Happy New Year from CK-12

Dear Friends,

The team at CK-12 wishes you all a very happy, peaceful, and productive 2010.

We are very excited to have completed our third year. It has been a thrill as well as a period of great growth for the whole organization. We are very privileged to be part of the education community.

2009 has been a very volatile and turbulent year for many people. Unlike past disasters and calamities, last 2 years have been unique due to financial, economical, and pandemic disasters. We, at CK-12, understand and feel for everyone who has been in the middle of these challenging times.

CK-12 is committed to providing standards aligned, quality vetted, developmentally appropriate K-12 material as well as continuing to build our seed library with STEM as well as other donated domain materials. This is our way of making the world a better place. We are committed to be open to all students and teachers across the world.

Following is a short summary of our accomplishments:

1. Continuing the build out of Content Library

a. We now have domain specific teachers and professors created standards aligned, high quality, modular content for High School (HS) and Middle School (MS) in

  • Math (Geometry, Calculus, Algebra 1 and 2, Trigonometry, Probability and Statistics, Math  Analysis)
  • Sciences (Biology, Life Science, Earth Science, Chemistry, Peoples Physics Book, Basic Physics, 21st Century Physics)
  • Teachers Editions (TE) for Geo, Cal, Algebra 1, Trig, Probability and Stats. Bio, Life Science, Earth Science. CK-12’s TE comprises of 7 FlexBooks each covering – Teaching tips, Common misconceptions in understanding, Problems Sets, Differentiations, Basic Assessment, Solution sets, and Other resources
b. Many partners have provided us with other subjects as well. This is a partial list
  • Economics series by Bucks Institute
  • Human Biology (HumBio Series) by Craig Heller and Mary Kiely of Stanford University
  • English Composition book by San Jose State under the leadership of Professor Linda Mitchell
  • Shelly Goldman’s MS Math
  • A Basic English Speller
  • High Tech High Math problem sets book
  • Nanosense from SRI
  • Virtual Chemistry

2. Ongoing functional enhancements and future technological directions

  • Flippo (online reader) with abilities for note taking, highlighting, sharing
  • Video as well as other multimedia embedding
  • Moodle (Learning Management System) Integration
  • Extended Document Type support for converting word documents to our internal representation for automated conversion of all your Word documents to FlexBooks
  • More print templates
  • A new architecture for more finer grain size so that we can find functions other than chapters
3. Partnerships – we are partnering with many institutes and organizations to bring forth more content
  • High Tech High
  • Project Algebra from Robert Mosses’ group
  • An updated Hum Bio Program for middle school with interactive Flash-based units from Stanford
  • History book written by Ph D students both a US History primary source book, as well as an upcoming World History book
  • An English Composition book from San Jose State professor Linda Mitchell by Mid February
  • Translation in Spanish of the books recommended by the CA Free digital textbooks initiative by students and professors University in El Salvador
  • Addition to the Contemporary Physics book by other authors in Virginia
  • Arizona State University for developing an pre-algebra and algebra standard
  • Khan Academies to embed video explanations of problems
  • Geogebra to provide the ability to interactively demonstrate mathematical explanations
  • Pilot study on 6 books from CK-12 with 6 Charter schools
We have done a lot but need to do even more. We want to make sure that what we are doing is of value to you and your community. In order to provide productive tools we need to hear from you, the users. Not only do we need to hear from you more importantly we love to hear from you. User response is the number one thing that tells us as to how you are responding to the CK-12 content and tools.
We appreciate the well wishes and constructive feedback from users who value our work and encourage us to go on. It is our reason for being who we are.

Wishing for a year of peace and love of learning for all.

Thoughts on RTTT


Never before has so much money been made available to reenergize the public school educational system; however, Race to the Top (RTTT) is a double-edged sword. On one side, the reality is that billions of dollars can make a difference. The funds could drive much needed innovation to reengage students, particularly in STEM subjects. Yet, on the other side, we need to remain cognizant that this well intentioned effort could yield unforeseen and unintended consequences. The one that worries me most is that all this hoopla may derail educators, schools, and districts from doing what they need to do for current students. Will the present generation have to pay for the good of future generations as some educators claim?

