Earlier this month, we described how open educational resources (OER) are gaining acceptance in the U.S. K-12 education market. By offering “free” or low-cost academic programs, OER developers over the past several years have made inroads in some states and school districts.
Greater demand for OER programs has been driven in part by the need for new materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards. To fulfill that demand, several OER organizations began to create comprehensive programs with standards, scope and sequence. This type of development marked a significant shift from the creation of supplemental and random resources that often characterized OER for many years. In other words, OER development moved from pieces to programs, and in doing so began to increase the odds of successful adoption by school districts.
OER’s Next Wall to Climb
OER’s next wall to climb in the K-12 space is the complex, regulated, and sometimes political process of state adoptions. For the uninitiated, a state adoption is a process whereby a state department of education conducts reviews of instructional materials to determine whether they are suited for use in K-12 classrooms. Nineteen states have adoption statutes. While OER programs have been adopted in several of those states, it’s not common.
A Look at What’s Happening in Texas
However, that could soon change in the state of Texas, which is known for its textbook politics and its politically charged education debates. With a K-12 enrollment of five million students, Texas is the second largest K-12 state adoption market in the country.
In the spring of 2017, the Texas legislature passed several measures expanding the development and use of OER at the K-12 and post-secondary levels. The enacted legislation:
- Revises the state’s definition of OER and allows the Texas Commissioner of Education to use open licenses to encourage Texas school districts to adopt OER.
- Doubles to $20 million the amount of state funds allocated for development of K-12 OER over the next two budget years. The funds will be used to develop materials in subject areas that make up the bulk of district purchases as well as high school STEM courses. The funding increase expands a current state project to create OER courses for use at the high school level.
- Requires the Texas State Board of Education to include information about OER as part of state adoptions. Information about “cost savings” must be listed.
- Restores a state program that provides grants to districts so they can develop “lending libraries” of tech equipment for students who cannot access digital materials.
- Authorizes the development of a web portal that will have information about all state-adopted instructional materials.
- Creates a new post-secondary program designed to support and encourage professors to transition to OER use in their classrooms.
The legislation marks a firm shift toward OER that will begin to unfold this year. Implementation is likely to take several years, and is expected to affect the 2019 adoption of English language arts programs for the high school grades.
While the Texas adoption system no longer compels school districts to purchase programs approved by the State Board of Education, receiving adoption approval from the board still carries a lot of weight. Surely, several OER organizations will seek approval.
Programs submitted for review will also have to meet a long list of Texas requirements and they will have to align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standard – not Common Core State Standards, which the Texas State Board of Education and the legislature oppose. Development of new programs is an expensive endeavor and despite the “free” moniker that always travels with the term OER, there is nothing free about the type of R&D work that will need to take place to prepare materials for adoption reviews.
And what about publishers’ programs? The new legislation won’t spell the end of publishers’ products in the Texas market. Publishers have deep experience in Texas not only in terms of development, but also an understanding of the adoption review process and its many nuances.
More importantly, the changes in Texas will likely present new opportunities for publishers if they can be nimble. OER models are rapidly evolving. New services such as content management and integration, assessment, data analytics and other solutions are needed to make open resources truly sustainable.
Next month Andrew and Jay will take a closer look at the development of instructional materials in educational publishing and the new solutions that have emerged to support digital transformations. Don’t miss it – subscribe below to receive new posts directly in your inbox.