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 Virginia commissioned that updated FlexBook to supplement the traditional publishers’ out-of-date texts.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………….

CK-12 July 2009 Newsletter

Newsletter July 2009

Greetings CK-12 Community!
In this issue:

  • California Digital Textbooks Initiative
  • Introduction to CK-12 Content Manager Gary Clarke
  • Interview with Juli Weiss and Annamaria Farbizio, CK-12 Science and Math Editors
  • Update on Support and Twitter

California Digital Textbooks Initiative

If you live in California, you have probably noticed that digital textbooks are in the news lately. Governor Schwarzenegger issued a call to educators and publishers to submit standards-aligned textbooks in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math by June 15th. We are proud to have met that deadline. It has been a great group effort with all of our authors, editors, domain experts, copyeditors, and internal content staff working together towards this important goal.  The books are available for download here. They are Calculus, Geometry, Trigonometry, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Life Science.

Introduction to CK-12 Content Manager Gary Clarke

In other CK-12 news, our internal staff has grown.  We have added Gary Clarke as Content Manager.  Gary joins CK-12 with over thirteen years of experience in educational and web-content publishing.  We couldn’t be happier to have him.

Gary gave us a short bio to share: “I am very excited about joining CK-12. After spending many years in educational publishing and IT Web publishing, I wanted to work for a top-notch team that brought those two worlds together. Delivering high- quality online educational content over the Web and building a thriving online educational community, all in support of an open education mission…now what could be better than that! For the past nine-plus years, I have gained experience in online Web publishing and online community building with Catapulse, Rational Software, a little company called IBM (developerWorks) and an even smaller one, Microsoft (MSDN). Prior to that, I spent six years with Pearson and Key Curriculum Press. I attended the London School of Economics, University of London, University of Southern California, and taught logic and philosophy for one year at Manchester University.  I have a wife, Joze! fa, and two very small children, Oliver (4 years) and Abigail (14 months.)  I have no free time whatsoever!”

Interview with Juli Weiss and Annamaria Farbizio, CK-12 Science and Math Editors

CK-12’s content team are:

  • Gary Clark, Content Manager
  • Annamaria Farbizio, Math Leader and Editor
  • Gil Hoskins, Curriculum Alignment Specialist
  • Juli Weiss, Science Leader and Editor

They are joined this summer by a fantastic group of high school interns.  See more info about all of the CK-12 team here.  The Newsletter sat down with Juli Weiss and Annamaria Farbizio to talk about CK-12’s unique content creation process.

CK-12 Newsletter:
Tell me a little about the CK-12 Publishing Process- How do you create digital textbooks?

Juli Weiss: CK-12 is committed to creating comprehensive K-12 STEM curricula written to state and national standards.  One of CK-12’s key differentiators is our academic and comprehensive approach to developing our seeded content.  For example, for our California editions, our book outlines were written to California and national standards.  Science content was aligned to California, National Science Education Standards (NSES), as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Project 2061 Benchmarks whenever possible.  Math content is aligned to California and National Council of Teachers in Mathematics (NCTM) standards.  There are three ways we obtain content: 1) seeded content, which is commissioned by CK-12; 2) donated content, which is given to us by authors, and 3) “harvested”content, which is created by authors using our FlexBooks application and readily available open educational resources.

Annamaria Farbizio: We start out by interviewing different authors who have teaching experience and expertise in their subject.  They do a sample chapter which is checked by a domain expert and in-house at CK-12. Once authors come on board they start writing chapters based on an outline, which has already been created according to curriculum standards.  The chapter goes back and forth between the author and the Domain Expert.  The Domain Expert works with the author as well as the Book Manager at CK-12.  This collaboration really adds to the quality of the books.

After a chapter is written, we send it out to reviewers.  It’s important to get the outside perspective, because in-house we can be very focused on the timeline.  The CK-12 publication process happens over a shorter timeline than a traditional publishing process.

Newsletter: What is a domain expert (DE)?

