Saturday, November 19, 2022

An Open letter to the #GoOpen Network

How can more state departments of education and school districts be encouraged to begin using OER curricula more than they are currently doing? Maybe this will happen without any controversies. Maybe there won’t be any politics involved. Maybe this will happen very organically and blissfully. Maybe all of the people whose current livelihoods in all of the state departments of education and school districts depend on the distribution and monitoring of proprietary curricula will just wake up one morning and say - “I think we should not keep doing what we’ve always done and that I’ve become recognized for leading. I want to do something completely new and innovative.” Maybe.

Maybe a state department of education other than Iowa’s will decide it wants to spend $17 million dollars to create openly licensed curricula that can be readily used on an LMS like Iowa has done. Maybe they’ll make that curricula for Math, Science, Social Studies, and ELA in grades 6-12  available to all other districts like an open license requires, which Iowa hasn’t done for some inexplicable reason. Maybe.

I don’t think any of the above is likely. Getting more state departments of education and school districts using OER more frequently and more effectively is going to require some conflict and some risk taking. Somebody might need to risk being wrong. My previous posts describe what I’ve been doing about the situation with Iowa’s OER curricula, so far.  

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Update to Iowa Dept. of Ed. Squanders $17million on #OER

 Here are a few more details about my previous post. The previous post was the culmination of many email exchanges, phone calls, and Zoom meetings with Iowa Department of Education staff.  About a year ago, SABIER started planning PD courses for Iowa schools.  We would be focusing on showing teachers how to create equity in materials using middle school math OER courses as described here.  (Notice on that page that Iowa AEA Online has been an acknowledged partner of SABIER since October of 2021. We've done various exchanges since 2016.)  The content we would be using would be digital OER versions of Illustrative Mathematics for middle schools. In 2020 SABIER created OER LMS courses using GeoGebra's OER digital app version of Illustrative Mathematics embedded in open source OER Moodle courses.  That work is described here in a CC Medium post. (If you want more info on OER please see this from UNESCO.)

In March of 2022, I learned that the Iowa Department of Education had created revisions of the Illustrative Mathematics curriculum in Canvas courses.  I asked to talk to the person in charge of the IM course development for the Department because I didn't want to pursue Professional Development for Iowa teachers that didn't include work that the Iowa Department of Education had been doing. I was introduced to the head of math for the state of Iowa. She showed me one of the courses they had created in Canvas. It was very thorough and appeared to be very well done. I said, "That's wonderful, please, send me a copy and I'll combine it with the work we did with GeoGebra and give teachers some great options." She said she couldn't give me access. She said that while showing me this screen - , the screen that very clearly displays the CC BY license, a license that permits free sharing of material.  I was confused as to why she thought she couldn't give me access.

It gets worse. The director of  Iowa AEA Online has not yet been given get access. Iowa AEA Online has been leading support for digital learning in Iowa schools for over fifteen years. They're really good at it, and have nine offices scattered around the state. I repeat; they haven't been given access yet to the digital OER courses created with $17 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Education. And, the IDE hasn't budgeted for professional development for the new digital curriculum being delivered via an LMS for the first time in most Iowa middle school math classrooms.

This initiative by the Iowa Department of Education is important for several reasons:

It's the largest amount of money spent by any government entity anywhere on K-12 OER curriculum, and it's the first major expenditure at any level by any government entity on full course OER delivered via an LMS. That's a big and important innovation. Iowa should be proud, although I don't think they actually understood what they were doing and what the ramifications were. I strongly suspect they were led down this path by Instructure, the purveyors of Canvas. As is, this initiative will be a huge boon for Instructure-Canvas. Even if  the courses were moved to a free open-source system it will still be a huge revenue source for Instructure because lots of K-12 districts would rather write checks than own their own content and processes.

There are at least four for-profit companies that have taken the OER Illustrative Mathematics curriculum, the OER OpenSciEd curriculum, the OER Great Minds curriculum and the others that are included in Iowa eLearning Central and put them into their proprietary LMS like platforms.  Two of those companies have been acquired by venture capital companies in the last two years. Venture capitalists have not historically been interested in K-12 instructional materials. The reason they're investing is because the course content for the middle school math content alone on Iowa eLearning Central if sold to all schools in the U.S. is equal to about $450,000,000.00 - half a $Billion. 

