U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan lauded the “tremendous transformational promise” of open resources. “In America, what a child gets a chance to learn will no longer depend on their ZIP code,” he said in an online video.
Federal Race to the Top funds are helping Maryland and the District develop curricula based on the new standards that can be used by school districts anywhere.
Some states have invested in online textbooks thatcan be easily updated and printed and offered to districts for free.
A free digital textbook initiative in California launched in 2009 led to the creation of nine open-source math and science books. In Utah, the state office of education is developing open-source textbooks in language arts, science and math that could be ready by the fall. Virginia also created an open-source physics “flexbook” in 2009; it’s written by volunteer teachers to help update lessons with more cutting-edge research.
Much of the growth in free online resources still comes from the grass roots — teachers sharing with teachers.
Arlington County math teacher Kevin Hall likes to post his most successful algebra lesson plans on Curriki.org, a Web site that boasts more than 250,000 members.
OER Commons, a California-based organization, maintains an archive of free educational resources and offers a new tool to measure how well aligned they are to national standards.
Commercial publishers offer expertise and reliability, things you can’t count on when sifting through thousands of hits online, said Diskey, from the publishers association.
“We question whether [free online textbooks or materials] are sustainable,” he said. “Most people don’t realize they are like a puppy; they require a lot of care.“
The publishers also offer complete packages of content, including print and digital textbooks, and a range of supporting quizzes, activities and materials, so teachers don’t have to work so hard to assemble lessons.
Major publishers, including Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, are marketing new books and materials advertised to match the new standards, with more in the works. In one unusual effort, Pearson is partnering with Montgomery County to design an elementary curriculum and matching assessments that will be sold nationwide.
To adapt to the changing market, major publishers are moving beyond textbooks and into a broader world of educational technology and consulting.
At a particularly turbulent time in public education, with legions of reform-minded programs transforming classrooms, the companies are positioning themselves as experts who can walk school systems through the changes and help improve student achievement.
They offer training and software to help schools adapt to the new standards and teacher-evaluation systems.
The traditional printed textbook is dying, said Peter Cohen, chief executive of Pearson School, and that’s a fact that makes industry changes inevitable. “The only real question is when,” he said.