Weiss: Our domain experts have expertise in their subject matter.  They all have advanced degrees, extensive teaching experience, and significant experience in curriculum development complying with state and national standards.  Their role is to ensure our content has integrity and to provide quality control and quality assurance.

Farbizio:Part of the domain expert’s role is to help make the writing stronger by working with authors to get them to perform at their best level.  They work to incorporate feedback from the reviewers as well as the technical reviewers.  They’re like book coaches, in a way, because in addition to having subject matter expertise, being able to look through the material and make sure that it is accurate, make sure that it’s presented well, all of these things that we’re asking them to do…the most successful ones are able to really inspire the authors to perform at their best level.

Newsletter: So what is the reviewer’s role?

Weiss: Similar to our domain experts, reviewers serve to vet and ensure integrity of content.  They provide developmental content reviews evaluating pedagogical integrity, alignment to standards, and accessibility.  Accuracy checks are conducted by technical reviewers and copyeditors review the manuscript for typos and grammatical errors.  Seeded content is reviewed by six independent reviewers and their comments are synthesized into our final manuscripts by the domain experts and the book managers.  Our checks and balances are in place to ensure we provide users high quality content.

It may be of interest to our readers to explain our recruiting process – our science and math authors and reviewers are recruited from throughout the nation.  Writer qualification includes: BA/BS degree (MS or PhD preferred), 5+ years teaching experience, curriculum development, instructional design, and educational publishing is a plus.  Reviewer qualification includes: Advanced degree in area of expertise (PhD preferred), experience reviewing textbooks as well as experience in district/schools adoption committees a plus, and familiarity with state and national standards.  We advertise in professional organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Association of Science Writers, National Earth Science Teachers Association, American Chemical Society, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, universities, teacher’s forums, etc.

Finally, CK-12’s distinguished community of authors, reviewers, and domain experts pride themselves in being pioneers in open educational resources (OER).  Again, our primary concern given our open source model is ensuring users our content has integrity, quality control, and quality assurance.

What does the future hold for FlexBooks?

Farbizio: One of our goals is to provide users with an image repository.  If they could use those images freely, that would be a great teaching tool.

Weiss: We currently provide users with a mini image repository – all images in our seeded content and on our site can be used and repurposed through our CC-BY-SA license. We are in the process of developing teacher’s editions, worksheets, test questions, quizzes, labs, workbooks, and supplemental materials, which are written to the same standards as our other materials.  We’re also looking at embedding links and videos.  This reaches and supports different learning styles.  The robustness of our application allows users to update content instantly.  With our latest platform upgrade, users can author and edit content on the FlexBooks tool on CK-12’s website.  We are now at the intersection and marriage of content and technology.  This is also at the heart of where we are headed – towards a collaborative community approach to creating content.  Going from our seeded content to user created content.  However, we will always have a system and infrastructure in place to vet our content for integrity, quality control, and assurance.

It should be noted that even if users don’t have access to a computer they can still download a hard copy to share.  Users don’t need to have a lot of technology.  And all of our content is free!

Newsletter: Thank you for your time!

Update on Support and Twitter

CK-12 has recently improved our support process, better enabling us to respond to your questions and feedback, and we love to hear from you.  Whether you are having trouble with the FlexBooks tool, you have a suggestion for how we could improve, or you want to get involved, we hope you will contact us at support@ck12.org.

Follow us on Twitter @CK12FlexBooks.

Improving textbooks overall- their quality, accessibility, flexibility, and timeliness- is a community effort, and we couldn’t do it without you.

Thanks for reading and happy flexing!

The Magic Wand

Have we all not once or twice in our lives wished for a magic wand?  Well here it is.

It boggles the mind when I think about the fact that someone is responsible for distributing $140 Billion for education. BILLIONS. That kind of money should be able to change our lives.  Many countries could change the lives of their citizens if they had access to a fraction of that money.  How did we get to this?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was at an event sponsored by the San Francisco Unified School District recently.  The room was packed.  Tables, usually for 10 people, had 12 people sitting around them and they were jam-packed, making it difficult to serve lunch.  All this to hear what this man had to say about how he was going to dole out these monies and hoping, “maybe I may be one of the lucky ones!”

