This is a continuation of the discussion of the potential cost savings of OER and an assertion that Texas might save a significant amount of money, possibly as much as $200 million, by adopting “open textbooks.”
In the last post, we established that the printing costs of a program like this are a relatively small percentage of the total cost, so that doesn’t account for a huge savings (ignoring the costs of technology to replace print…but that’s another post).
If you haven’t figured it out already, one significant cost issue is related to how many different programs are produced.
In the last literature adoption in Texas, there were between six and eight successfully adopted programs for each grade level. (There is significant, but not perfect, overlap in the publishers from grade to grade.) This doesn’t take into account the programs that were submitted, but not adopted.
So instead of the $15 million that was estimated for development of such a program, the actual cost was something in the neighborhood of $15 million times more than eight publishers. Even if this number was only 10, that makes up most of the $200 million in possible savings.
If, when Texas funds the development of its own curriculum (presumably under the recent RFO for “state-developed open-source textbooks”), it were adopted by 100% of the schools, the full amount of savings mentioned above could be realized. However, there is a parallel process for adopting conventional commercial textbooks in the traditional manner, some of which will undoubtedly be chosen by some schools. Assuming that roughly the same number of programs are adopted, the total development cost will be roughly the same. The question of whether these costs are ultimately borne by the state depends on which textbooks are chosen by how many districts.
To the extent that the state-developed program is chosen by a large number of schools, the state could save considerable amounts of money. If the state-developed program is not chosen by many schools, the state will not save money. Of course, Texas’ recent change in legislation that incentivizes schools to choose less expensive programs may influence this.
That brings up many interesting questions. First, is it in our schools’ (and ultimately our students’) interests to have choice among various textbooks? And how much “choice” is provided given the current adoption process? What is the ideal number (economically? pedagogically?) of programs to have? Beyond this, who (state board, ed commissioner, state ed agency, districts, schools, teachers, students, John Q Public) should be determining the direction of which parts of this agenda (standards, format, curriculum, etc.)?
All questions that probably deserve their own post. But in the meantime, at least we’ve solved a big part of the conundrum of where this savings might or might not come from.
In the final post in this series, I’ll look at a few more ways that OER might help save states money and improve education.