Friday, April 26, 2013

What does Common Core mean for technology in Texas?

Common Core in the States -
I was lucky enough to attend the 2013 SXSWedu Conference in Austin, Texas in March.  I can't tell you how many times I saw the above map or some version of it all through the conference. It was very clear, since Texas is the big bullseye in the middle of the map, that we are different.  But what does that mean?

I don't want to get into the controversy about Common Core but I do want to address the impact it has for us in Texas, specifically educational technology.

A Little Texas History
If you haven't had the chance to watch the great, great documentary The Revisionaries, it needs to be on your list. The Revisionaries documents the Texas State Board of Education and the process they take in developing and modifying the state curriculum and textbook standards for all public school students in Texas.  The state of Texas, along with California, held great sway in the national textbook industry. The saying went "so goes Texas, so goes the nation."

The documentary tells the story of Don McLeroy, former conservative chair of the Texas SBOE and young Earth creationist, during the revising of the state's science and social studies standards.  The Texas SBOE has been an historically politicized board with great power to influence not only textbook publications in Texas but across the country.  The key moment in the film that relates to understanding how Texas, textbooks, technology and the Common Core has changed the educational landscape since 2010 is at the very beginning when Dr. McLeroy is sitting before a panel of Texas Legislators in April, 2009 and we hear an off-camera voice say, regarding the SBOE's power over textbooks, that there is "legislation pending before this body that would basically relieve the State Board of Education of that duty." A fact that came true when, in 2011, the Texas Legislature shifted authority to order textbooks from the state to individual school districts, thus stripping away much of the power they had in the final say in textbook content that influenced education across the USA.

Because of size, the influence that Texas and California both had over textbook content was tremendous.  Since then, Texas has become one of only a handful of states to adopt the Common Core standards.  California has adopted.  

How does this impact educational technology?
Attending the SXSWedu conference opened my eyes to the fact that educational technology entrepreneurs attending had very little interest in Texas. Most sessions concentrated on developing for the Common Core. Simple economic realities explain why.  Vendors now have a much larger customer base and the Texas SBOE is no longer the gatekeeper to content.

By providing school districts control over the purchase of content and materials through the state's new Instructional Materials Allotment, there is a new avenue of funding for schools to use to ensure that the approved Texas state standards are covered.  Schools must certify that they will purchase only materials that will cover the state of Texas Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (Texas equivalent to Common Core).  Schools may also purchase technology equipment and technology related services with the new IMA funds.  

During the same legislative session where the SBOE's power changed, the IMA was created and the state cut $5.4 billion dollars from education, they also repealed the state's Technology Allotment, a $30 per pupil allotment given to schools to be used for technology.  

The new IMA creates a new environment where content, curriculum, and technology are now competing for many of the same dollars.  

The Two Big Questions
With content curated and adopted by the SBOE or Commissioner of Education, should schools only purchase textbooks, resources and supplementary materials better guaranteed to meet the state standards (TEKS)?


With the vast resources of the Internet, affordable access to mobile devices, and growing resources beyond Texas that involve Common Core, should schools purchase technology and online resources only partially aligned to state standards?

Long Term
Looking further down the road, there is an inevitable further weakening for Texas' role in the textbook and content industry.  It has become a lesser player on the national stage.  This is not an argument which is better, Common Core or the Texas TEKS, but more a matter of where will content come from in the future.  It becomes a battle of the curators of content.  Everyone is a curator now. The textbook industry is dead.

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