The Iowa Department of Education could become the leaders in implementing this curriculum nationwide. Teachers need to be better supported and they should be paid to learn new skills using digital curriculum and digital tools that are capable of making curriculum more equitable. Those $billions should be going to paying more teachers more money and enhancing their skills. Teachers can lead the needed equity efforts using OER curriculum and digital tools. That's why I founded SABIER six years ago. 

Here are some supporting documents:

My letter to the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General. Their response to me was to contact the program officer. I've been told that Lauren Golubski,, is the program officer. They haven't returned my calls or emails.

Here's a response I received from the Iowa Department of Education's General Counsel, Thomas Mayes after about a dozen or so calls and email to various people at the IDE. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Iowa Dept. of Ed. Squanders $17million

    The Iowa Department of Education (IDE) has put the digital courses they created with $17 million from a federal grant into a locked digital desk drawer.  Only a few certain people have access to that digital desk drawer.  Instead, the new digital courses could be providing high-quality courses and units; supporting all teachers in creating content; expanding access to standards-aligned courses and units across all grade levels; using the course content both online or in the classroom; and enabling all teachers to adapt the content to meet local needs. The new digital courses can't be locked up according to the federal regulations governing the grant.

   It’s a shame that the IDE is not in compliance with the federal regulations. The IDE and all of the people that worked on the grant should be recognized by educators all over the U.S. for the innovative work they’ve done. 

   Somebody at the IDE either made a mistake, or they're trying to pull a fast one. I suspect it’s the former.

   In recent communications with IDE officials, I was told that the IDE acknowledges its obligation to make these resources available but they don’t want to do it for reasons that demonstrate they didn’t read the fine print. Students and teachers could be using the new digital resources were it not for the mistakes of the IDE.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Open Education is a Problem for OER in K-12


Open Education, Open Learning, Open Practice, Open Teaching, and Open Praxis create barriers to more widespread use of OER in K-12. Opensource, Open access, Open Science, and Open GLAM are not as problematic because they have mostly agreed upon definitions.

 Those in Higher Ed and many in K-12 who are involved in Open Education, Open Learning, Open Practice, Open Teaching, or Open Praxis will likely see my assertion as heresy, a sacrilege, or ignorance, or that I have some hidden agenda. My agenda isn’t hidden; my agenda is the promotion of the use of OER, especially in elementary and secondary schools (K-12.)

    Promoting OER use for teaching and learning is my job.. In the past few months, I've been interviewing and exchanging emails with leaders of organizations that work with OER. I asked each of them to tell me what they saw as the primary barrier to increased use of OER in K-12. Interestingly, nobody limited their response to just one barrier. 

Here are their responses, some were duplicated: 

-Lack of funding to support OER development and oversight

-Lack of funding for marketing and promotion of OER

-Lack of administrative awareness and support, training, and the ability to engage with the

             curriculum developers.

-Lack of resources for K-6. compared to 7-12

-The curriculum/resource procurement process is too entrenched. Lots of district and state 

             administrative people are making a living by managing this process.

-The current practice of professional development is a barrier.

-So far the focus has been on Business instead of ecology.

-The Higher Ed model doesn’t work for K-12.

    I don’t disagree with any of the above, and I completely agree with the last one -  The Higher Ed model doesn’t work for K-12 even though that's been the predominate model attempted, so far. The Higher Ed model generally consists of free books, usually Pressbooks, transclusions, or links to websites, with ancillary materials commonly provided by 3rd party for-profit companies that charge per student fees. Pressbooks are not as attractive to K-12 teachers as they are to Higher Ed faculty. The use of OER in Higher Ed teaching and learning is also frequently labeled with a term like open learning, or open education, or open practice, open teaching, or open praxis, open something.


