Providing Course Access

The Opportunity for Openly Licensed Resources

Office of Ed Tech
Keep Calm and Connect All Students
5 min readJul 2, 2020


Hand holding a cell phone with shelves of books in the screen.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The 2017 National Education Technology Plan, the most-recently issued national technology plan, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, defines openly licensed educational resources as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their free use, reuse, modification, and sharing with others. Digital openly licensed resources can include complete online courses, modular digital textbooks as well as more granular resources such as images, videos, and assessment items.”¹

School systems across the country have been investing in openly licensed educational resources in efforts to reduce the cost and increase the flexibility and scalability of their resources. One of the most well-known examples was the New York State Department of Education’s use of federal Race to the Top funds to develop EngageNY, an entire openly licensed K-12 curriculum in reading and math. A 2015 report found that thirty percent of the nation’s math teachers and 25% of the nation’s English language arts teachers reported that they have used the materials in some way. The site continues to see millions of downloads each year with 17 million downloads of the math curriculum in 2018.

Several states have also invested in open education resources to help lower prices and provide course access. A few examples include Colorado, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Non-profits have also been involved in providing state-aligned OER (Openstax, CK-12, and OER Commons). Indeed, many of these programs can provide entire curriculum free for crucial subjects like algebra 1 and secondary English language arts.

The Department seeks to expand the creation of openly licensed resources through its “open licensing rule,” which was published in the Federal Register in 2017.² This rule requires that deliverables created through discretionary grants administered by the Department, with limited exceptions, are openly licensed. (Please note that when the deliverable consists of modifications to pre-existing works, the license extends only to those modifications that can be separately identified and only to the extent that open licensing is permitted under the terms of any licenses or other legal restrictions on the use of pre-existing works.)

This rule is designed to help the nation as a whole benefit from the investment of public funds. In review, the Department’s open rule:

● gives the public permission to use and reuse deliverables fully or partially created with many competitive grant funds provided by the Department;

● applies both to grant deliverables (e.g. teacher professional development training modules) and any final version of program support materials developed in the grant (e.g. training manual for an open data platform) that is necessary for the use or reuse of the deliverables;

● requires grantees to provide a dissemination plan (e.g. how they will make their products available); and

● provides certain categorical exceptions so that certain projects where open licensing would hamper the core mission of the project do not have to openly license their deliverables, such as the Ready to Learn Television grant program

In late April 2020, the Department announced two new discretionary grant programs for states, (1) Education Stabilization Fund-Rethink Education Models (ESF-REM) and (2) Expanding Access to Well-Rounded Courses Demonstration Grants (Course Access Grants). Both programs task states with providing students with new remote learning options that they otherwise would not have. These grants are also subject to the Department’s open licensing requirement, meaning that what these grantees develop can be adapted and reused by any state, district, schools, teachers, parents, and students as long as they give attribution.

While both grants have similar overall goals, there are specific requirements for each. Below are brief summaries of relevant program requirements for the ESF-REM and Course Access Grants. Please note that the summaries focus on elements that have the most pertinent implications for the OER ecosystem. To learn more about these programs and for the complete list of absolute priorities and application requirements, please click on the link in each description.

  1. One of the three absolute priorities in the ESF-REM grant program “encourages the development and/or expansion of a high-quality course-access program (as these terms are defined in this notice) or statewide virtual school (as defined in this notice). Course-access programs enable students to select from different courses offered by any public school in the state or by third-party providers, regardless of a student’s assigned school.”
  2. As part of their Course Access Grants, States “must describe how its course-access program as a whole would make a broad range of courses widely available for all students in the State… [and] must also specifically describe how, in addition to serving all students, its proposed program would meet the needs of rural students, disadvantaged students, or students with disabilities, and contribute to preparing students to be college and career ready.”

The open licensing rule has added a new and powerful element to the grants provided by the federal government that can unlock the ability to share the resources that our grantees develop. We look forward to seeing the collaboration between experts in state policymaking, virtual learning, and open educational resources to provide more students with the learning opportunities that they need to be prepared for success in education and the workforce.

[1] The 2017 Plan is available at:

[2] A copy of the rule is available at:

This blog contains examples of resources that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. Inclusion of such information does not constitute an endorsement by the Department or a preference for these examples as compared with others that might be presented.The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.

Department of Education information about COVID-19 is available at:



Office of Ed Tech
Keep Calm and Connect All Students

OET develops national edtech policy & provides leadership for maximizing technology's contribution to improving education. Examples ≠ endorsement