I purposefully waited to post on this topic again, because the first post was so controversial. No really. Crazy controversial. I was not prepared for that, and I had no clue it would be. How controversial was it? This one comparison says most of what I mean:
The 135 hit count was my post on “High Fives” from #TMC15, and the 400 hit count was this post. Google Analytics says that one post was viewed over 1200 times. For my little blog, that is a lot of traffic. The conversation on Twitter was also interesting, and I grew a new appreciation for the complexity of the topic. When I first made the post, I was irritated, and now I am calm and reflective. I think I did make some mistakes in the original post, and I want to clarify some issues for myself so I remember the complexity. With that in mind, I see 3 issues now, and I will go through them one at at time.
I will start with the original article from the New York Times. The clear assumption of the article is that teachers ONLY win when they make money from the selling of their lessons.
One of her best-selling items is a full-year collection of high school grammar, vocabulary and literature exercises. It has generated sales on TeachersPayTeachers of about $100,000. Speaking from her tiny home office, formerly a bedroom closet, Ms. Randazzo still sounded amazed at her success.
The teacher interviewed made over $100,000 from one collection and now she has a home office. That is a WIN! (heavy sarcasm) The clear subtext by the NYT is that winning = making lots of money.
Teachers often spend hours preparing classroom lesson plans to reinforce the material students are required to learn, and many share their best materials with colleagues. Founded in 2006, TeachersPayTeachers speeds up this lesson-plan prep work by monetizing exchanges between teachers and enabling them to make faster connections with farther-flung colleagues.
Teachers often times spend HOURs doing their jobs with no reward, but we can ‘monetize’ the process! That is a WIN! Because, you know, those ‘connections with farther-flung colleagues’ would not or could not occur without the benefit of monetization. (more sarcasm)
Mr. Freed took the helm of Teacher Synergy in 2014. One of his first tasks was to bring the technology behind the homespun company up to date without introducing radical changes that might upset its following. That goal has become more urgent now that TES Global, a British company with its own teacher-to-teacher marketplace, has entered the American market.
That’s right. This isn’t just a homespun, backroom business, it is an international business. This “Winning” has nothing to do with teachers, or education, or students. It has everything to do with making money for major corporations. After all, Mr. Freed isn’t an ex-teacher who is running this business to benefit classrooms, he is a corporate venture capitalist who is trying to squeeze as much money as possible for the investors.
And please, don’t get me wrong. I am not a staunch idealist who believes that money always corrupts and destroys education. But I am firmly opposed to the current trend of treating education like a business. These are people we are teaching, not ID numbers. Every dollar stolen from the educational system and given to corporations is one less dollar that can be used to help people learn, develop and grow.
The NYTimes blew it. Big time. I realize they have corporate sponsors they answer to, and writing an article about how dangerous TPT is to education may not be good for them. Except they have run that article. But is wasn’t in the business section, it was in the education section. And it was 6 years ago, before they NYT, like all newspapers, had to pay more attention to their bottom line and run fluff pieces that were devoid of journalistic integrity.
And those amazing numbers of teachers getting wealthy from selling their lessons? That may not be all that grand either. Look into it. You will see a few teachers make a lot of cash, while the larger majority of teachers are purchasing Mr. Freed a second guesthouse. (Okay, that is a snarky comment. Who knows where the rest of the money goes. But TPT does have an $86 million dollar debt to venture capitalists to pay off. That is money not being spent on classrooms, we can agree on that much.)
In my opinion, the New York Times still failed.
Which brings me to the next point:
The Commodity of Education
These are my personal feelings and frustration towards the growing trend of making education a commodity. I personally don’t like TPT because I believe it turns the education of people, of human beings, into a commodity that can be bought and sold. Even writing that sentence raises a bit of anger in me (and that is the frustration and anger that spilled over into the previous post.) We hear daily from the media that “Education is in Crisis” in the US. Except it isn’t. The story has been well written and pushed through most media channels how horrible our educational system is.
I sat through a presentation by one important person in my state who said, “Our K-12 system is broken, no one comes to the US to attend our K-12 schools.” [This statement is demonstrably false, but ignore that.] His next statement was, “Our University system is the best in the world and students from other countries fight to attend our schools.”
Stop and think about that for a second. …. …. Really? If the K-12 system is so broken, how is our University system the envy of the world? Is it because of the extremely small percentage of foreigners who attend our Universities? No. It is because of the amazing students coming out of our K-12 system that are innovative, creative and demand to learn, and the completely dedicated faculty at both the K-12 and University level.
We have companies like Pearson raking in gobs of cash in profits on the backs of our students. Why? Because of this narrative that our system is broken. This is the same narrative that has been pushed on the US for the last 25 years or so. “K-12 education sucks, deprive them of funding because they suck, and when they don’t perform because they have no funding, claim it is because the teachers suck.”
