Public Release: 

High school teacher's algebra book aces California test

Book from Rice University's Connexions used in historic K-12 initiative

Rice University

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- (Aug. 11, 2009) -- As California prepares to become the first state in the nation to offer free, open-source digital textbooks for high school students this fall, state officials today gave an A-plus to a North Carolina high school teacher's algebra II textbook, one of the first open-source texts submitted for the program. Advanced Algebra II <http://cnx.org/content/m19435/latest/> by Raleigh, N.C., math teacher Kenny Felder was submitted to California officials by Connexions, an open-education initiative at Rice University in Houston that publishes the open-copyright book.

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's initiative, together with President Obama's proposal to invest $500 million in open-education over the next decade, are two of the most significant steps forward in open-education to date," said Joel Thierstein, Connexions executive director. "Open education is the biggest advance in education since Horace Mann's push for mandatory free public education in the U.S."

California Secretary of Education Glen Thomas today unveiled his department's review of the first 16 digital texts submitted by publishers in response to Schwarzenegger's May 6 call for free open-source digital textbooks for high school students. Textbook choices are made at the local level in California, and Thomas' reviews are designed to help local officials choose digital books that best meet their needs. The reviews assessed how well each book complied with California's state textbook standards, and Connexions' algebra text scored a 96, meeting 26 of the 27 standards tested.

Felder, who teaches algebra and calculus at Raleigh Charter High School, said he was delighted to learn that his book scored so well on California's test. He said the book was created from the lessons he created and refined during 10 years of algebra II classes.

"My book presents math as an exploration of ideas -- not a collection of facts and techniques," Felder said. "Students often tell me they are realizing, for the first time, that math makes sense. And that's what I hope they remember from my class; there are reasons for everything in math, and you should ask 'Why?' and keep asking, particularly if someone says, 'That's just the way it is.'"

Thierstein said Felder's story isn't unlike those of many authors who've submitted materials to Connexions.

"One of the beauties of open-education in general, and Connexions in particular, is that anyone who wants to take the time to create content can do it, and anyone who wants to update content and keep it current or improve it can do that too," Thierstein said. "A book is never static in Connexions because everything is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Only copyright license. Any teacher can modify the book to make it culturally relevant for their students."

The reviews of Felder's book and the other submissions for California's K-12 open-source textbook initiative were presented at a symposium in Orange County this morning that was organized by the California Educational Technology Professionals Association. The event attracted hundreds of officials who are tasked with choosing curriculum in a year with extremely tight budgets. Thierstein, an invited panelist, answered questions and explained how open-source texts like Felder's book could both improve classroom instruction and save money.

"Everyone is looking to cut costs over the next couple of years, but the real beauty of open-educational resources like Kenny Felder's book is that they provide the foundation for a step-change in the quality of education in the United States," Thierstein said.

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With more than a million visitors a month and one of the world's largest repositories of open-education resources, Connexions is a leading global provider of open-copyright licensed, free educational materials. Connexions is available free for anyone to contribute to or learn from at www.cnx.org.

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