Open source textbooks a "threat" to Texas education? | Opensource.com

Open source textbooks a "threat" to Texas education?

Posted 26 Jan 2010 by 

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Texas has never been afraid of bold education initiatives, and the passage of Texas House Bill 2488 in June 2009 was definitely bold. The bill, "Relating to open-source textbooks and other instructional materials for public schools," made modifications to the Texas Education Code that explicitly allow adoption of open source textbooks in Texas schools.

Great stuff, right?  Well, not everybody thinks so -- Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, of the Texas State Board of Education, is aghast:

House Bill 2488 – the “open source” textbook bill – is a watershed piece of legislation that unfortunately passed and went under the radar of most Board members. Now that it is taking form, and accelerating at a rapid pace, there is reason for grave concern.

The SBOE has developed a textbook adoption process that is a model for other states. It implements the highest quality curriculum standards for the state through a process where the Texas Education Agency, educators, parents and students work closely with the Board in a transparent and open process.

House Bill 2488 ignores a process that has been in place for years and has resulted in great success. It offers no chance for review or public participation. No one – including the SBOE – will be able to evaluate the materials before they are sold to schools in March 2010.

The effects of this bill run deep. It will eliminate materials that are aligned with state standards and will allow questionable resources into the system that will be there for years to come.

Which, naturally, leads us down the political rabbit hole.  From texasinsider.org:

These attacks are occurring through the adoption of open source textbook rules proposed by the Texas Education Commission, rules that completely exclude public participation in curriculum development and circumvent the opportunity for educators, parents and the public to  review and comment on instructional material before it is adopted for classroom use.

The open-source rules would allow school districts to buy instructional material that has not gone through the public review and comment process and, by doing so, threaten to undermine decades of public input that is responsible for the quality public education system Texans enjoy today.

We need Gov. Perry to stand tall against these proposed Texas bureaucratic proposals and to prevent the TEA from doing at the state level what he is stopping Washington from doing to Texas curriculum at the federal level.

What's actually going on here?

The bill certainly seems to sidestep the SBOE's authority.  Whenever you see "shall" in a piece of legislation, get your popcorn ready, because someone's about to fight.  If they changed "shall" to "shalt", it would be positively biblical.  Look, there it is:

The State Board of Education SHALL place an open-source textbook for a secondary-level course submitted for adoption by an eligible institution on a conforming or nonconforming list if (blah blah long list of seemingly reasonable requirements).

Naturally, no one in the Texas SBOE is going to take kindly to such abrogation of their authority. And maybe they have a point.

Theoretically, there's no reason that open source textbooks shouldn't be subject to the same approval processes as traditional textbooks.  We don't exempt open source software from government security or quality guidelines for good reasons -- and Red Hat now makes a very tidy business by putting open source software through precisely these kinds of quality control processes.

Remember, though: it took the open source software community many years to develop software that was robust enough to pass these quality tests -- and it's likely that open source textbooks will face the same slow, uphill battle.

Look, the nice folks in the Texas legislature didn't pass this bill with the intent of corrupting the minds of little bitty Texans.  They did it to fund the creation of open source textbooks, now.  Why?  Because their goal is to save the taxpayers of Texas millions and millions of dollars now -- dollars that currently go to proprietary textbook publishers.  That's certainly a worthwhile goal (unless you're a proprietary textbook publisher).  If anything belongs in the commons, it's the materials that we use to provide a basic education to our citizens.

Just slow it down a little, Texas.  Think it through.  If someone can make a reasonable case that you that your move to an open source model actually reduces transparency, that probably means that You're Doing It Wrong.

It takes time to build a commons properly.  We feel your pain, but there's no hurry.  Slow down.  Bring your stakeholders with you.  Re-engage with the Texas SBOE and figure out an approval model for open source textbooks that works for them.  Building an engaged community is essential in building a commons that lasts.  It may take longer, and it may be incredibly frustrating -- bureaucracies always are -- but time, and history, are on your side.

(Of course, if it ultimately turns out that the SBOE is against the very idea of open source textbooks, then we will offer a very different opinion indeed.)

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9 Comments

mairin
Open Source Evangelist

Are there any open source textbooks being published right now? From whom are they going to be purchased?

I agree that if a textbook is open source, it doesn't mean it doesn't need to pass through the same quality control that proprietary textbooks have to. (Although it would be nice if some preference towards open source, if all other factors were equal enough, were instituted with the bill.)

But practically, what does that mean for a teacher? E.g., if a teacher wants to provide copies of the Digital Foundations course material for a class, are they not allowed because it hasn't been blessed by the SBOE?

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taw

The Texas SBOE notoriously does NOT have a "textbook adoption process that is a model for other states". They just got through a major battle to keep evolution in the curriculum:
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/012309dntexevolution.1d0cd401.html

I suspect that (1) they don't understand open source and (2) don't want to have to review even more content for adherence to standards... and open up the door once again to pseudo-science like "Of Pandas and People". They just won that battle (barely), I suspect they do not want to fight it again and again and again.

