The emergence of open-source curricula

As states continue to implement the Common Core and similar state standards, a frequent barrier that districts and teachers face is the lack of high-quality curriculum and instructional materials aligned to these new rigorous standards. A promising solution is open-source curricula, such as New York State’s EngageNY, which enable educators to freely use and adapt materials in their classrooms. A recent report from New America examines the ways that many states are starting to embrace and develop such resources.

Researchers Lindsey Tepe and Teresa Mooney analyzed state policies, legislation, and curriculum documents from all fifty states and Washington, D.C., to gain a broad understanding of the landscape of open educational resources (OER). They define OER as materials that are published using an open content license, meaning they are freely available to use, modify, and distribute; they can be as small as a document or single lesson plan or as comprehensive as a full curriculum. Tepe and Mooney focus on what OER were available in each state, how they were used, and how they were shared with stakeholders across the states. And they conducted interviews with educations leaders in fourteen states who were found to have been conducting innovative work with OER, and compiled the findings from the interviews and document analyses, highlighting trends and promising practices.

The report finds that states are engaging in four main actions around OER. First, many are incorporating the resources into their curriculum review processes, giving them the same level of scrutiny as licensed products. Other states that don’t have the means to provide curriculum guidance are directing districts to external reviewers or tools, such as rubrics, that allow districts to conduct their own curriculum reviews. Second, eleven states and Washington, D.C., are developing some type of OER. Some states, such as New York and Texas, developed full open-source curricula. Many others are using OER to bridge gaps in resources exposed by curriculum review processes, or incorporating OER into their professional development through both digital professional development, such as California’s Collaboration in Common, and in-person trainings focused on developing educators’ understanding of OER and how to leverage them to improve instruction. Finally, some states are working to make these resources widely accessible online through state websites and online portals, though these efforts are still in development in many places.

Tepe and Mooney also examined the mechanisms states are using to further their OER efforts. They find that states are primarily focused on fostering collaboration, building communication strategies, securing necessary funding, and developing policies that promote the use of these resources. But states are generally still in the early phases of integrating OER into curriculum use and development. For instance, most current communication strategies are focused on introducing OER to districts, such as Virginia’s use of thirty-minute presentations, rather than in-depth development work. Importantly, though, states are engaging teachers throughout these processes, frequently recruiting educators to review and develop OER and deploying them as “OER ambassadors” in their home districts, increasing awareness of these open-source materials and training teachers to adapt them to fit local needs.

This report is limited mainly by the scope of OER processes reviewed, providing just a general overview of the work happening in a handful of states. Because of this approach, readers are unable to gain a full understanding of the extent to which OER are actually impacting teaching and learning in states. And the overall tone of the report is positive, giving the impression that education is in the midst of an open-source revolution, even though OER are still in their infancy, with only a handful of states embracing them.

Open-source educational resources have the potential to provide educators with easy, free access to high-quality materials, increasing their capacity to improve instruction and personalization. There is still a lot of work to be done to give all educators access to high-quality OER, but this report profiles the promising practices emerging around the country, and can serve as an introduction for state educational leaders looking to develop similar resources.

SOURCE: Lindsey Tepe and Teresa Mooney, “Navigating the new curriculum landscape: How states are using and sharing open educational resources,” (New America 2018).

Nicholas Munyan-Penney
Nicholas Munyan-Penney Development and Research Associate