schools.”

Terel Watson, an 11th-grader at Queens Vocational and Technical High School, said he went searching for a fairly recent topic last year in his history textbook only to find out the book was printed in 1987.

He wondered, half-joking, how many historical figures mentioned in the book have died since it was published.

Ducoing said one year he had to scrounge to come up with enough math textbooks for his students, but many of the books were missing pages. So he told his students to call one another to share the information.

“Teachers have leaned on making copies, and schools have leaned on parents to supplement,” said Carmen Colon, president of the Association of New York City Education Councils. “There was a middle school that was asking the parents if they could buy sixth-grade social studies books.”

Some teachers plead their case on the Web.

At, a charitable Web site, a Brooklyn teacher asked for $1,010 to help buy math books. Another teacher asked for $628 to help buy seventh-graders their own copy of John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men.”

The teacher wrote, “It will be the first piece of literature that virtually all of them will own.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.