Labeling the act of using OER as Open Education, or Open something is a problem. I taught in an open school from 1996 - 2011. The school had been started in the early 70s as an effort toward integration of races and socioeconomic groups. In the 40+ years after its founding, no clear definition of what was meant by 'open school' or 'open education' was ever firmly established. The continued faltering attempts to do so contributed to the vitality of school community. But, 'open school' was and still is an outlier of the larger Minneapolis Public School system. (The school has recently been converted from a K-8 Open School to a PreK-5 Arts Magnet. The building, some of the staff, and the fish mascot are still there.) The term 'open education' is not any more appealing than Open School to most K-12 teachers or administrators. The term implies that there's an actual thing called open education that is well defined and well understood. That is absolutely not the case, especially in K-12. 

    Is it a teaching philosophy, a type of pedagogy, a method, or a particular practice? Is it contrary or complimentary to: Teacher-centered methods, Learner-centered methods, Content-focused methods, Interactive/participative methods, The Socratic method, A Lecture method, The Reggio Emilia approach, or Montessori ?

    Does it include: Modeling, Addressing Mistakes, Providing Feedback, Cooperative Learning, Experiential Learning, a Student-Led Classroom, Class Discussion, or Inquiry-Guided Instruction.

    Is it: Direct Instruction (Low Tech), Flipped Classrooms (High Tech), Kinesthetic Learning (Low Tech), Differentiated Instruction (Low Tech), Inquiry-based Learning (High Tech), Inquiry-Guided Instruction (Low Tech), Expeditionary Learning (High Tech), Personalized Learning (High Tech), or Game-based Learning (High Tech) ?

    I could go on. My point is that when a K-12 teacher or administrator hears the words 'open education' they might understandably wonder how open education relates to, or includes, or is contrary to one or more of the above. Certainly, they will have been submersed in one or more previously, and they might not be so eager to take on some new twist. A science or math teacher might want to use material that enables them to modify the content to fit the particular needs of their students, but they might not be interested in first learning what is meant by 'open education.'

    The Higher Ed business model for OER won’t work in K-12 either, because charging per student fees for assessments, ancillary materials, and reporting is not sustainable in K-12, especially when the schools are already paying for learning management systems that could be used to provide those assessments, ancillary materials, and reporting. That model currently works in Higher Ed because of a long established practice of requiring students to pay for textbooks and other materials on a per student basis. Thankfully, we don't have that long established practice in K-12.

Another edu-theory/framework/model and more companies taking money out of public education are not what will get teachers and students using OER effectively. Teachers need to be able to do assessment and reporting on OER with the same LMS that all the other teachers in the district are using. OER will become relevant in K-12 when teachers are adequately supported to modify the content to fit the needs of their students, when they're using OER to create more equity,

Friday, June 18, 2021

A Reconstruction of Public Education

    Derek Black’s book, School House Burning, Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, could simply be titled The Assault on American Democracy with a subtitle of The History of Public Education in America. The book is the story of the assault that is being waged on our democracy by the dismantling of our public education system and the historical precedents of this current trend. Public school buildings aren’t burning, they’re being dismantled by power seeking reformers and replaced with charter schools and vouchers. The dismantling has already happened in New Orleans; it’s well underway in Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky.

   School House Burning should become required reading in all education administration and policy programs. Black very poignantly and personally gives us a detailed history of public education in the United States and carefully and thoughtfully explains the unassailable fact that public education has always been essential to our democracy. Black makes clear that public education was and is the key to making our ideal a reality. The provisions for a publicly financed education were established even before the Constitution in the Northwest Ordinances. Black acknowledges that our ideal democracy and the public education system necessary to support that democracy has yet to be fully realized. Achieving the ideal of public education and our democracy has been shunted by multiple segments of U.S. society, including the Federal and State courts. The ideals set forth in the Northwest Ordinance, the Constitution, and the 14th Amendment are all plans to be carried out in every state. The good news is that Black sees that it is still possible to save public education and our democracy, but it’s not a sure thing. We will need to stave off those who are trying to use public funds to pay for private schools and quasi-public schools.

    The proposed Page/Kashkari Amendment to the Minnesota constitution is a current example of the attack on our democracy. The amendment takes the language of Minnesota’s constitution that currently reads:

“ is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state”

And changes it to:

“All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.”