RTTT criteria focus on tangible data to prove success. Adding exemplary teachers, leaders, and turning around low performing schools moves it away from simply quantitative evaluation. Do we really think that this will happen overnight? We have been struggling to improve the current system for a long time. What will ensure that these factors will improve this time? And how will we deal with the confusion that will ensue while we are testing the success of the outcomes?surfing_swimmers

In reality, given the time frame of the race, without providing a reflective and thoughtful planning process, many educators and administrators feel that they are not ready or qualified to take part in the race. Many states do not feel that they can take part in RTTT as the rules and regulations of their states do not fall within the requirements of RTTT. Many states, such as California, are trying to pass legislation that will allow the state to change so RTTT requirements can be met. Requirements such as allowing student data to be attached to teacher performance will hopefully bring accountability. Some states, the latest one being Nevada, has decided to opt out of the race as they cannot change their regulations. California, for one, with its deficit of billions of dollars cannot afford to pass when handouts are given to them.

The elephant in the room worrying many is what happens once the money dries up? Will the Feds keep supplying the yearly maintenance funds that are needed to the educational agencies? Or better still, since education is the responsibility of the states, can we insist that they now raise their own funds?

There are many reasons not to do the race. Yet can we afford not to take on the challenge to make improvements? The time has come for educators to be willing and daring to take bold steps towards changing the way they educate. It’s worth the risk!

Wasted Education

Normal.dotm 0 0 1 26 167 CK12 Foundation 3 1 200 12.0 0 false 18 pt 18 pt 0 0 false false false
Frank Furedi :  Let’s give children the ‘store of human knowledge’.  In flattering kids as ‘digital natives’ for whom the past is irrelevant, we degrade a vital adult mission: “transmitting knowledge
When I read this quote  my immediate reaction was of confusion.
This quote is saying that it is important for us to educate students to transmit knowledge and not make students as digital natives?  So I started reading all the writings that Furedi has written.
Normal.dotm 0 0 1 141 876 CK12 Foundation 16 9 1059 12.0 0 false 18 pt 18 pt 0 0 false false false

I have heard many arguments about what is wrong with education from changing world and not keeping up with this change to irrelevance and teaching inadequacies of the teacher.I have yet to hear about what Frank Furedi (http://www.frankfuredi.com/ ), author of “Wasted – Why education Isn’t Education”, http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1847064167?ie=UTF8&tag=instituteofid-21&link_code=as3&camp=2506&creative=9298&creativeASIN=1847064167 , has to say.
According to Furedi education is in trouble because we are all focusing on the symptoms of the problem and not the reason.We are not able to educate because it is “difficult to give meaning to human experience”.The reasons stem from not being able to learn from what we have learned from the past with the implicit assumption that adults have little to teach children.

High Quality, Free, Digital and Open

I have been reading as many articles about digital textbooks as I can get my hands on, reading about the perceived pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages to distributing learning material via the web, or a USB drive, or a DVD. When I came to work at CK-12 I was excited about the idea, and especially about CK-12’s books being free to access and printable at cost. Over the past 18 months I have become a true believer and advocate of digital learning materials, particularly those available under an open license, such as CC-By-SA.On one hand I can understand the reticence to accept a “free” and “digital” book. For many people just one of these terms automatically connotes poor quality, forget combining the two. But there are countless educators, developers and pioneers dedicated to making high quality free, digital textbooks, including CK-12.

Our July newsletter included an interview with Annamaria Farbizio and Juli Weiss. Annamaria is CK-12’s Math Editor and Leader, and Juli is our Science Editor and Leader. Gil Hoskins, Curriculum Alignment Specialist, and Gary Clarke, Content Manager, round out the CK-12 Content Team with Neeru Khosla as the team leader. This group of people works tirelessly to hire experts in math and science, teachers who hold master’s degrees or PhDs in their fields. You can read about them here.

In a recent Washington Post article,  Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers’ school division said, “Keep in mind that with open-source materials, you have to ask, ‘Where are they coming from?’ Is it a trusted source? Is it aligned to state standards? Is it based on real research?’ There can be quite a difference of content and accuracy [between free digital textbooks and traditional textbooks]. In many cases, you get what you pay for.”

