News Release: IGPA research explores challenges regarding ownership of testing and other educational products

Thursday, December 6, 2018

News Release: IGPA research explores challenges regarding ownership of testing and other educational products

A recent federal requirement that tests, evaluations and other education products developed using federal money be in the public domain has policy implications that should be explored, according to new research at the University of Illinois.

The study by researchers Benjamin Superfine and Rachel Gordon examined how the new requirement affects the “technology transfer process” (TTP), the systems and procedures by which scientific inventions are shared. They were curious about the impact on educational products and education.

Goods and services required for high-stakes testing and accountability policies became the fastest-growing area in the pre-K to Grade 12 education market in the 2000s, just as private-sector provision of those goods and services increased, said Superfine, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Previously, companies could retain intellectual property rights, or copyright, to the products they developed using money provided through federal grants. However, starting last year, these products must be open to further development by the public without payment of license or royalty fees.

“We found that, while the TTP is of critical importance in education, it is characterized by tensions between potential opportunities and pitfalls, and there is much not yet known,” Superfine said.

The research, funded in part by the University of Illinois System’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA), found that the new U.S. Department of Education regulations could dramatically affect the cost and quality of educational products that are used widely across the country. A policy brief on this study was published recently by IGPA.

“By not better monitoring who creates and owns the products in the education system we are implicitly giving that system over to the school improvement industry,” Gordon said. “We are in a moment of digital infrastructure and data science where that industry no longer should be able to operate in the shadows.

“I think that the issues we raise with this study also contribute to renewed conversations about monopoly and anti-trust, since players in the school improvement and testing industry often have a monopoly hold on contracts and protect their intellectual property to maintain that position,” she said.

Moving forward, state and federal education agencies, districts, and schools should do a better job of monitoring what products are being used, their ownership, licensing, and cost structures, and how well the products work on the local level, Gordon and Superfine said. Applying modern data science to such information systems, new insights can emerge regarding how the school improvement and testing industries impact the quality of education across the nation.

The research is under review for scholarly publication. Superfine and Gordon, a professor of sociology at UIC, are scholars at IGPA and part of an initiative to study the implications of intellectual property rights on social science and education policy.

To reach the researchers or request a copy of the study: Rachel Gordon (ragordon@uic.edu) or Benjamin Superfine (bsuperfi@uic.edu)