Supporting the Collaborative Development of OER Aligned with the Common Core: A Policy Brief

Executive Summary

Forty-seven states and territories have fully adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts and mathematics. The implementation of CCSS will be extremely costly to states, in part, because many districts will have to purchase new instructional materials and textbooks aligned to the CCSS out-of-cycle. Several policy options exist to help states deal with these costs, including increased federal funding, increased federal regulation of textbook publishers, and support of collaborative development of open educational resources (OER) aligned with CCSS. I recommend the third option because it not only offers a budgetary respite, but because it gives states unprecedented flexibility in instructional materials management.

The Problem

Reports estimate that implementing the CCSS will increase educational expenditures during the transition period (Pioneer Institute, 2012; Fordham Institute, 2012). A significant portion of these cost increases will occur because districts and schools in states that adopt the CCSS will need to purchase new instructional materials that are aligned with the new standards. This is a pressing problem for many states that are already experiencing budget deficits and struggling to figure out how to maintain (let alone increase) current educational spending.

Background and Context

Most of the states and territories in America have agreed to adopt the CCSS. States’ reasons for adopting common standards are varied. However, the main purpose of the CCSS according to the coalition that wrote them (which included state governmental and educational representatives from across the nation) is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them” (Common Core, 2012). Specifically, the developers and adopters of CCSS see the standards as a way to equalize opportunity for student learning, ensure consistency in educational expectations from state to state, and help maintain or increase America’s competitive edge in a global economy.

Despite the hype and rhetoric around widespread adoption and upcoming implementation of CCSS, at least one report warns that many states have not paid due attention to the fact that the adoption of CCSS is going to cost a lot of money (Pioneer Institute, 2012). This report explains that cost increases will likely occur in four main areas: (a) professional development, (b) testing, (c) technology and infrastructure support, and (d) textbooks and instructional materials. Focusing on just the fourth area, textbooks and instructional materials, the Pioneer Institute estimates that “states will need to spend approximately $2.47 billion in one time costs to obtain [CCSS]-aligned English language arts and mathematics instructional materials ” (2012). Even more startling, this cost estimate does not include the adoption of CCSS in science or any of the other proposed subject-matter areas.

The Pioneer Institute report is based on the current average cost of language arts and mathematics textbooks as sold by for-profit publishers. However, the report did not consider the rapidly growing availability of open educational resources. OER are instructional materials – including textbooks, modules, videos, and even entire courses – that are specifically licensed for reuse, remix, revision, and redistribution. This type of licensing allows for the development of essentially free educational content (Wiley, Bliss, McEwen, in press). Even more importantly, OER can be developed collaboratively, aligned to CCSS, and freely shared between and within states. Currently, there are over 500 million openly licensed educational resources (Cable Green at Creative Commons, personal communication, November 2, 2012), with more being developed every day. However, there are not currently any cross-state initiatives to develop textbooks and other instructional materials aligned specifically to the CCSS.

Policy Options

There are several policy options for addressing the increased costs of instructional materials necessitated by the adoption and implementation of the CSSS. First, the federal government could increase payouts to states to help cover costs. Second, the federal government could regulate for-profit textbook publishers and require them to decrease profit margins on materials sold to public schools. Third, state and federal governments could support the collaborative development and adoption of open educational resources aligned with CCSS. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages for states.

The first option, federal assistance for instructional materials purchasing, is easy and simple because it requires little from states in terms of planning, implementation, and change. With additional federal funding specifically earmarked for purchasing of CSSS-aligned materials, states could carry-on with business as usual and not individually experience additional budgetary constraints in their instructional materials allotments. However, with this option, the American taxpayer will still have to cover the additional $2.47 billion dollars it is estimated to cost states to adopt new materials. In addition, it is extremely unlikely that federal funding for states would come without additional strings attached, a generally unfavorable policy situation for most states.

The second option, increased federal regulation of textbook publishers, would certainly have the advantage of decreasing the cost of instructional materials. However, federal invasion into free-market enterprise is often more politically controversial than increased educational spending. This option is not likely to succeed given the powerful influence of the textbook industry within Washington, DC. In addition, few federal legislators are going to support a policy that so clearly and directly disables a major national industry. In the end, passage of this policy option has a low probability of success and implementation is even less likely.

The third option, support of collaborative development and adoption of OER, will dramatically reduce the cost of instructional materials related to the adoption of CCSS. In addition, this option will allow states to ensure that the materials they are using in their schools are aligned not only to CCSS, but also to other state-specific standards and outcomes. Despite these advantages, the collaborative development of OER will require cooperation between states and dedication to a high quality product – a sometimes difficult accomplishment. What’s more, states will certainly feel pushback from the textbook publishers they have purchased from for many, many years. States will have to muster collective courage to burn some corporate bridges – even with publishers that operate within state boundaries.

