Foster Bill Supports the Development of Open Source STEM Education Materials

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Publication date: 
23 April 2014

Representatives Bill Foster (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) have introduced H.R. 4455, the “Learning Opportunities With Creation of Open Source Textbooks (LOW COST) Act.”  The bill would require federal agencies to develop freely available and open source educational materials for use in college-level physics, chemistry, and mathematics courses.  The materials developed through the open source material pilot program established in this Act would include a comprehensive set of textbooks or educational tools.  Physics, chemistry and calculus topics would be included in the material and would be posted on the newly-established Federal Open Source Material Website.

H.R. 4455 also establishes procedures for checking the “veracity, accuracy, and educational effectiveness” of the open source materials.   Regulations regarding the redistribution and attribution standards for the educational materials would be determined by the National Science Foundation.

The bill defines “high quality” materials as those that are “tested for optimal student engagement,” “tested for optimal content consumption,” and “subjected to an editorial peer review process.”   High quality has been a focus of many discussions about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education as Members seek to improve STEM education at all levels. 

Additionally, H.R. 4455 calls for the Government Accountability Office to publish a report addressing the open source course materials created by the Act as well as the adoption process for the materials.  The study would also include information about savings for students, states, and federal governments that result from the use of open source educational materials. 

Reducing the cost of higher education has been a common theme in recent policy discussions about STEM education.  The College Board reports that an average student at a 4-year university spent approximately $1,222 per year on college textbooks and supplies.  Providing open source materials would also allow the public free access to educational tools. 

The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce.