Foster plan for open source education

Foster figures that most agencies spend well over 2% of their budgets communicating what they are about to the public, especially students, and moving some of that money into this effort would create a rich vein of funding for online texts.

Bill Foster (right), the physicist and Democrat who succeeded former Speaker Dennis Hastert in Congress, has what you might call a cunning open source plan.

Any federal agency spending over $10 million on scientific education should put 2% of that money into creating open source materials, posting them on the Web for students, and updating them.

The bill, H.R. 1164, is now before the House Education and Labor Committee, chaired by California Democrat George Miller. Its full name is The Learning Opportunities with Creation of Open Source Textbooks Act of 2009.

Foster figures that most agencies spend well over 2% of their budgets communicating what they are about to the public, especially students, and moving some of that money into this effort would create a rich vein of funding for online texts.

I have written about this subject several times, as there are several public and private efforts currently aimed in this direction.

There is danger here, chief among them a lack of coordination. The Department of Education has an Office of Educational Technology that could be charged with coordination. That office is buried within the present department's structure.

But that effort might be championed by new Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who previously led the effort to replace textbooks with Web-based materials in Chicago.

I have to believe there will be substantial pushback from existing textbook publishers, not to mention the professors writing those textbooks, whose ox is also being gored here.

So this is a bill the open source community should be watching very, very closely.

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