RTT-D Comment June 2012

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June 8, 2012 submission to http://www.ed.gov/race-top/district-competition

Thanks for allowing us to comment on the Race to the Top District (RTT-D) program. We applaud the Department of Education (Department) highlighting the importance of high quality educational resources for students and teachers, prioritizing personalized learning environments, and championing data-driven education. Creative Commons is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that provides free licenses and legal tools to mark creative and educational work with the freedom the author wants it to carry. Creative Commons copyright licenses and legal tools are the global standard for sharing Open Educational Resources, or “OER.” OER are teaching and learning materials that reside in the public domain or are released under a copyright license that allow users to reuse, remix, repurpose, and redistribute high quality educational content. The Department has made OER a priority in its discretionary grantmaking, and Secretary Duncan has underlined various benefits of OER, saying “Open Educational Resources can not only accelerate and enrich learning; they can also substantially reduce costs for schools, families and students.”

Insofar as the RTT-D program will fund the creation of educational materials, we urge the Department to adopt a policy identical to that of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program (TAACCCT). That initiative requires that educational content created from grant funds be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY). The DOL policy says:

In order to ensure that the Federal investment of these funds has as broad an impact as possible and to encourage innovation in the development of new learning materials, as a condition of the receipt of a TAACCCT grant, the grantee will be required to license to the public (not including the Federal Government) all work created with the support of the grant (Work) under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) license. Work that must be licensed under the CC BY includes both new content created with the grant funds and modifications made to pre-existing, grantee-owned content using grant funds...This license allows subsequent users to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the copyrighted Work and requires such users to attribute the Work in the manner specified by the grantee.

This is sound public policy. The $2 billion TAACCCT program’s CC BY open licensing requirement will help maximize the impact of the grant funds expended, and the $400 million Race to the Top District Program can realize similar benefits by adopting the same policy. In this way, other states, LEAs, and teachers and students will be granted broad access and reuse rights to the creative educational content that is created as a result of public tax dollars. Some other states have already been working to adopt open policies that leverage Creative Commons licenses. For example, California has moved a bill through the Senate that would spend $25 million to create the 50 highest enrolled college open textbooks and make them available under CC BY for students. Washington State passed legislation and provided $200,000 per year to support OER in K-12.

The RTT-D competition requires that applicants address personalized learning environments as an absolute priority. Openly licensed educational content (such as content licensed under CC BY) can be legally adapted and customized for individualized instruction. The CC BY license gives teachers and instructional designers permission in advance to repurpose educational content such as textbook chapters, lesson plans, multimedia materials, and interactive content. This simple fact can be a huge benefit to time-strapped teachers aiming to customize educational content for a student’s individual learning plan. Ensuring that educational resources created as a result of RTT-D funds are made broadly available for creative reuse under open licenses empowers educators, giving them the high-quality learning resources, processes and tools to accelerate student progress.

It should also be noted that the CC BY license grants the same rights to commercial publishers to take content that is created with taxpayer funds, add value around those materials, and sell them. If commercial publishers are able to create a superior product that schools and districts find valuable, then they will pay for those services from traditional publishers.

The Department’s request for input on the RTT-D program makes a special mention that successful grant applicants will be able to build personalized learning environments that contain “high-quality content aligned with college- and career-ready standards...frequently updated data about individual student progress, and intervention support options” (6). It should be noted that the adoption of Open Educational Resources does not prevent applicants from meeting this goal. In fact, currently there are OER producers, such as OER Commons, CK-12 Flexbooks, and Curriki that build and distribute Open Educational Resources that are pre-aligned with standards such as the Common Core State Standards.

Thank you again for providing this opportunity to provide feedback on the Department of Education Race to the Top District Program. We would be pleased to answer any follow up questions you may have.