Though heading back to school is on the horizon (or much closer) for many students, the end of the pandemic may not bring about a return to learning as usual. As school districts plan for the coming years, many are looking to make online instruction a larger part of their learning model.
In this evolving environment, the demand from schools, edtech companies, and curriculum developers for rights to incorporate excerpts of high-quality texts in curriculum remains, and so do the accompanying copyright permissions challenges. Obtaining copyright permissions at scale and in time for in-class and remote learning can be difficult and time-consuming, especially as needs fluctuate. While these market demands have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are reflective of pre-existing trends in education.
Online learning will continue
The recent RAND report, “Remote Learning Is Here to Stay,” was based on a survey of school district superintendents and charter management organization directors. The RAND Corporation conducted the survey to gain a better understanding of the needs of school districts across the nation ahead of schools reopening in 2021, as well as the different approaches towards reopening that school districts are considering.
The responses of school district leaders who participated in the survey indicate that online instruction in one form or another will likely continue beyond the pandemic for a large number of students. Owing to this finding, the RAND report asserts that “public school districts need coherent, high-quality instructional systems for online instruction in academics and social and emotional learning.” To illustrate this point, the report highlights issues in online instruction that were apparent even before the pandemic, including instructional content that did not meet standards and could not be readily modified to address the needs of various student groups, such as English language learners or students with disabilities.
The RAND report underscores the need for quality educational content by citing “quality” as a major concern of school district leaders and one that “should remain at the top of the policy agenda as virtual and hybrid schooling become a permanent feature of U.S. school districts’ portfolios.” In addition, the report mentions the importance of supporting teachers by providing them with a “coherent instructional system” so they can provide their students with “high-quality online instruction.”
In its concluding passage, the RAND report recommends that resources are made available to ultimately allow “states to work with publishers who have created online curricula that are high-quality and standards-aligned and make those curricula accessible to schools and districts.” At the same time, the report calls on publishers to “quickly ramp up their online supports for quality instructional materials,” since many existing, “high-quality” educational materials are not accessible to teachers, pushing them to create their own materials that may not meet standards.
Ongoing copyright challenges
With the demand from schools, districts, and teachers for high-quality supplemental materials to customize curriculum comes a set of licensing challenges. The use of core and supplemental texts, the majority of which are still under copyright in the United States, raises concerns for schools and curriculum developers about how to obtain permission to use the texts in instruction (both in-person and remote), as well as for edtech companies that want to include such content in their applications and services.
Limited copyright exceptions such as fair use and the Classroom Guidelines provide some support for the use of materials when such uses are sporadic and spontaneous, but broad sharing and copying of copyrighted materials throughout a school district or state, especially if suggested and provided by the state DOE or district administration, requires a license. Obtaining licenses for a diversity of texts spanning interest areas, reading levels, and language accessibility can quickly become administratively difficult and time-consuming.
It is vital for school district leaders, edtech companies, curriculum developers, and others concerned with developing customized curriculum and incorporating third-party materials to expand their understanding of copyright and the most efficient means of seeking permissions.
Andrew Campana is a business development director at Copyright Clearance Center. Andrew previously worked at PBS, licensing television to international markets, and was a member of the founding staff at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Andrew holds a masters’ degree from Tufts University and an MBA from IESE in Barcelona, Spain.
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