The program was very touching as at the center of it were the children; their singing performances, a video with students displaying placards that thanked the sponsors as well as the Secretary.  The room was filled with school superintendents, school board members, teachers, charter school representatives and many more.  I even ran into CA Secretary of Education Glen Thomas, Joanne Weiss (who has been appointed for the distribution of the stimulus funds), Ted Mitchell, (Head of the Board of Education, CA), and Martha Kanter (Federal Assistant Secretary of Education).  Secretary Duncan gave a fairly short and to the point speech which was followed by questions about his plans from three students who were from disadvantaged families yet had done well in the system.

Secretary Duncan was very consistent with his message.  He believes that we have to fix three things in our education system: (1) more hours in school, (2) more opportunity, and (3) higher expectations of our students.  During the period that the secretary was speaking, a piece of paper was handed out.  This piece of paper gave the details of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, detailing the funding for education, jobs and reform.  It gave the details of how the money was going to be distributed:

•    $77 Billion direct funding for stabilization funds to avert education cuts to move towards reform, Title 1 improvement, IDEA, higher standards, quality assessment, data systems, early childhood education, and other education investments
•    $30.8 Billion are set aside for college affordability for low- to moderate- income students for grant money and tuition tax credit
•    $33.6 Billion for additional funds for school modernization

One of the lessons learned from this economic crisis is that we need to take some things into our own hands.  Secretary Duncan asked that we “stop subsidizing banks” by making them the place that we send students for financial aid.   We in education can save up to $4 Billion a year by not providing funds from banks loans.  These bank loans are causing the system to become unaffordable.  We need to think differently about resources and subsidizing other businesses through education.
Secretary Duncan had a very loud and clear message to California.  California, once the leader, has lost its edge and is now one of the lowest performing states.  California needs to step up:

California can come along with what is happening or watch history go by!  California needs to have the political will to make it happen.

Let’s just hope that we Californians can stop pulling each other down, step up and work together to help our children to be productive and performing citizens of the nation as well as the world.    Now is the time.

Digital Textbooks for CA

Dear CK-12 Community members

San Francisco Chronicle did an front page article about their response to Governor Schwarzenegger call for digital textbooks for high schools.  Here is our response for this article.

Jill Tucker’s article, “Free Digital Book Plan Costly, Educators Say,” unfortunately fails to represent both sides of the issue related to California’s initiative to “identify free downloadable, digital textbooks that align with state academic standards.” Critics who say that savings from the use of digital textbooks are lost to technology expenses are misinformed at best – or unacquainted with the concept of a printer. Digital textbooks can be used online as well as in the printed form and then photocopied and distributed to students as handouts or small booklets. This means that a single computer can service multiple classrooms and students.

As a founder of CK-12 Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to universal access to K-12 educational content and in the interest of full disclosure, we plan to submit digital textbooks to the free digital high school textbooks initiative.  Our mission is to provide a repository of up-to-date, curriculum-aligned content for free to all K-12 students around the world via the Internet.  We have developed a tool that enables next-generation textbooks called “FlexBooks” that can be customized according to individual student needs, compiled online, desktop published and photocopied for K-12 student use. FlexBooks are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license enabling the content to be shared in any form and printed, photocopied and distributed.  Our goal is to put up-to-date textbook material in the hands of every student, not a computer on every desk.

Our state budget as well as our educational system present seemingly intractable problems for our government and our educators.  But dodging them with false accusations about cost savings and claims of unrealistic pipe dreams will not move us one step closer to addressing the needs of our kids. Educators have repeatedly told us that the lack of access to high quality material is a substantive hurdle to the teaching process.  Free, digital textbooks are an inexpensive and substantive part of the solution.  As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asserted in his message to the San Francisco Unified School District during his visit last month, Californians must stop letting politics get in the way of progress and learn to be more practical in our approach to problem solving.  And what’s more practical than digital content that can be easily and simply printed out and distributed throughout our classrooms?