Open Source Educational Resources Using the Power of Open-Source Resources to Transform Urban High Schools By Louise Bay Waters, Superintendent & CEO Leadership Public Schools A Presentation for the 3/30/11 Hewlett Foundation OER ConferenceI come to you from Leadership Public Schools to talk about the potential of open educationalresources for transforming urban high schools. We are four urban public charter high schools inRichmond, Oakland, Hayward and San Jose, California. We serve approximately 1500 studentsof whom 58-93% are low income. The majority of our students enter 9 th grade performing atthe elementary level and 85% will be the first in their family to attend college. Let me tell youwhat that translates to terms of student reality. First, our students have to catch up at leasttwo years academically each school year. This means we have no choice except to teachcollege prep courses and basic skills concurrently. This is impossible without the adaptivepower of technology. Second, our students must believe that they can make these leaps andthat there is a reason for them to make the sacrifices this entails. We believe technology canempower them as masters of their own destiny and producers in the 21 st century economy.And finally, for so many of our students, motivation and academic catch up are still not enoughto guarantee success in college. The economic and social reality of their lives will continue tothrow road blocks in their paths. We are convinced that technology can provide usmechanisms to be real about providing life changing opportunities for our students.You will note that I have used technology as key to addressing each of our student challenges.However, traditional technology products do not easily address our organizational challenges.First, we have very limited resources with huge needs. One-to-one laptops; fancy integrateddata systems, and full-service on-line courses are not within our price range. Similarly, off theshelf solutions that require extensive professional development overtime are not realistic in aclimate of high teacher turnover – whether due to burn out or Teach –for-America careerpaths. Similarly, in a challenging climate of ever changing needs with passionate, innovativeteachers, top-down, pre-set materials, no matter how good, will have limited resonance. Forthese reasons, the technology solutions we are developing are deliberately open source, low-tech leveragers of high-tech strategies.Let me be more specific about the path we have embarked on - the LPS vision: numerous,continually evolving, innovative technologies + intense teacher relationships—to make ourstudents ready for college success.First, in order to get our two for one gains, we are teaching literacy and content concurrently.High school is too late to first teach reading and then later teach Biology. That is what led me
to a conversation with Neeru Kholsa and discovery of the CK-12 Foundation. The CK-12Foundation produces free, open-source, online textbooks that are easily editable. Rather thanpurchasing textbooks that most kids couldn’t read, we formed a partnership with CK-12 toproduce what we call College Access Readers. These are online books that have embeddedliteracy supports. Most students use these as hard-copy workbooks with embedded vocabularyand comprehension exercises. Teachers use them with LCD projectors to access embeddedvideo clips and simulations or to provide direct instruction in content literacy. Advancedstudents use the CK-12 original. Very low performing students use the online versions withtext-to-speech or Spanish translation. And even within this lowest-tiered application we arefinding that we need multiple levels of accommodation to address the range within the specialeducation continuum.This is the reality of the differentiation that we educational leaders routinely exonerateteachers to employ. This is the reason that differentiation in practice has fallen so short ofdifferentiation in theory – it is simply too hard for teachers to do with the intensity andconsistency that is needed to reach all students. In my 35 plus years as an educator, myintroduction to the open educational resources of CK-12 was the first time that I saw a realistic,cost-effective, scalable way to provide the differentiation needed for true access to college-prep content for struggling students. Because of CK-12, this year we have been able to createCollege Access Readers in Algebra, Biology and Geometry with Algebra 2, Chemistry and Physicsdue in August.But as I mentioned before, unless students buy in to catch up, the two-for-one gains we areasking of them won’t happen. So again we are using technology – this time to put immediatedata in the hands of students – both informing and empowering them. At our Oakland campus,the number of students passing the high school exit exam on their first try went from 33 – 62%,in large part from individual students understanding their data, setting goals, and identifyingthe supports they needed to reach them. We have also seen phenomenal results from studentsgetting just-in-time data using audience response technology, more commonly called clickers. Now we are taking both of these solutions into the open-source arena. Our intention is tomove our highly effective but low-tech (FileMaker pro) data system onto the web in an open-source format. It will be available to others to use and improve. And by developingproprietary reporting modules it could also be a source of potential revenue for us. Moreimmediately, tomorrow we will begin creating an open-source version of the very successfulbut expensive clickers. While the commercial versions have provided great results, they are$400 - $1200 per class set with a limited range of functionality. At our professionaldevelopment day tomorrow, our math and science teachers will design quizzes and exercisestailored to each subject and designed to maximize the power of just-in-time audience response
