Open Up Resources Announces First Full Math Curriculum—And Its Plans for Profitability
Open-licensed learning materials have generally been slower to carve out a spot in the K-12 market they have in higher education, where companies like Lumen Learning have found target demographics. Yet Open Up Resources, a nonprofit providing open educational resources for the K-12 space, wants to buck the trend.
Today, the organization is launching its first full (and free) math curriculum as a starting (and proving) point. Authored by nonprofit Illustrative Mathematics, the curriculum covers Common Core standards for grades 6-8 math. It includes teacher-facing resources like lesson plans and support strategies, worksheets and activities for students, as well as resources for parents to help with homework and learning at home.
The curriculum is published under a Creative Commons license and all digital versions can be downloaded for free. Print copies are also available for purchase at around $24 per student. It is also compliant with Common Cartridge standards, which allows the materials to be integrated with most learning management systems used in schools.
Corrine Williams, a mathematics specialist at Evergreen Public Schools in Washington, was one of six districts that participated in the curriculum’s beta release and content refinement over the last year. She says out of about 70 middle school teachers in her district, close to 50 participated in the pilot.
There was some hesitation because if you’re not comfortable using technology, it’s like ‘How do I use a new curriculum and new technology?’
“Our middle and elementary teachers had been using Illustrative Math resources over the years and it was a positive experience,” says Williams. So far, she thinks the full curriculum is following suit. “When we went into the classrooms, there was so much student discourse. That wasn’t happening before, and it’s what we want to see,” says Williams. “We think when students are talking, they are owning the learning.”
Last year, the district bought each teacher print materials while also offering the digital version. Williams says the plan is to do the same this year. But come next fall, they plan to convert completely over to digital.
But the move to OER and digital curriculum hasn’t been completely smooth for everyone, Williams adds.
“There was some hesitation because if you’re not comfortable using technology, it’s like ‘How do I use a new curriculum and new technology?’” says Williams. “We provided hard copies this year so teachers can experiment with the platforms but also have a safety net of using textbooks.”
In addition to providing print versions, Williams is also preparing the math teachers on how to use the free curriculum and switch over to digital through a series of professional development days offered through Open Up Resources. That, explains Larry Singer, the nonprofit’s CEO, is also an important part of his plans to reach profitability by the end of 2018.
In the last two years Open Up Resources has raised $16 million from philanthropies, but hopes to soon wean itself off outside funding. Singer projects it will reach $40 million in revenue in 2018 from print sales (which cover basic bulk printing costs of the OER materials) and “implementation services” such as the professional development sessions that Williams has set up for her district.
Singer says costs and forms of implementation services may vary from web-based support to full-day, in-person trainings that can cost around $1400 per day. Open Up Resources claims that so far 320 districts and charter schools have purchased print, implementation services or some combination of the two.
Based on those numbers, Singer says, “that gives us a revenue forecast of about $4.5 million for this school year.”
There’s still a long way to go before hitting $40 million, but Singer feels confident in those numbers, underlining that the nonprofit began working on the curriculum about one year ago. “Compare this to the White House #GoOpen campaign, which got 100 schools in its first few months. It tells you how excited the market is,” says Singer.
If the ambitious goals does fall short, Singer is convinced the resources won’t drift into the internet abyss. He says the team could always fundraise again.
Our target focuses on school districts and supported teacher adoptions, not teachers as consumers.
A former Pearson executive, Singer has been taking notes in the last year not only from the educators using the resources, but also from what other publishers and companies in the OER space are doing. He points to EngageNY, an initiative through the New York State Department of Education that offers free curriculum for educators in the state.
“EngageNY targeted teachers and not school districts,” says Singer. “Our target focuses on school districts and supported teacher adoptions, not teachers as consumers.”
It ties back to their business model. Part of the thinking is that if districts adopt, they may be more likely to also purchase professional development, which teachers alone cannot afford. And though teachers (or anyone) can download the curriculum for free online, the organization predicts that those who do might come to their district asking for the training since costs associated with textbook purchasing will be greatly reduced.
“Curriculum is only part of it,” says Singer. “A fool with a tool is still a fool.
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