    A set of standards already exists in Minnesota statutes. They are available for all to read here. “The Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards are the statewide expectations for student learning in K-12 public schools. School districts are required to put state standards into place so all students have access to high-quality content and instruction. In accordance with Minnesota Statutes.” Schools are already required to report to the state how students are doing as measured against those standards. The proposed amendment eliminates the state's existing responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

    The proposed amendment also takes the state off the hook for providing the funds in order to secure the thorough, efficient and quality public education. Removal of - "The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system..." creates the possibility of semi-private schools providing the quality education. That means the state could close down the public school and determine that only a charter school that is owned by a friend of a legislator is the one that provides a quality education.

     A non-uniform system that is not funded solely by taxpayer dollars is what resulted in New Orleans after a constitutional change and a hurricane. All public schools in New Orleans were replaced with charter schools. The Page/Kashkari amendment puts Minnesota on course to do it with a blizzard. The promoters of the Page Amendment hold up Louisiana and Florida as states where changing the constitution has worked to improve education. Currently Minnesota is in the top five of U.S. states for average student achievement. Florida is ranked 32nd and Louisiana just edges out Mississippi for last place. Changing the constitutions may have improved the achievement of students in Louisiana and Florida but it did so by essentially destroying public schools and replacing them with charter schools and vouchers to private schools. Both Louisiana and Florida have lower achievement gaps than Minnesota; Florida’s Black students score one point higher than Minnesota’s, but Louisiana’s lag far behind. The lesser gaps in Florida and Louisiana are a result of white students scoring much lower than Minnesota’s white students. The Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis’s report claims that if achievement gaps correlated exactly with socioeconomic gaps, Minnesota schools do better than expected. Or in other words, if Minnesota schools weren't as good as they are, the achievement gap could be even worse. Eliminating the state's existing responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state and not requiring the state to fund it with tax dollars is not improving education.

    The Page/Kashkari Amendment could be a way to avoid the provision of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which requires that when a state establishes a public school system (as in Minnesota), no child living in that state may be denied equal access to schooling. The amendment ensures that charter and private school operators will have a better chance at making money while significantly decreasing the number of schools financed with only public money.

    This assault on public education is part of the larger trend that Derek Black describes; “ the challenges confronting public education and democracy are variants of the ones we faced generations ago. Plantation and property owners resisted the cost of public education during Reconstruction. Segregationists considered dissolving public education before they integrated in the 1960s and 1970s. today’s story, the primary rallying cry is against public education itself.” Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and Florida’s Governor DeSantis have railed against ‘government schools’ by which they meant schools funded solely by public money. In May of 2021, DeSantis signed a bill that expands what state scholarships can cover as part of a private education.

    Privatizing our education system will lead to an even more stratified society and control by those with money and power, which is what the founders of the United States wanted to prevent. Our democracy has not yet lived up to the ideals set forth in the Constitution, the Northwest Ordinance and the 14th Amendment, but dismantling public education will make ever fully achieving a democracy less possible just as surely as white supremacists made sure that the ideals of democracy were not fully realized by all after the Civil War.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

An OERtist

In a recent tweet, Pam Moran generously included me in a group she called “progressive educators.”  I accept being called a progressive educator, but I like being identified as an OERtist even better, which I consider to be a subset of progressive educator. My wife, Casey, made up the word to explain what it is that I do. I like it. An OERtist works with OER. I create it, curate it, fund it, promote it and support its use by educators (progressive or not) of all levels. I take any opportunity I can to talk or write about OER. 

OER is the acronym for Open Educational Resources - "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions." OER is a collective plural as in OER have been recommended by UNESCO to:

“help all Member States to create inclusive knowledge societies and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, namely SDG 4 (Quality education), SDG 5 (Gender equality), SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities within and across countries), SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals)”

UNESCO, the Education group of the United Nations, also recommends that all of its members get the attention of those who are responsible for learning, education, and research and tell them about and encourage them to use and promote OER. So, even though the United States is not currently a member of UNESCO (since 2018 when that president avoided the work of the world beyond our border) I think it’s important to bring OER to the attention of progressive educators and all those who work with progressive educators.

OER drastically changes education for all by giving teachers and students actual legal ownership of their educational material for free, no money. Teachers and students can legally copy, revise, remix, and redistribute the educational material all they want any way they want. That power seismically shifts what education is and does.