technology. These open-source tailored quizzes will be linked to the CK-12 Readers to provideimmediate response data to students and teachers. However, we will be using mobile phonesrather than the cost-prohibitive clickers. And to ensure access and control, instead of students’personal phones we will be using recycled last-generation Androids and iPhones via wifi andwithout a dataplan. Our SmartPhones for SmartKids campaign will be launched early thissummer.These are a few of the technology-based products we are developing to provide access,acceleration and ownership for our students. I am sure you have noticed common threads:these are open-source, low-cost, low-tech implementations of high technology. In fact, muchof what we are doing has more in common with successful strategies in the developing worldthan with typical American solutions filled with bells and whistles. But I think that this makessense. In reality America’s inner cities are our third world.Great as the potential for each of these open-source products, to me none of them, per se,represents the real power of open-source. The real power is the synergy open source makespossible. We call this process Collaborative Innovation and we believe it represents the truetransformative potential of the open source movement. Let me give you an example. Twoyears ago we embedded our math specialist in LPS Hayward, our highest performing school. Hehad been developing an online math program for Algebra 1 with a backfill component for thebasic math skills. He built this out at Hayward and Algebra achievement there doubled. At thesame time our Oakland campus had been successfully integrating literacy into their Algebracourses. This is when Neeru and I decided to build the College Access Readers together. As partof this collaboration, LPS gave CK-12 the online math course to continue refining and makeavailable open source. We linked it to their Algebra online textbook, which we then modifiedby adding in the literacy strategies we had been using in Oakland– creating the Algebra CollegeAccess Reader. This fall our Richmond teachers began fully implementing the new program andthen added in immediate-response data with clickers. The three benchmark exams this yearhave had 84%, 92% and last week 93% at or above grade level, out-performing Hayward, tripletheir performance last year, and four times that of neighboring schools – and this a school inone of the highest poverty communities in California – Richmond’s Iron Triangle. This amazingsystems turnaround was the results of a rapid-cycle development process that would have beenimpossible without open source resources.However, these gains are not enough. As I said in the beginning, graduating high school collegeready is only step one. Let me tell you another Oakland story so you can understand why. InDecember, four Oakland seniors with GPAs above 3.5 tried to drop out and the Valedictoriansfrom the past two years, each with full ride scholarships, are not in college. One of theseseniors works fulltime on the night shift at Kentucky Fried Chicken. One night in January the
principal took his mother to visit him on the job to try and convince him to stay in school. Hepulled her outside and said, “Ms. Haynes, you don’t understand, my mother already works twojobs and she can’t make it without me.” In each of these students’ cases the reasons areeconomic. In each case the student is a major, or in some cases the only, breadwinner in thefamily and the opportunity costs of going to college simply outweigh distant future gains. Greatopen-source products or development processes may change the academic realities for ourstudents but they do not directly address their economic realities. So again we are turning totechnology, this time engaging students as producer of technology, not simply consumers.Our job is to convince the student working at KFC that struggling through college will ultimatelypayoff far more than his current job. We have to understand that large numbers of ourstudents are not going to experience the college life many of us remember of dorms and partiesand late night discussions. The economic and personal challenges of their families will remainwith them and they will face numerous academic and cultural hurdles. To persevere andovercome these barriers, they need to see themselves as part of the new 21 st century economywith all its opportunities --- not as simply stepping into the economy of their neighborhood andexperience. That is why we are establishing Tech Innovation Labs where students will be ableto produce English and Spanish videos, apps, and other digital products to embed in our CK-12flexbooks. Again, the open-source nature of CK-12 allows us to involve students as well asteachers in the continual evolution of these materials, providing an authentic purpose andaudience and a reason to learn 21st century skills. These same labs will also be used to helpstudents develop eCommerce businesses, providing on-the-job training and sustainable fundingfor student activities.To leverage the developing interest in business and technology and address the many barriersour students face in transitioning to college, we have just started an online Community Collegein Oakland using our technology and facilities after school and in the evening adding inmentoring and tutoring support. Our alumni already come back to their old teachers forassistance – we are their college safety net. We will simply leverage that to take them throughany remedial courses and at least their first full year of college credit. Simply successfullycompleting a full freshman year increases the graduation chances of a first-generation, low-income student from approximately 9% to closer to 60%. Our first four students began onlineclasses three weeks ago and we are offering our first full class beginning April 18th. It is ourhope that down the line we will be developing open-source materials for these courses.You may have noticed how I mentioned different aspects of our technology vision being led atdifferent schools. This is collaborative innovation taken to the systems level. Change is hardand no one school could take on all of the innovations we are envisioning and that our studentsneed. That is one of the reasons school reform has been so difficult – the timeline for reform is
