What my colleague Kevin Carey referred to as “one of the most innovative federal higher-education programs ever conceived” has come under attack. He describes this $2B federal investment this way
“The concept is simple: Community colleges that compete for federal money to serve students online will be obliged to make those materials…available to everyone in the world, free, under a Creative Commons intellectual property license. The materials become, to use the common term, open educational resources, or OER’s.”
In his article, entitled The Quiet Revolution in Open Learning, Kevin noted how odd it was that this “revolution” was going largely unnoticed by a sector in desperate need of innovation. What he didn’t say (because it was not yet apparent), was that it did not go unnoticed by an oligarchy seeking to preserve outdated business models at the expense of students and workers. During a Q&A session hosted by White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra the day the first of these innovative grants were announced, a representative the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) made it clear that subsequent rounds of grant funding were in their sights. Just two days later their first attack in the war on federally-funded OER was revealed, buried in the draft House FY12 Labor, Health, and Human Services appropriations bill:
“SEC. 124. None of the funds made available by this Act for the Department of Labor may be used to develop new courses, modules, learning materials, or projects in carrying out education or career job training grant programs unless the Secretary of Labor certifies, after a comprehensive market-based analysis, that such courses, modules, learning materials, or projects are not otherwise available for purchase or licensing in the marketplace or under development for students who require them to participate in such education or career job training grant programs.”
“No more public schools if someone says they have a private school in development?”
“No more public roads if someone says they have a private road in development?”
“No more public job training programs if someone says they have a private job training program in development?”
That last one is actually what is in Section 124. Seriously.
Promoting private over public interest isn’t new; it’s what fuels the growing $3.51 billion lobbying industry (and who says Congress hasn’t created jobs?). So it’s no surprise that someone would come after federally-supported OER. What is surprising is who is coming after it. The software industry has and continues to reap tremendous financial benefits from open content innovations seeded and supported by the federal government. Why would they advocate for a policy that clearly undermines their financial interests?
Perhaps the answer lies with SIIA’s Board of Directors—a board with a surprising number of members acting less like innovative software industry leaders and more like old-school publishers committed to the outdated notion that a successful business must preserve a scarcity of information, a notion at odds with the values and practices of both the open source software and Open Educational Resources movements — and the public interest. Board members such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson School, Reed Elsevier, Cengage Learning, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Other members of the board, however, include heavy-hitters such as Red Hat, Oracle, IBM and Google, who together have generated billions of dollars in revenue with business models based on open systems and content. Do they know that their names are being used as weapons in the textbook publisher’s battle to preserve an antiquated business model that cheats taxpayers and limits new business development?
If you know a senior executive at one of those firms, perhaps you can clue them in.