Why the objections?

Written by Neeru Khosla on May 26, 2010

I believe the re-authorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is going to be the defining moment of the American educational system. Either it will become realistic and move us towards teaching and learning that will improve our educational system or it will continue on its backward slide into quicksand.

Everyone has something to say about this Act, as they should. I, too, have my recommendations based upon my experience as an Open Educational Resource (OER) provider.

1. Maintain and improve existing technology programs in ESEA, providing direct funding for innovations that benefit students and teachers.

Set aside funds for a national pilot program for non-profits, districts, states, or a consortium of school districts to partner in providing free, high-quality, standards-aligned digital textbooks and related materials for K-12 classes. Ensure effective implementation through rigorous professional development.

2. Expand the Investing in Innovation (i3) program and the Race to the Top Fund and use them to drive increased usage of OERs.

Include a priority for projects devoted to developing and implementing OERs, including proven digital online textbooks and related materials.

3. Authorize the STEM program proposed in the President’s Blueprint and give priority to developing and implementing high-quality OERs.

Give priority to the creation and implementation of quality instructional materials with language clarifying that they include developing and implementing OERs.

4. Ensure that all programs in ESEA support increased innovation, quality, and efficiency through the integration of digital solutions in instructional materials, complete with professional development for effective implementation.

Allow funds to be spent on the development and implementation of high-quality OERs in the following areas:

  • Title I
  • Teacher effectiveness and quality programs
  • Technology programs
  • STEM programs
  • Anywhere textbooks and related materials are addressed

As you may have figured out, I am asking for more OERs as well as more technology support. In my own defense, I am not advocating excluding anyone from this support. Let me share with you what the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), of which most publishers are members, has to say about re-authorization:

Support the availability of a variety of educational resources, including through funding and incentivizing private research and development investment into innovative solutions such as digital content, software, assessments, and other interventions.

Do not limit such public-private partnerships only to open-licensed educational resources that remain unproven, may be unsustainable, and discourage investment. Provide policies and processes, including public comment requirements, to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education will not directly develop and deliver such resources unless there is compelling need, including that: (1) it is an inherently governmental function and/or delivers inherently governmental information; and (2) there does not exist a non-federal entity currently providing, or best positioned to provide, the same or similar product.

This kind of action creates confusion and fear. OERs are not about discouraging businesses. On the contrary, openness allows you to create your own marketplace – taking open material and developing it. In fact, we are giving you the material on a silver platter. So what exactly are we talking about? The amount that was put on the table by the Federal Department of Education (DOE) was only $50 million for ten years. Compare that to the billions made available through national organizations (NIH, NSF…) to produce content that eventually become the property of the publishers when they publish these findings.

OERs are not unproven – would anyone call MIT’s work unproven? Would anyone call Wikipedia unsustainable? On the other hand, have textbooks been wildly successful? Is the textbook model sustainable without the handouts from the federal government?

OERs provide one more option while co-existing with, NOT REPLACING, other options.

Unfortunately, in this discourse we seem to be forgetting about the children – and, in the end, it is all about the children. So why the objections?