By Kyle Olson
WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Having trouble with the privateer in your building?” the Michigan Education Association website asks, urging union members to complain about private companies that do work in government schools.
Mark E. Andersen, a writer on Daily Kos, opined that “Profit has no place in public education. These vultures need to be told that we will not allow our schools to be privatized.”
And the grand dame of the education status quo, Diane Ravitch, has decried the rapid growth of “for-profit online schools.”
But what about the recent news that many public school teachers around the nation are creating and selling lesson plans online, and some are making big profits from the venture. Do the profiteering police find that objectionable?
Surprisingly there seems to be general acceptance of this practice from many in the government school community. How can that be?
Teachers union leaders and many school administrators say it’s wrong for private charter school companies to make a profit, even when they deliver quality instruction to students.
They say it’s wrong for private vendors to displace union custodians and cooks in public schools, even if the schools save a great deal of money.
In their minds, even pencils and toilet paper purchased from private vendors are probably troublesome examples of greedy capitalists intruding in the sacred public arena.
They believe public education should be purely public, with nobody walking away with anything more than a regular paycheck. Never mind that those paychecks can get pretty large, particularly for administrators and veteran teachers.
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But when teachers make six or seven figures per year by selling their work, there is mostly silence or happy acceptance.
There has been some reservations expressed by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, but they have more do to with intellectual property rights than any moral outrage over profits.
Are we smelling a bit of hypocrisy here?
Looking for ways to elevate the profession
The Associated Press reports that teachers across the country are developing lesson plans and curricula and selling them on websites like teacherspayteachers.com. Some are making a mint.
Deanna Jump, a first-grade teacher at a private school in Macon, Georgia has made about $1 million in the last two years, according to the AP. Does that put her in the 1 percent most hated by unions and Occupiers.
She recently appeared on the CBS News morning show and gleefully told the host, “It saves so much time” for other teachers.
Kristine Nannini, a government school teacher in Grand Blanc, Michigan, has made about $24,000 so far. She told the AP she’s “created something that everyone really needs.”
A parent, Kathy Smith of Seattle, told the AP she doesn’t have a problem with teachers “using computer sites for supplementation at all.”
Only the NEA has expressed reservations about the idea.
In response to the AP story, the NEA published a story with the subheading, “Teachers who sell their lesson plans online might be running afoul of copyright laws.”
“If your employment contract assigns copyright ownership of materials produced for the classroom to the teacher, then you probably have a green light. Absent any written agreement, however, the Copyright Act of 1976 stipulates that materials created by teachers in the scope of their employment are deemed ‘works for hire’ and therefore the school owns them.”
But Carol Sanders, an English teacher from Brooten, Minnesota, believes that if she or her colleagues create materials on their own time, using their own equipment, they surely have the right to do with them as they please.
“Under the law this may not make a difference,” explains NEA lawyer Cynthia Chmielewski. “The issue is whether you created the materials as part of your job duties.’”
But some teachers will hear none of that.
“We should all be looking for ways to elevate the profession,” Illinois high school teacher Joe Fatheree said in a NEA publication.
The bottom line is that we are an entrepreneurial nation with inventive people who seek to gain monetarily from creating solutions to common problems. That is a good thing. If the masses benefit through innovation, what’s wrong with the innovator making a profit?
The extra financial incentive for teachers is also a positive, particularly in school districts where unions are still resisting merit pay. If they see ways to make more money for themselves without breaking the school district bank, they will tend to be more creative and their students will undoubtedly benefit.
But what’s good for goose should be good for the gander. If it’s okay for innovative teachers to make a few bucks through their public education efforts, it should be okay for anyone, as long as the end result is positive for students.
We can all agree on that … right?