It wasn't clear to me yesterday whether the story behind Free-Reading.net and its lack of buzz up to this point was "um... we decided we didn't need this so we'll just put it on the web and see what happens" or something more strategic was going on. Well, as it turns out, as Dean Millot pointed out yesterday afternoon, there actually was a story in USA Today on Free-Reading.net this week indicating that Wireless Generation agrees with me that publicists are helpful even in the world of Web 2.0, and the promotion for the site is only now starting up.
Even more importantly:
But perhaps the most significant development is at the most elementary level. Last fall, a Florida textbook adoption committee approved Free-Reading, a remediation program for primary-school children that's believed to be the first free, open-source reading program for K-12 public schools. It's awaiting approval by Eric Smith, the state's incoming education commissioner, who could approve it by mid-December.
Florida is one of the top five textbook markets in the USA, so its move could lead to the development of other free materials that might someday challenge the dominance of a handful of big educational publishers.
Setting aside the question of whether or not these textbook approval processes are a good idea, this demonstrates that Wireless Generation is making a serious play. It also underscores a good reason why, as Doug Noon points out, the curriculum hews to the post-NCLB status quo on reading pedagogy. A little more on Wireless Generation's strategy:
Wireless Generation CEO Larry Berger, 39, says he hopes to make money from teacher training and technical support. "We probably will get involved in offering those services," he says.
Berger should know. Four years ago, he turned another free item, the DIBELS reading test, into a moneymaker by developing software that allows teachers to score the test on a handheld computer.
Regardless, the potential significance of Free-Reading.net getting on the approved list for Florida is huge. Somewhat depressingly, Millot's interpretation of this move is that it may be designed to trigger a buy-out:
All they need is for the big publishers to conclude (a big win for Free-Reading.net is) a nontrivial possibility. To the extent they do, they will try to buy the company - and that’s The Mouse that Roared scenario. The more the publishers believe Wireless Generation is a viable initial public offering opportunity, the more they will be willing to pay to avoid it.
This gets into why it is way too simplistic and shallow to say open source is about collaboration and community more than licenses. Because of the license, in this case, CC-by-sa, you're protected, even if Harcourt buys Wireless Generation next week and kills the program (well, assuming someone downloaded the content...). You don't have to rely on someone else's good faith or intentions.
A couple nits from the USA Today article. They write:
The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is funding K-12 open-source projects worldwide, including English-language training for native Chinese- and Spanish-speakers.
That's pretty generous, considering they haven't done shit for open source in K-12 schools in the US. If they can do nothing and still get namechecked, what's the motivation for doing anything? Also, where can I find this English-language training?
Websites such as hippocampus.org offer free materials tied to high school textbooks, and several college-level open-source projects are trickling down to K-12 schools.
Here's the hippocampus.org license:
The content on this website is provided by the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education for personal enrichment and individual instructor use only. The use of this content by educational organizations or commercial vendors is prohibited.
In other words, useless.e3