A victory for transparency

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Yesterday, a court in Minnesota delivered a summary judgment ordering the Minnesota State Colleges and University system to deliver the documents for which we asked in our open records ("sunshine") request for our Teacher Prep Review.
At the heart of our Teacher Prep Review is a simple idea: the more information that aspiring teachers, district and school leaders, teacher educators and the public at large have about the programs producing classroom-ready teachers, the better all teacher training programs will be.
In our effort to produce the first comprehensive review of U.S. teacher prep, we've faced a number of challenges -- perhaps the most serious of which has been the argument made by some universities that federal copyright law makes it illegal for public institutions publicly approved to prepare public school teachers to make public documents that describe the training they provide.
We want to make sure that everyone understands what this ruling does and does not mean. The Minnesota State colleges and universities system agreed with us that the syllabi we seek are indeed public record documents. Their case came down to the claim that because the course syllabi are also the intellectual property of professors, they should not have to deliver copies of their syllabi to us.
Minnesota's open records law, the court ruled, is clear: public institutions must make documents accessible to individuals seeking them -- which includes delivering copies to them. Delivering copies of these documents to us in no way, shape or form deprives the professors who created them of their intellectual property rights. NCTQ is conducting a research study, which means that our use of these syllabi falls under the fair use provision of the copyright law. This is the exactly the same provision that enables all researchers, including teacher educators, to make copies of key documents they need to analyze to make advances in our collective knowledge.
Because this is one of the few cases shedding light on the intersection between the public's right to know and private claims to intellectual property, we think that courts in other states where we have had to take action will find it extremely compelling. We hope that the Minnesota case helps demonstrate that our mission to bring transparency to teacher prep is completely consonant with the understandable desire faculty have to protect the fruits of their labor.

-Arthur McKee