Blended Learning

Did you say free? Educators turn to textbooks that cost nothing, as U.S. Department of Education throws its weight behind them

The avant-garde of educators on social media went aflutter last week as the U.S. Department of Education announced new developments in its effort to assist schools that embark on plans to ditch old-school textbooks.

Emblazoning their social media posts with #GoOpen, teachers, principals, advocacy organizations and trade groups rallied behind what the department described as “high-quality, openly-licensed educational resources” for K-12 schools. Worth noting: These books and materials are free.

“Openly licensed educational resources can increase equity by providing all students, regardless of zip code, access to high quality learning materials that have the most up-to-date and relevant content,” acting U.S. Education Secretary John King said in a statement.

At an event tagged as the #GoOpen Exchange, the department praised pioneering educators who were working to upend the traditional model of textbooks and materials. To assist with that work, the Department of Education has recruited a full roster of supporters, both public and private, including Amazon Education, Microsoft and Edmoto.

The thirteen states that pledged to make use of free materials are: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. Separately, 40 districts in an array of states have promised to replace at least one textbook with an open-license resource.

And the federal Department of Education unveiled new resources — such as a website, the Learning Registry — for teachers anywhere to use to find free textbooks and materials. Use of these open educational resources (often called OER) could advance educational equality, according to the department, and free up money for other endeavors, such as the “transition to digital learning.”

These efforts face an uphill battle, to persuade teachers and school leaders to adopt free textbooks and related materials. One of the biggest challenges is helping teachers find high-quality materials amid the avalanche of online resources. Among the efforts to help are, which offers free resources and access to paid services.

How widespread are free textbooks? It’s hard to say. Many states do not keep a public list of all the textbooks that are in use in schools.

A University of Southern California assistant professor, Morgan Polikoff, is working on a project to shake that information loose using Freedom of Information Act requests. His preliminary work, presented last week at an Education Writers Association seminar in Los Angeles, revealed that at least one free textbook took a cross-country flight: EngageNY, created by the New York State Department of Education, is now among the most popular textbooks in California.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about blended learning.

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Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo is a reporter and the blended learning fellow. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic's online edition, Mind/Shift,… See Archive