Math education startup selected to make openly licensed content


When 10 edtech developers were invited to create prototypes of openly licensed educational content for math in grades K-12, there were a handful that had potential and another few that totally missed the mark. But one stood out: a startup called Illustrative Mathematics.

The company, which launched in 2011, provides instructional content, assessments, lesson plans and other resources for teachers, and its head, Bill McCallum, helped write the new Common Core-aligned math standards. That was a big reason why the outfit was selected by the Learning Accelerator, a nonprofit based in California that promotes openly licensed educational content, to scale its program for all grades.

“They’re very well regarded in the math community, so that’s who we decided to start with, based on their performance and [request for proposals] and team they have in place,” said Jennifer Wolfe, partner with the Learning Accelerator’s K-12 OER Collaborative. “We’re really excited that they’re going to be our lead developer for math.”

The startup’s prototype was reviewed by a panel of educators and state experts that are knowledgeable about edtech procurement and district needs.

Illustrative Mathematics won the multimillion-dollar competition, which was raised through philanthropy by the Learning Accelerator, and will have to create the materials for the 2016-17 academic year. Wolfe said she would be thrilled to see the startup’s content in 15 to 20 percent of schools nationwide.

She also wants the company to think about how to fashion its products for English language learners and students with special needs.

traditionally, with ELLs and other special learners, you often will go back in and
try and figure out how [educational materials that have already been purchased] can be used for students, and we’re trying to upfront create materials that are acceptable and available for all students,” Wolfe said. “I think that’s what makes our project fairly unique.”

The Learning Accelerator put out a request for proposals last year to a variety of publishers interested in creating free content that can be adapted and customized by teachers.

Since then, there has been momentum building around OER, or open educational resources, from schools and districts all the way up to the federal government. The Department of Education announced in October its #GoOpen initiative, part of the agency’s push to make copyrighted content publicly and widely available so schools can use, and teachers can customize, the content for their students at no cost. The agency is also proposing a new regulation that would require all copyrightable intellectual property created with federal grants to have an open license.

“They’re being very supportive and getting the word out as districts adopt OER,” Wolfe said of federal education officials.

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