-todd

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hannahelastic
Newbie

Here's an interesting article on Texas' "revisionaries" who work hard to pump their values into textbooks. In the current model, Texas, one of textbook publisher's biggest customers, ends up rewriting the textbooks that are used all across the country.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2010/1001.blake.html

Let's hope that Texas does find a way to accept opensource, they can run it through their approval process. At least the rest of the country won't be subject to learning that one certain special version of history.

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Leif Petterson

I have a close friend who was the educational "software evangelist" for Apple about 8-10 years ago. When Jobs came back to Apple he wanted to recapture this market. They spent time and resources getting to the possible leverage they had, they looked at providing books in electronic form basically free. Turned out the red-tape built into the school system prevented even free books. Add the fact that Texas probably have s strong aversion to anything that may be close to Darwin and you have an impossible uphill.

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kb2001
Newbie

There are two sides to this argument. For using open source textbooks, this is a significant cost reduction in the long run and hopefully more states will choose to go down this path in the future. As we have seen with open source software in the past decade, support and use from the community are the biggest factors in further development on a project. If nobody uses it, it gets dropped fairly quickly. It is no surprise that Texas is one of the first to do this. Texas has been innovative for decades in finding ways to reduce costs, and finding ways to ensure that every school funded by the state has the equipment and resources needed not only to function, but to excel. This is just another step in the right direction, one that other states will surely follow, as they seem to with a lot of ideas first introduced in Texas. The publishers of propriety books have a strong hold on curriculum in US schools, but in Texas there is a long running way to ensure that garbage stays out, and only the best gets in, this is just the next step

However, part of what makes the system work so well in Texas is the open review and input from the community on which books to use. Bypassing this review undermines a great deal of what put Texas near the top in public education in the US. The legislature understood a long time ago that great ideas and input come from anywhere, and they adopted a system which provides a means for those ideas to be heard. Compare this to states like Illinois where the union runs every aspect of public education, and as they've acquired more power in the past 15 years with a weak legislature the quality of education has plummeted. Power to the point that the legislature rejected a $200m DONATION to fund charter school programs because the teachers' union was against it. The misnomers from some about Darwin being left out, and revisionist teaching are simply uninformed accusations based on watching too many movies and not enough truth. Come with facts, not Hollywood. Come with reality, not ignorant misconceptions.

Hopefully, this law can be reviewed and the community review process be included rather than bypassed. Though open source books are a great idea and hopefully more prevalent in the future, it is not worth undermining an excellent system to get there, especially when the two can work just fine together.

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Funny

Funny, another partisan jaw flappy blog with a couple political hacks wanting to be heard. Then along comes "Missing the point", who makes a logical argument and guess what, the hacks go away with no further rebuttal.

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Mark Owen

I couldn't say it better than the commentator on top and I second everything said here -->

"

There are two sides to this argument. For using open source textbooks, this is a significant cost reduction in the long run and hopefully more states will choose to go down this path in the future. As we have seen with open source software in the past decade, support and use from the community are the biggest factors in further development on a project. If nobody uses it, it gets dropped fairly quickly. It is no surprise that Texas is one of the first to do this. Texas has been innovative for decades in finding ways to reduce costs, and finding ways to ensure that every school funded by the state has the equipment and resources needed not only to function, but to excel. This is just another step in the right direction, one that other states will surely follow, as they seem to with a lot of ideas first introduced in Texas. The publishers of propriety books have a strong hold on curriculum in US schools, but in Texas there is a long running way to ensure that garbage stays out, and only the best gets in, this is just the next step

However, part of what makes the system work so well in Texas is the open review and input from the community on which books to use. Bypassing this review undermines a great deal of what put Texas near the top in public education in the US. The legislature understood a long time ago that great ideas and input come from anywhere, and they adopted a system which provides a means for those ideas to be heard. Compare this to states like Illinois where the union runs every aspect of public education, and as they've acquired more power in the past 15 years with a weak legislature the quality of education has plummeted. Power to the point that the legislature rejected a $200m DONATION to fund charter school programs because the teachers' union was against it. The misnomers from some about Darwin being left out, and revisionist teaching are simply uninformed accusations based on watching too many movies and not enough truth about school grants. Come with facts, not Hollywood. Come with reality, not ignorant misconceptions.

Hopefully, this law can be reviewed and the community review process be included rather than bypassed. Though open source books are a great idea and hopefully more prevalent in the future, it is not worth undermining an excellent system to get there, especially when the two can work just fine together."

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Jay Sean

Im not going to say what everyone else has already said, but I do want to comment on your knowledge of the topic. Youre truly well-informed. I cant believe how much of this I just wasnt aware of. Thank you for bringing more information to this topic for me. Im truly grateful and really impressed.

Texas education is the best though, I've tweeted this post for you, and for education you need to be healthy with a good Food Nutrition Chart - This may help you out.

Cheers!

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Pat Patel

If you want to go to college in Texas you can start saving now through a 529 plan. These tax-free plan allows you to save money for college, instead of looking for a college grant that later have to be paid off!

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Greg DeKoenigsberg is the Vice President of Community for Ansible, where he leads the company's relationship with the broader open source community. Greg brings to Ansible over a decade of open source product and community leadership, with the majority of this time spent building and leading communities for open source leader Red Hat. While at Red Hat, Greg served in various community leadership roles, including senior community architect, leader of the Fedora project, chair of the first

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