Here are our answers to Mr. Diskey’s questions:

  1. Where are they coming from? CK-12’s textbooks come as donations from universities, such as Arizona State University’s high school level engineering textbook, written by professors in their engineering department. They also come from expert volunteers, such as retired NASA engineer Jim Batterson, who together with former teacher and CK-12’s Partner Relations Manager Holland Lincoln, and the State of Virginia, created the 21st Century Physics FlexBook. Virginia commissioned that updated FlexBook to supplement the traditional publishers’ out-of-date texts. FlexBooks are also commissioned by CK-12, created by teachers who have at least five years experience in their subject, many of whom hold master’s degrees and PhDs in their subjects.
  2. Is it a trusted source? CK-12’s books are as good as the experts we work with to create them. We consider college professors, teachers, NASA engineers and PhDs to be trusted sources.
  3. Is it aligned to state standards? When CLRN evaluated CK-12’s FlexBook for alignment to state standards, none of our books scored below 83%, though most scored closer to 100% for alignment to California’s state standards. In contrast, Pearson’s traditional biology textbook met 46% of California’s biology standards. Source: http://www.clrn.org/FDTI/index.cfm
  4. Is it based on real research? In a word, yes. CK-12’s author, editor and reviewer community are highly trained experts in their fields.

CK-12 is here for the good of the students. We are excited about lightening the load they carry to school, allowing their teachers to customize their materials, and making free and digital synonymous with high quality, up-do-date, and customizable in the world of textbooks.

Is there a purpose for Education?

I had the privilege of presenting at the Gifted Education Conference organized by the Nueva School.  The theme of the conference was not only Gifted Education but also Innovation (for example role of design process in K-12 Education, Social-Emotional Learning) and professional development for teachers.  To complete the holistic nature of education, the conference extended their reach to include students as shown by the inclusion of a 15-year-old student who had started his own company that sold a card game he had invented.  The concept of this game was based on concepts in chemistry similar to the popular card game Magic.  780 teachers, parents, and school administrates attented this very informative and stimulating conference.
I was asked to be on a panel focusing on “What 21st Century Education will look like.” Surprisingly, not one of us came up with a similar answer, especially since the work in education focus is different.  As expected, my response based on customized and individualize education.  The essence of my point of view is that we must ensure that we must meet the needs of the students starting from where they are rather then where we expect them to be.  The second person on the panel focuse on Emotional Quotient (EQ), Culture Quotient (CQ) and Intelligence Quotient (IQ).  Based on his own eperience in education the next panelist felt that he was taught to be “adaptable to changing situations” and hence we should be teaching for adaptability.  The final panelist, however, based on his research and experience felt that the focus should be on ethical education.

Hearing these responses I thought really these are four divergent responses begging the questions:
“What is the purpose of education?”
“What is the role of schools?”

No doubt that each of my more distinuished fellow panelist brought a very important and much needed angle to education.  However, the  bottom-line is that there are only so many hours in a day.  What do we include and what do we take out?  Are we requiring our schools and teachers to de facto become the “family unit”?  Are we requiring our schools to be everything to everyone?  Can we continue to do so while taking care of very diverse, in many ways, population?

How do we ensure that schools teach to learning the essentials of academics, while making sure that we allow time for complex, individual and ever changing emotional and humane characteristics? Any thoughts?

FlexBooks: Real-Time, Global Textbooks

On September 24th, NASA issued a press release telling the world that water molecules had been discovered on the Moon’s surface. At CK-12 we emailed this news article to each other, and upon reading it my first reaction was that we may need to update our Earth Science FlexBook. Sure enough, we open up to the Earth, Moon, and Sun chapter and go to the Lunar Surface section, and it begins with the proclamation “The Moon has no water.” After another careful pass of the NASA “Mission News” article, I put together a couple sentences to replace this one, writing:

There are no lakes, rivers, or even small puddles anywhere to be found on the Moon’s surface. (However, it should be noted that in 2009, NASA scientists believe they discovered that in the top few millimeters of the Moon’s surface, there is a large number of water molecules mixed in with dirt and rocks — you can stay up-to-date with their latest findings at http://www.nasa.gov).

