Radical openness in educational materials: The next step in Washington State

Source: Rauven Carlyle

Have you ever wondered how the ‘inside game’ of a bill becoming a law is played?

Join me for an ‘open’ process, complete with uncensored policy assessments and candid political discussions, and together we will experience the journey in the 2012 session of the Washington State Legislature.

On January 9, 2012 I plan to introduce two bills in the Washington State House of Representatives that continue the march toward radical openness of our state’s educational materials.

This legislation builds on our state’s widely-recognized open course library initiative that is allowing us to greatly reduce or eliminate expensive textbooks for hundreds of thousands of students in our state’s 34 community and technical colleges. By 2013 it’s possible for community college students to save $41 million in out-of-pocket costs per year.

Prior to my election to the Legislature I was honored to serve as a member of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, where I explored the intersection of technology and education as co-chair of the board’s Technology Committee. With the bold support of the full Board, we set this innovative open course library in motion. Once elected to the Legislature I was able to secure the funding to move the vision forward. The project’s success is reflected in this Seattle Times editorial.

There is an unstoppable movement underway from taxpayers, students, professors, foundations and government about open educational resources, open textbooks, open science and open data — all moving toward a fundamental policy of ‘openness.’ Sharing resources that are paid for by tax dollars is a simple exercise in fairness.

It is tremendously rewarding as a legislator in one state to see this effort rapidly grow around the country and world as evidenced by the courageous leadership of state Sen. Darrelle Steinberg who is building upon the general ideas behind our program to implement a similar project in California.

That is, at its philosophical core, the idea of open educational resources: Together we can build a new model by which taxpayers, students and others receive the legitimate value of their tax/tuition/fee dollar. Like Sen. Steinberg, I do not pretend for a moment that successfully reducing the cost of textbooks is in any way a rationalization or justification for the state’s painful and unwise disinvestment in higher education. Still, it is, at the very least, an exercise in sound education and fiscal policy.

No one politician, bureaucracy, university, foundation, non profit or company should capture the financial, political or educational interests of open educational resources in a proprietary framework–and all current and future students should receive access to the public taxpayers’ generosity through collaboration, sharing and accessibility.

With families nationwide feeling the crush of skyrocketing tuition in higher education, and our K-12 systems struggling to improve quality and save money, we simply must have the courage to acknowledge that commercial textbook interests have consumed our decision-making criteria.

To learn more about the larger effort, please watch this video and visit Creative Commons and other sites here, here, here and here. Other valuable sites include saylor.org, the Khan Academy, iTunes U and, of course, MIT OCW.

Leading the global charge is UNESCO that is striving to convince 172 nations, including the United States, to embrace the open policies of open educational resources.

With the success of Phase I (community college highest enrolled open courses), we are now turning our attention to Phase II of our state’s plan (open policy and K-12 open textbooks).

The first bill in Phase II is to change the default educational policy of our state from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ so that the expectation is that any educational material–K-12, higher education and related–that is created with public tax dollars shall be freely and openly available to the public. This only makes sense: publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources. The public should get what it pays for. This policy is based upon the proven model of the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges’ open course library and open policy.

We are, simply, striving to expand this important philosophically consistent open policy both to the K-12 world and to institutions of higher education at the four-year level.

The second bill in this year’s strategy is to bring free, high quality open textbooks and open course material to our state’s 295 school districts serving one million+ students in our K-12 system. Since Washington has embraced common core standards along with 43 other states, sharing materials makes even more sense. 44 states now share common K-12 curricular standards in math and language arts. 44 states will need new textbooks and new curriculum. Does it make sense to work together to build new and adopt existing open textbooks and open courses that align with those common core standards? I think it does. The amazing aspect of the project is that we do not need to fund the creation of new K-12 textbooks. It’s already being done here and shared under a Creative Commons license. Digital copies of the books are, of course, free and are available in multiple formats – for the web, your Kindle and your iPad. Don’t have a computer or tablet? No problem. Hard copy prints cost a mere $4.25 per book.

Today I am posting working drafts of the two bills to challenge the open community in the U.S. and indeed worldwide to comment, edit, improve, criticize and otherwise tackle the range of public policy issues raised by these bills.

How will this work? Both bills are posted as google docs and can be viewed and downloaded by anyone. Here are the links for both bills:

bill 1 link / bill 1 summary
bill 2 link / bill 2 summary

Please post your suggestions, in the open, as comments to this blog post. I will review your comments and will reply to many. Mostly, I hope you all read and reply to each others’ comments. I will then take the best suggestions and modify the bills to ensure Washington State makes the best use of its citizens’ public tax dollars to maximize access to high quality, affordable, up-to-date educational resources.

Now, it’s your turn. I challenge the OER community–and other stakeholders–and those who believe in the broader vision of saving students money, increasing access to education, and improving our overall quality of educational materials through collaboration to help legislators, educators, superintendents, professors and others who believe in openness. It is not enough simply to advocate for change to public policies at the local, state, federal and international level. We must support initiatives from Utah to California to Brazil and Poland by working together.

Student groups in Washington and nationally also have an opportunity in these initiatives to give voice to a tangible method of reducing costs for students by close to $1,300 a year for virtually every college student in the country.

Specifically, it would be very helpful if you could share FAQs, white papers, case studies and other materials to improve upon these bills and ultimately ensure we send this legislation to our Governors’ desk for a signature.

And, if you are from the publishing industry and may not see the short term financial value of your interests in this exercise, I particularly welcome your engagement, views, insight, data and arguments.

Instead of flippantly instructing legislators to ‘take the sales tax off of textbooks’ as the best way to reduce costs–while textbook costs have grown at more than three times the rate of inflation–you could join with me for a more sophisticated and substantive public policy dialogue. Given our state’s highly successful pilot project and embrace of this policy at the community college level–a policy that will save students a minimum of $1.2 million in out-of-pocket costs in 2012 alone–if you simply arrive in Olympia with a contract lobbyist without experience or policy insight, I suspect you will find an unsympathetic voice from my colleagues.

Instead, I ask you to go deeper, to engage more thoughtfully, to participate in our state’s public policy arena more substantively. If you are unwilling to even post your comments, concerns and views for a public dialogue here, how will you be able to convince 146 of my colleagues that you made every effort to engage in a meaningful public policy dialogue?

Join me in a healthy, engaged, thoughtful public policy discussion so that together we can build a more affordable, high quality path forward in our education system.

Publicly funded educational materials should be open, accessible and available to the public.

You gain power by giving it away.

Your partner in service,


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