MCPS, Pearson, and Missing an Opportunity

I sent the following letter to the editor of the Washington Post, who reported on the MCPS / Pearson deal. It looks like they’re not running it, so I share it here.

Montgomery County Public Schools’ shortsighted decision to sell its nationally recognized and taxpayer-funded curriculum to an education publishing company (Re: Global firm to pay Montgomery, Md., schools
millions for elementary curriculum
; June 9, 2010) will only further exacerbate the education budget crises in the region and throughout the nation.

As a veteran educator, I am well aware of the significant and growing budgetary challenges districts like Montgomery are facing. Unfortunately, the huge collection of curriculum materials whose creation by MCPS was funded with taxpayer dollars now belongs to a commercial publisher. Now, when education budgets are tightest, other schools will spend additional taxpayer dollars to purchase materials originally produced with public funds. To call this “wasteful” would be an understatement. Why should the public pay over and over again for access to curriculum materials whose development they already paid to support? The current economic climate is not the time for school districts to engage in selfish educational isolationism. The county has missed a huge opportunity to explore a genuinely new way of doing things – sharing.

Instead of selling its content, the county should have followed the lead of others and made its curriculum resources freely available for use by other states, districts and individual teachers. Right now, the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement is actively working to expand teacher and student access to high-quality, up-to-date, engaging, and customizable content and curriculum far more quickly, cost-effectively, and efficiently than today. Instead of holding world-class curriculum and other content hostage for the highest bidder, OER provides all educators with access to a much larger pool of resources that are freely available for sharing, adaptation and customization.

Far from a utopian dream, OER is a ready solution already being used by schools and universities throughout the nation and world. For example, at the Open High School of Utah, which I founded and on whose board I serve, the entire curriculum is comprised of OER. This provides teachers with a tremendous amount of freedom to customize the content so it best meets the needs of our students, and enables the resources to be shared with anyone, free of charge.

As Superintendent Weast suggests, Montgomery County Schools and others need to find new ways of doing things. A return to the basic principle of sharing would be our best way forward.