Looking at the Lunar Surface section, I recalled that the Moon had been in the news earlier this week as well. Doing a quick search, I dug up an article from September 21st about how NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter had recorded temperatures in permanently dark craters on the Moon that are less than -238 degrees Celsius (-397 degrees Fahrenheit). A NASA scientist claims that these are “among the lowest that have been measured anywhere in the solar system, including the surface of Pluto.” So of course I need to add a couple lines about this astonishing factoid, as well as some well-established average day and night time surface temperatures to flush out the section.

I click save and update the Earth Science FlexBook live on the site.

Then it dawned on me what just happened. The big picture — NASA scientists collaborate with the Indian Space Research Organization by putting equipment on India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. A global network of scientists analyze the data that Chandrayaan-1 streams to them from space. After careful and thorough analysis, they share their findings on NASA’s web site. Then, on the same day that they share their findings, we update our textbook and publish it live on our site.

Now, although we must be careful to not update our FlexBooks with every news release or claim read in the news, we can guide our readers toward good sources of information and try do our best to be honest and accurate writers, editors, and curators of knowledge. That being said, it is a great feeling to know that our Earth Science FlexBook is probably the first textbook in the world to be published with this new information about the Moon’s surface.

1. The image is of a young lunar crater on the side of the moon that faces away from Earth, as viewed by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper on the  Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. This image is a crop of the original version.  Credits: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/Brown Univ.  Source: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/moonmars/features/moon20090924.html

STEM education and the Future

STEM education is marginalized.Many subjects are important to providing students with a well-rounded education.Science, math, critical thinking, physical education, writing/composition and the arts complement each other and are each essential to preparing our students for the future.  Many reports supported by statisitics and reasons (SETDA, EdWeek, NCES, Rising above the gathering storm , A splintered Vision of education, etc) have shown that the American students are far behind their international counterparts.

Math and science trands

We need to ensure that students are part of the conversation and are engaged in their education. This is a must if we want our students to learn about their future and its challenges.  We need to ensure that they have a deep and thorough knowledge of the world from a scientific point of view as well as a cultural and historical point of view.

Science is not just about facts and skills, it is also about being responsible citizens.We need the next generation to be aware of the consequences of our actions, whether regarding resources, or our impact on the Earth.How can we solve, or at minimum slow global warming if our elementary school students are missing lessons about the Carbon cycle?How can we compete with overseas manufacturing if our high school students are not taught engineering?How will we prevent another global credit crisis if our students do not properly understand basic mathematics principles at the very least?

How can we expect math or science excellence:

·If only 60% of 7th to 12th grade public school teachers have undergraduate degrees majoring in Math?

·If 29% of the teachers report teaching science two or fewer days per week?

·If students do not have access to information to learn?

·If they are not trained to use the tools of the trade, such as computers, in the work force?

·If we do not give the right respect to the profession of teaching?

We can no longer accept or encourage the mindset that some students are incapable of being successful at math and science.Every one of our students can and must be given the instruction and teacher resource dedication it takes to help them to gain a thorough and long lasting understanding of the essential principles of a STEM education.There are many angles from which we must approach this problem: assuring that teachers are adequately knowledgeable in the subject they are teaching, allotting proper funds to STEM classes, providing deep curricular rather then mile wide content, improving and modernizing STEM curricula, and letting go of the idea that science and math are only within the grasp of a select few.

No longer can we afford our students thinking that they are “No good in science or math”, “I don’t need these for real life” and “I don’t have the natural affinity for these subjects.”This mindset has to change!

Its all about access to information

Many of you may have already read that California announced findings from their digital and free textbooks initiative.  Many of you may have also received an email from us about this. We salute all the organizations and individuals that took part in this initiative.These people are real givers and care about what is happening in education.


And, what of the results? In brief, of the 16 donations –10 books were 90% or above aligned to State Standards, of which 6 were from CK-12.Out of these 16 books 4 books had 100% alignment; here again CK-12 had 3 books.Our lowest scoring book had 83% alignment.We are absolutely going to make it close to 100%.In the meantime, we have plenty of challenges to solve.