Policy Recommendations

The estimated costs associated with the adoption of new instructional materials aligned with the CSSS are too high for most states to cover with current budgets. Something needs to be done if states are going to be able to actually afford to successfully adopt the CCSS. While there are several options for solving this issue, including increased federal funding and federal regulation, we recommend that federal and state governments enact policy supporting the collaborative development and adoption of open educational resources that are aligned with the CCSS. In particular, we offer the following policy recommendations:

First, the federal government should establish grants to state consortia for the development of OER aligned to CCSS. These grant programs must require that all instructional materials produced with federal funds be openly licensed using a Creative Commons attribution or non-commercial license (CC BY o r CC BY NC). Because there is no legal precedent for federal support of state instructional materials expenditures, this is a bold, precedent-setting recommendation.

Second, states should re-allocate some of their current instructional materials budget to grant programs that interstate district and school consortia could use to develop OER aligned with CCSS. The State of Washington, for instance, proposed a policy that would require 1.5% of the instructional materials budget be used for OER development (H.B. 2337-original, 2012). This bill was eventually revised to match the particulars of WA instructional materials allotments, but the original model is intriguing. As with the recommended federal grants, state administered grants should have open licensing requirements.

Third, states should enact policies and regulations that specifically fund OER development initiatives in the context of the CCSS. The State of California very recently passed legislation to this effect that will result in the development of several openly licensed textbooks to be used in community colleges (S. 1052, 2012). Similar bills aimed at K-12 are sorely needed (WA H.B. 2337 is a shining example).

Fourth, states should allocate some of their instructional materials and education budgets to hire staff that can oversee and implement inter and intra-state collaborations on OER development and adoption. Without administrative support, development projects are not likely to succeed or move quickly enough.

Implementation of these policy recommendations will solve the looming problem of increased instructional materials costs related to the adoption of CCSS. In addition, development and adoption of OER aligned to CCSS will allow states unprecedented flexibility in revision and adaptation of instructional materials to state and local standards.


CA. S. 1052. (2012).

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012). Preparing America’s for college and career. Accessed at on November 2, 2012.

Fordham Institute (2012). Putting a price tag on the common core: How much will smart implementation cost? Washington, DC: Murphy, P., Regenstein, E. and McNamara, K.

Pioneer Institute (2012). National cost of aligning states and localities to the Common Core Standards. Boston: Author.

Wiley, D., Bliss, T., & McEwen, M. (In press). Open educational resources: A review of the literature. Handbook of Research on Educational Communications & Technology (4th ed.).

WA. H.B. 2337 (2012).

Intro to OER – NRMERA 2012 – Park City, UT

I’ve posted the slide deck from the OER Workshop I gave at the Northern Rocky Mountain Education Association meeting in Park City, UT last Friday.

Check it out on Slideshare.

The first part of the deck is a remix/revision of some of David’s earlier slides. For those who’ve already seen David’s excellent intro to OER, skip to slide 37 for slides on OER policy, implementation, business models, initiatives, and research.

The Birth of OER Policy

In our vigor to advocate for open educational resources and policies that support their development, it would be wise to keep in mind some fundamental things about policy and the policymaking process itself.

1. OER policies should solve more problems than they create. Indeed, policy is “a set of answers to questions, a series of solutions to problems” (Cooper et al., 2004, p. 63)

2. The problems solved by OER and its related policies should be clearly defined and explained. “If a policy issue is not well-defined, it will not be perceived as important, making it difficult to attract enough attention to reach the policy agenda” (Fowler, 2004, p. 167).

3. Policies related to OER should come with solutions attached. “Even if policymakers want to address a problem [such as the rising costs of education], absent a proposed solution or plan of action, the problem cannot be addressed…[Some even] argue that public officials will not take a problem seriously unless there is a proposed course of action attached to it” (Cooper et al., p. 65).

4. The policymaking process is NEVER objective or ideologically neutral. “Before a policy choice can be made, a problem in society must have been accepted as part of the agenda of the policymaking system–that is, as a portion of the range of problems deemed amenable to public action and worthy of the attention of policymakers” (Peters, 1986, p. 39). What’s more, “cultural values, interest group advocacy, scientific information, and professional advice all help to shape the content of problem definition” and the policymaking process itself (Rochefort & Cobb, 1994, p. 4).

5. New OER policies should be clearly tied to older, related policies. “The more a new issue can be made to look like an old issue, the more likely it is to be placed on an agenda” (Peters, 1986, p. 47).

6. Advocates of OER policy should understand and use the power of the media (new and old) to shape policy. “Media influence on the process and content of policies varies according to type of issue, stage of process, time frame, and political and media systems. Under certain circumstances, the media can be a crucial player. It depends on what is covered, how often, and how it is framed” (Paletz, 1998, p. 234).

7. The language of policy can be as important as the policy itself. “Social” rhetoric and symbolism should be used in advocating for OER policies. “To heighten participation, issues may be connected to sweeping social themes, such as justice, democracy, and liberty” (Rochefort & Cobb, 1994, p. 5). And, “the more closely a particular problem can be linked to certain important national [or international] symbols, the greater its probability of being placed on the agenda” (Peters, 1986, p. 48).

8. OER policy reform should be influenced, if not led, by people with expertise in education. “What is significant about much of the interest group activity [in educational policymaking], and what distinguishes it from previous activism, is the prominence of non-educators leading the reform efforts” (Cooper et al. 2004, p. 76).