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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Slash the Textbook Budget with Open-Content Curricula

Using open source materials is a savvy solution for saving money.
By Michael Fitzgerald

Open source software, the public domain programming innovation that has revolutionized the software industry, is now poised to shake up the textbook market.

The California Open Source Textbook Project is one of a handful of initiatives that aim to produce schoolbooks for just the cost of printing. It's based on the open source idea that hundreds -- even thousands -- of programmers contribute to a project that then remains available for free review and use by everyone else.

COSTP founder Sanford Forte, a former textbook salesman and software entrepreneur, says the project will help California slash the $400 million it spends on textbooks every year. As he notes, most of the information in textbooks is already in the public domain. "There is virtually nothing new in K-12 content," he says. "The only thing that changes is how it's presented."

Forte needs educators to add their expertise to the project, with the caveat that contributions meet California's curriculum framework. The first submission is a world-history text for tenth graders, and it lives on Wikipedia, an open-content encyclopedia.

Once the work is finished, Forte will use it as a proof of concept for California's school board, and then start down the road toward a printed book. With luck, it will be the first of many similarly collaborative, mercifully inexpensive texts.

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