The take away for the organization

The naysayers are worried that a digital textbook is just a collection of links and multimedia with no coherent outline.This is however, far from the truth with our content.We have spent a lot of time trying to ensure state standard alignment as well as quality of content.Practicing teachers from across the nation have reviewed books in their subject expertise, supplemented by 40 high school intern’s feedback, thoughts and wishes.

Access to technology has become an issue in K-12 education.Some worry about all students not having access to computers or the Internet at school or at home, and think that students shouldn’t spend all their time in front of the computer; what they forget is that the solution is simple – one can print digital textbooks.  In addition, the future requires that students be comfortable and adept at using computers.It is the tool for the next generation. If we do not provide computers, American students will be left behind.Do we want our children to grow up and have to go overseas to find work where all the jobs are going to be?Can you imagine our children being illegal immigrants looking for greener pastures?

Others say that there will be no cost savings because of the technology costs.  There is concern about finding a standardized format to deliver books, which can also be loaded onto e-readers.  A few think that digital textbooks will hurt students with learning differences; others think it will help them.

Many of these concerns point to something that happens when people are given new options – their minds are set in the old way, they are afraid of the new and the unknown. We have addressed these challenges with our product and delivery of the product – by creating an online reader, and providing a print format for students that do not have access to computers.This project is not about creating more of a digital divide but about providing access to information for all students.

People are concerned that we are regurgitating Wikipediaarticles or random hyper links or YouTube videos.  We are far from this.When we incorporate outside mresources, we carefully place each of these items in context. During the summer we had 20 high school interns who went through our content finding examples of videos or multimedia links and placing them in the right spot.

Many have compared us to Wikipedia or asked how we differ from Wikipedia. Indeed most people forget that Wikipedia was seeded with content from Encyclopedia Britannica and then only later did Wikipedia became the collaborative site it is today.Even now though there are millions of articles and users, in reality only a small percent of people work on the articles.In fact, there are many articles that are the voice of just one.We are still at an early stage in our development, analogous to where Wikipedia was when they seeded their project.

Richard Koman is right when he says “Hmm, no funding for hardware, no funding for teacher training, no requirement to implement. Sounds like pissing in the wind.”

In California, K-12 schooling has a mandate that every student have their own books (Williams Act, 2000) and those funds can only be used for textbooks. There is no way to redirect those funds for anything else, not even to fund printing digital books.There are no funds for teachers if they decide not to buy textbooks from publishers and use digital books instead. Very often the textbooks are lying around while the teachers are putting together their own curriculum.As a district you cannot afford to lose the money that the state gives you to purchase textbooks.This is really what Koman means when he contends that a lack of funding is going to cripple this initiative and we agree.We need to have the state put their money where their mouth is.

Let me reiterate the basic facts about CA initiative –

  • These are HS textbooks
  • These HS textbooks are free and digital
  • This program was announced with a very short delivery period
  • Students don’t need a computer to read these books as long as there is one computer and access to a printer or even a memory stick to take home or take to FedEx- Kinko’s like entities for printing
  • These Flexbooks are locked in PDF format for two years for the initiative; however they will be improving even more during that time and one can go to our website and use the improved versions.
  • You can print as much of the Flexbooks as you need or want
  • This initiative was not a competition but open to everyone to participate.  None of the traditional publishers other than Pearson availed of this opportunity
  • This is an open educational resource (OER), which means that the project and the products will continually evolve.  If you have been following our progress in the last one year you would have seen that. One of the fundamental differences is that Open Source is implicit for software whereas OER is specific for education resource

So what are people saying about our work?

We have been following many of the social websites such as Twitter, Slashdot, as well as other blogs that have been following the development of the CA Initiative and most of them show their excitement and are saying that this is  “the future of the textbooks.”  A few show skepticism about the delivery of the books. Some folks are frustrated that the formatting is not correct or perfect.  I am thrilled that people are talking about this, as it will set the bar for us.  However we have to be realistic and recognize the fact that this is not easy to do right from the start.  We have to create automation.

There is also some confusion about the licensing.  We have licensed our content as Creative Common by attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license.  This license allows one to take content from our site and mix and match it.  However, any improvements made are also considered under this license, i.e. all improvement must be shared with community at large.

