We have a problem with sharing in our schools.
It’s not about our kids sharing their toys, art supplies, or ideas with others.
It’s about our grown-ups not sharing materials—lesson plans, systems, trainings—that would help teachers and leaders outside their school, network, or classroom help kids.
In my role as co-CEO and Superintendent of Achievement First, I—like so many of us—am always trying to figure out the best teaching methods, curricula, and trainings to help our teachers and leaders succeed. Many times, I’ve been told “no” when asking other charter management organizations (CMOs) and districts for curricula, training materials, or videos of strong teachers. The general orientation of many is a reluctance to share—or to share only a sample.
This worries me because I believe that sharing proven resources is an easy and high-impact way to help as many students as possible. If your school has a great math curriculum that is helping your kids, you should share it and let it help others. If your district’s hands-on science program helps your kids unleash their intellects, let it do the same for others. If your CMO has a character development program that is bringing out the very best in your students, let it bring out the best in thousands more kids.
I am not saying that non-profit organizations whose primary purpose is to build curriculum and assessments shouldn’t continue their business models of creating and selling curriculum, and it may make sense to charge for high-touch services such as training and consulting. I’m talking about the sharing of core curricula, training materials, and other tools among those of us whose primary mission is to run schools and educate children.
What is stopping us from sharing more broadly? I believe that almost all of the leaders I know who run charter management organizations, individual charter schools, parochial schools, and districts want to share. I hear from them several legitimate reasons why sharing is challenging. I believe we can (and must) address all of them:
Intellectual Property concerns
Sometimes, schools build curricula off the base of a purchased program, and in other cases, the school, network, or district understandably wants credit and attribution. These are both straightforward to overcome. We could work together to have a simple IP agreement that named that those using these materials must purchase the base materials as well, attribute the initial source in documents, and agree not to ever sell the materials.
The hope of someday monetizing the resources
First, in 99% of cases, there is no real money to be made here, and more importantly, we are all non-profit public charter schools and public school districts. If we have something that can benefit others, we have a moral obligation to share it. If a lot of organizational time and energy goes into creating and revising materials, I think it’s reasonable for folks to charge a small fee for the technology and staffing cost of sharing. Ideally, funders would also pay top organizations to build strong materials and put them on easily accessible platforms.
Ease of sharing
I sometimes get told “no” because it would be too hard to share. When you consider all of the deeply hard work we’re doing, this is the easy part. Each district or CMO has a way to share internally. The mechanism to share externally doesn’t have to be perfect. Send an email blast with attachments, post on a Google drive or password-protected site, mail a USB.
Worry that the materials will be misused
The concern is that if another organization or school uses the curriculum or program without training or support, it may actually be ineffective—and ultimately harm kids. There is a real danger that “printing and playing” without deep intellectual prep and differentiation based on student needs could lead to poor instruction. This could happen, but we have to trust that strong school leaders can provide the necessary training and support and that on balance, dedicated teachers having access to quality resources will be good for kids.
Concern that the curriculum isn’t perfect—or that it’s still being revised
Most folks would be happy getting last year’s version or a beta version, rather than having to build their own from scratch. The fact that there are always ongoing revisions and improvements—and sometimes major shifts—shouldn’t keep folks from sharing what they do have.
Worry about criticism—or worse
There is also the (unfortunately valid) concern that someone who is critical of your type of school or program will dissect it with bad intentions. A first step would be to share with organizations who you know and trust or who have signed a “good faith” agreement with you to use the materials internally and to share feedback with you only.
The potential benefits to thousands of students far outweigh any of the risks from these concerns
I believe that all school networks—whether they are charter school management organizations or traditional districts—should make their core materials open source. In particular, curriculum (scopes and sequences, unit overviews, daily lesson resources) and core training (new teacher training, subject-specific veteran teacher training, videos of strong teaching) should be made open source as these most directly impact kids through teaching and learning.
I challenge other leaders of charter school networks to declare themselves “open source” as AF has done. Contact email@example.com or check out the beta version of our sharing site, achievementfirst.org/opensource, if you think Achievement First may have resources that might be helpful to you. We’ve also created a list of 10 top ways to become an open source organization.
I also challenge all of the major charter school funders to take the first step of being “open source”: make it a condition of future grants. At the end of the day, my reason for these challenges to charter school leaders, district leaders, and funders is the same as it is for any decision I make: It’s good for kids.
Doug McCurry is the co-CEO and Superintendent of Achievement First.