OER, Cultural Relevance and Equity

illustration of a water scene with a bridge and boats

By Erika Aparaka

With a rapidly approaching demographic shift in the United States, #GoOpen efforts by states should incorporate attention to culturally relevant instructional materials. By 2044, the United States will be majority minority, and it will be critical to the success of the United States in both economic and social terms that today's educational resources meet the needs of tomorrow's population. State leaders are well aware that in order to achieve big picture educational goals, students must feel that the resources made available to them acknowledge their lived experiences as well. Making these connections will help educators and students relate with their individual learning experience and make the learning more meaningful and teaching more impactful.

When CCSSO and the Aspen Institute published its report, Leading for Equity in February 2017, they outlined 10 commitments to guide states in ensuring all students receive the type of education that meets their needs. Honing in on Commitments 4 and 7, state leaders are called upon to ensure all students have access to high-quality instructional materials that represent diverse and culturally relevant materials in locally adopted curricula and that educators will put into practice instructional methods that will ensure equitable access to learning materials that meet state standards. This means not subscribing to one specific model of ed tech integration, but rather a model that fits the local context while also achieving broader educational goals that are shared on a grander scale as well. For example, the fourth commitment to equity calls on state leaders to engage local education agencies (LEAs) to address the needs of students by communicating with educators, supporting districts in their efforts to maintain excellent schools and select culturally relevant learning materials. Educators and state leaders are already familiar with the need to differentiate education, but factors like student ability and performance aren't the only things that need to be addressed.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) states as one of its core values a "belief that people, communities and organizations need universal and equitable access to information, ideas and works of imagination for their social, educational, cultural, democratic and economic well-being." Within this idea is embodied the belief that unfettered access to high-quality learning materials is a human right, necessary for the perpetuation of democratic principles that promote the greater good. CCSSO has supported refining this broad concept to a local environment by encouraging state and local school leaders to ensure their students have access to high-quality OER resources that are representative of the students receiving them and that they put into practice strategies that address equitable implementation of standards and assessments.

When states commit to #GoOpen, they are doing more than just agreeing to increase accessibility to OER. States and their leaders are also encouraged to consider  equity in resource vetting. This addresses Commitment 7, part C and means that states and districts will carefully review OER to ensure that it reflects the experiences of the populations being served, provide access to new information and provide guidance to educators on the ground as they engage the curriculum and assess student progress and growth.  

More than ever it will be important to ensure that instructional materials and assessments include accurate representations of the role of race in American history and governance. As the next generation experiences greater globalization, the commitments remind us that students will inevitably encounter diverse perspectives and worldviews, and must be able to receive and share ideas utilizing their critical thinking skills. English learners need high-quality, culturally relevant materials that help them connect to their adopted language. Students with disabilities should be able to access advanced courses, while students with the most significant cognitive disabilities should, at a minimum, have access to grade-level content and support for completing a regular diploma.

#GoOpen efforts by states face the exciting challenge of continuously ensuring the provision of culturally-relevant instructional materials and pedagogy that is aligned to state standards. Educators and students benefit when resources are made available that engage them based on meaningful connections. Addressing individual needs is a benefit to the greater good.

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