We can make proclamations about equity, diversity, inclusion, and student agency, but if we don’t have the legal authority and necessary skill to change the actual material of education, we're often stuck with material that is not diverse and inclusive; that doesn’t provide equity and student agency. We can’t wait for the commercial publishers to get around to making all material equitable, diverse and inclusive, and we shouldn’t. Making education materials equitable, diverse, and inclusive is the job of educators who are educating. Getting rid of desks, bells, grading, grade levels, walls, and all of the other things about education that are being “reimagined” pales in comparison to the power and progress that OER affords educators and learners.

OER is not about saving money even though one large urban district that is currently piloting the OER middle school math curriculum that SABIER, the nonprofit I founded, and GeoGebra remixed from another curriculum will save about $4.5 million per year compared to using a proprietary remix of the same curriculum. The driving reason why that district is piloting the curriculum is the ability of that district's math department to edit, reorder, and translate the curriculum to fit its very diverse population.

 Open licensing is much more progressive than the old way of copyrighting nonfiction material used in education. Traditional copyrights are still very appropriate for works of art in all media, but if your goal is innovation, collaboration, and equity in education, open licenses are the way to progress, to be progressive.

I’m a journeyman OERtist making daily progress toward becoming a master.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Students are Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions

What did you expect? Were you thinking a pandemic was going to increase student scores on standardized tests? That might happen in the next pandemic, but are you really surprised about this one?
A New York writer put out a story today that mentioned a few 'studies.' Here's my thoughts on those studies, 

This is data from a survey collected between May 7, 2020 to May 12, 2020. It shows that remote teaching during a pandemic has not worked well for large groups of students. I don’t see the question, “Did you think this was going to work out well, and why did you think that?

An analysis from McKinsey & Company, the consulting group.

“Achieving this goal will make it necessary to provide teachers with resources that show them how they can make virtual engagement and instruction effective and to train them in remote-learning best practices.”

I couldn’t agree more with the general thrust of McKinsey’s call to action. I do wonder, though, about which of their clients this report is designed to support. They will say they’re doing this just because they want to contribute to the good of the community. That may actually be true, but most of their paid work is done to improve the return on investment for their corporate clients. Their pro bono work with the Minneapolis Public Schools has resulted in a very real possibility that the Minneapolis Public Schools will be mostly dissolved in the not too distant future. It wouldn’t be too hard to believe that was the original purpose of their pro bono work. McKinsey has a long history of busting unions, and there are plenty of people, usually people who want public money to go to private schools or semi-private charter schools, who see teacher unions as the bad guys in public education.

It would not be a huge logical step for McKinsey to support the for-profit corporatization of our public schools to save them from the ravages of the pandemic. The study referenced lays out the first step in that process - detailing the ravages of the pandemic on public education.

Researchers at Brown and Harvard looked at Zearn

The online program Zearn was formerly used primarily in schools where students accessed it via school computers. We shouldn’t be too surprised that their usage dropped off significantly when students were accessing or attempting to access via home capabilities. I’ve not yet been able to find out who is behind the non-profit, Zearn. Their CEO and founder worked at Bain and Co. before she founded Zearn. Bain and Co play in the same league as McKinsey and Co.

working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization,

“In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns “

Projections and estimates are a lot like best guesses. If that’s all we got, well, then, that’s all we got. But let’s not pretend that it’s solid research.

NWEA is a nonprofit that acts a lot like a for-profit. I used their products extensively when I was teaching and I found them to be very good at generating reports on how students performed on reading and math assessments that were based on a set of criteria that represented how other students performed on those assessments. The remote learning during a pandemic is going to really mess up their comparisons of students. They’ve previously been able to present their data as if all students were receiving similar instruction from teachers who had similar skill levels using similar curricula in similar types of socio-economic environments. The pandemic has blown big holes in all of the previous assumptions. 

Education journalists have a whole lot more work to do to explain how all of those previous assumptions no longer apply. It could be argued, and I would, that the assumptions were never valid. But, making the assumptions created a great industry of measuring student performance and enabled politicians and policy makers to ‘re-imagine’ educational governance and finance every five years or so.

We'll all do better in the next pandemic, I hope.