longer than the shelf life of the reformers and so vision never makes it to reality. However, weare strategically leveraging the strengths and needs of the four LPS schools to distribute thepain of early adoption. Then using the power of collaboration, as we are doing in Algebra, wecan rapidly build, refine and replicate.I have shared numerous examples of how we are using open-source educational resources totransform both our schools and the lives of our students. In a moment I will open it up forquestions. However, first let me pull it all together and underscore what I see as the genius ofNeeru Khosla and Murugan Pal in creating CK-12 and, by extension, what I believe is the powerof the open- source movement.On the most basic level, Neeru and Murugan have created a disruptive product – free, onlinetextbooks. However, by also developing a platform that not only facilitates but actually invitescustomization, they have allowed others to create infinite numbers of tailored textbooks likeour College Access Readers. Because of the editable format, these Readers can have multiplelevels of differentiation addressing the previously unsupportable needs of access andacceleration that are at the core of educational equity. Because of CK-12’s online distribution,the best of these second generation flexbooks can, themselves, inspire adaptation. This isresource customization gone viral – and it’s free.As powerful as the CK-12 generated products are, it is the power of the process of flexing that ismost transformative for the adults in a school system. At a systems level, a district or charternetwork is charged with ensuring students equity of access across teachers, schools and time.We all know of schools, particularly urban schools, where there is a stellar teacher next door toa class in chaos or where the star one year leaves with her bag of resources and is replaced by anewbie with nothing. We also know of the consistent frustration where high quality educationalresources produce excellent results at one school and have limited impact at another due tofailure of buy in and implementation. The answers to these conundrums have beenprofessional development and accountability. I submit that far greater consistency can beachieved through involvement and innovation.When we create our College Access Readers we bring the course teachers from all four schoolstogether. They start with the California content standards, Conley’s college readinessstandards, the state testing blueprint and their experience with our students and line out thescope and sequence. They then flex CK-12 to this structure – a process that only takes minutes.After an introduction to basic content literacy approaches, they next go through the flexedcontent and identify vocabulary and concepts that need extra support, text that should beclarified and areas that can be reduced to provide room for literacy work. In their eyes this isan empowering, pragmatic activity that allows them to develop materials tailored to theirstudents’ needs. At the same time it is embedded professional development on multiple levels.
After a content specialist with literacy background actually does the editing of each chapter,teachers review the scaffolded text in a webinar, suggesting last edits before the final version isposted. Again, this is professional development, this time to build quality implementation.Since these “final” versions of the Readers are also editable, teachers are then free to createtheir own tailored text. What we find is that our most experienced teachers do this while ournew teachers do it very little – so the one process provides the differentiated support andautonomy needed to address the range of teacher experience.To capture the lessons learned and the tailoring that has gone on, we also incorporate a cycleof teacher interviews. From these we are able to identify practices to share across the network– like the student packets the Richmond Algebra teacher will be sharing tomorrow. This notonly accelerates improvement but also provides authentic validation for high-performingteachers. This sharing would be much less effective if it were not so easy to incorporate intothe College Access Readers or if teachers were not working off of a common set of resources.Similarly, we would not be able to move into new arenas without this common curricular spine.For instance, tomorrow Biology teachers will be looking at virtual labs they can incorporate intothe Biology Reader and sharing regular labs that they can link to specific concepts.Just as the CK-12 product made it possible to do the previously undoable – ultimatedifferentiation – the CK-12 process makes it possible to address the ultimate conundrum ofteacher support – reconciling autonomy and consistency; equity and flexibility. I think you canunderstand why I see this hidden power of flexing as so transformative.And then, when you throw in the potential to engage students as producers of CK-12 contentyou take it to a whole new level. When our students know that the “Khan Academy” stylevideos they will be producing in Geometry this year may be used by next years’ students it isempowering. When they learn that they may be viewed by students in Lagos, Nigeria whereschools want to use our Readers, it is mind blowing.As you move through your sessions today and tomorrow think of the power of open sourceeducational resources on at least three levels – free, innovative products; empoweringprocesses; and the opportunity to transform how students experience education as producersof their own educational content. Know that what you are envisioning can impact the future.