We are not perfect yet, we might never be.  Since these books are generated through automated programming the format is hard to get right/perfect.  The content is not hand-formatted like regular publishing, hence they may not have the same formatting people expect.  Because we are a young organization that has only just started our work, we will make things much better.  We are also working on a LaTex version that will be out by next month.

Some people want to have the ability to have multiple books open at the same time.  Perhaps one can do that in a multiple windows view such that you can go back and forth between the texts.   They also want the ability to use these books the way that we use them today – annotating, highlighting and to be able to keep these books forever. Please be patient we are doing all these things – as resources allow.  On the other hand the books are yours to keep forever.  Enjoy!!


Time to end the monopoly in education

I will be honest before I start this blog and admit that I am not an expert in markets. However, I was intrigued when I read the article,  Time To End The Monopoly In Education. According to author James Coulson, even though the stimulus is well intentioned, it is counterproductive. Here are some of the reasons he cites:

* The returns from the ballooning spending in education have been less than nothing.

* Student achievement has been flat for the last 40 years (according to a DOE study).

* In literature on education, 59 studies show that the least regulated and the most market-like education systems show efficiency and outperform the monopoly school systems. In comparison, not a single study finds the monopoly schools to be a more efficient system.

Coulson’s point about the shortcomings of the well-intentioned stimulus is further shown to hold up because since the 1970s student achievement has been flat. Does putting more money into the system improve student learning? To prove his point, Coulson compares Washington D.C. spending on public schools to spending on voucher systems. This comparison was to indicate the effects of the spending on these two diverse systems. The voucher program costs a quarter of the price of the pubic supported schools while far out performing them. For example, within three years the students who benefit from the vouchers show reading levels that are two grades ahead, a high percent of them finish high school, and the majority go on to four-year colleges or universities. Despite these statistics, President Obama has decided to phase out the voucher program, Coulson points out.

We could argue that there are other issues that are affecting these systems. Could it be the freedom that private schools offer the teachers, versus the constrained atmosphere that public system subjects its teachers to?

Far from being an engine of wealth creation, the education system is bleeding the economy to death.

To further prove his point, Coulson reviewed global evidence in markets versus monopolies. The question he asks in this review paper is, “Would families and communities be better served by a free and competitive education market place than they are by our current system of  state school monoplies?”  To avoid the bias that school systems have different cultural and economic relevance in different countries, the study was focused on comparing public versus private schools internationally.  Fifty-five studies covering more than twenty nations were reviewed.  As shown by Figure 1,  eight different criteria were used.  Of these, academic achievement, as measured by student test scores and effieicieny per dollar spent per student showed a statistically valid difference for public versus private schools.  The private school showed an advantage of 8 to 1, where as free-market outnumbered school-monlopoly by a ratio of more than 17 to 1.  These findings span across very diverse cultures and economies.

Coulson’s findings are uniform for the U S as well as other countries. These findings indicate that achievement and efficiency are much higher in free market institutes compared to the monoply schools.  One good thing about the results of this anaylsis is that U S is not alone in these findings.
“Once upon a time, America could afford to sustain a parasitic school monopoly, recklessly throwing billions more dollars at it deacde after decade despite its failure to improve?” Andrew J. Coulson
Could this even be true?  If so, what are the solutions?  Charter schools, home-schooling, private schools…………………………..

Who needs millions of dollars

Dallas News recently published the following article:

Irving ISD uses online textbooks, so unused copies state must buy sit in a warehouse

Thousands of textbooks and other materials worth an estimated $4.6 million sit unused in an Irving school district warehouse. No one knows how many $50-$75 textbooks sit unused in school bookrooms or storage warehouses across Texas.

“;It’s not like you’ve gone and thrown a million dollars off the top of a building, but I think we could do better things with the money,” said Lea Bailey, Irving ISD’s director of learning resources. “I don’t think we’re being wasteful. I think we could probably revise the process and make better use of taxpayers’ money for sure.”

The Texas Education Agency, which regulates public schools, budgeted $500 million for textbook purchases in 2008-09.

What does this say about our system? Will School districts do anything not to lose their funds for textbook adoption?  Even if we are throwing millions of dollars off the top of a building………….