Breath….. Really. You could not plan a better way to destroy public education than what is going on now. [Evidence here, and here but behind a paywall so here instead, and here, and here (and really, if you read only one, read that one)]. I could go on and on.
So the answer from the business world is clearly to make education a commodity that can be bought and sold. Make schools private so they richest families can send their children to good schools, and let’s just give them the tax money along with it (back to starving our schools of resources). The rest of the children, … they don’t really have a good plan for them. Just corporate schools to move them through. (seriously, read the last link in the previous paragraph.)
And if that isn’t good enough, let’s create away to “assess” and “teach” our learners in a way that will require HUGE amounts of money to be thrown at companies regardless of the company’s success. In fact, let’s create more ways to give educational money to companies and call it “charter schools” which can be run by corporations. John Oliver’s take down of the corporate testing agenda is mandatory watching.
And, if that isn’t enough, let’s define the concept of “success” in K-12 education as “graduating” but make the definition of graduation so narrow that it is guaranteed impossible for any school that does not purposefully select its students to meet. [Really. Look into it. How are “graduation rates” calculated? I have looked into it. No comprehensive high school can meet a 100% rate. It is mathematically and physically impossible to achieve. Success is defined to be impossible for K-12, but the corporations making the rules will never admit that in public.]
But our schools are NOT failing. Not by a long shot. The reformers are wrong. It is a myth. Absolutely a myth.
This whole process results in one thing, making education, making people’s education something that can be bought and sold on the open market.
TPT is one symptom of that. I really dislike that aspect. I don’t have any hard feelings for the teachers who use TPT, but the company itself? I find the company reprehensible and a symptom of purposeful attacks on education to serve a commercial agenda.
And that brings me to the final point.
Ownership of teaching materials
One issue that did not consider (and this is my mea culpa because I did blow it on this) is ownership of our work product. I accused teachers of “selling out.” That was wrong. Teachers are not selling out, they are using a corporation to earn some pennies on the material they create. If lots of other teachers buy their materials, then they make lots of pennies (but to be clear, the corporation makes far more than the teachers do.)
But, do the teachers actually own their intellectual property?
My opinion is that I believe what ANY teacher makes on their own time, at home OR AT SCHOOL should be owned solely and completely by the teacher who created it. Even if I stay until 7 pm at school building and creating things for my students, I should own that product even if I did it at school. If I choose to give it away, I should be allowed. If I choose to sell it, I should be allowed.
It appears that the belief I have may be false.
Would you believe there is reasonable case law to say that the school district actually owns the material I made, and I am not allowed to sell it?
And it gets worse. If I take materials I make at home and upload it to the cloud service the school district runs for my benefit, I could lose the rights to it.
Um. yea. The entire situation became incredibly complex. In talking to teachers, I found a school district in Texas that will not allow a teacher to even share a single example of a lesson they use. Everything used in the classroom is immediately copyrighted by the district. (I didn’t ask where, I didn’t want to know.)
I found out that in Utah, they have a very open policy and teachers are given rights to their material for sharing purposes.
This entire issue is one big, giant, messy, ugly, hot mess.
That teachers may not own the things they create for their classroom, that they don’t own the intellectual property they create is baffling. And this is not an issue of corporations wanting to own our work. These laws were created years ago before the current corporate takeover of schools started.
Do I fault teachers for selling their intellectual property. Not one bit. I think teachers should have that right. I think the teacher I spoke with in Texas is in a very difficult position. I believe that teacher owns their work, even if the district attempts to falsely claim ownership. I believe I own every single lesson I created. If I want to sell them (and I don’t) I should be allowed.
A large hot mess.
But I think I addressed some very constructive and much appreciated comments I received from teachers who use TPT. I am posting their comments below and emailing them that I responded.
Thank you for challenging me on what I wrote. I do appreciate it.
Good point, but I see things a different way. The time teachers put into their Teachers pay Teachers resources is time that is outside of their teaching job. It’s a second job, if you think about it. When I buy an activity from TpT, I am not only buying the activity, I’m buying time with my family.
If you are a teacher you’ll know that we have at least 2 jobs: the one where we are delivering instruction, which takes very little time but is the part of teaching all non-teachers imagine we do all day, and then there is the part where we plan lessons. Wait, then grading papers. Oh, and planning meetings and writing reports if we are Special Ed teachers. At the end of all that I am happy (overjoyed, elated, giddy) to be able to spend $3 to spend more time with my family.
As for the comment about doctors selling lesson plans. I don’t understand this argument. Doctors get paid well for their jobs and sell every part of it. And how about tutoring? A lot of teachers do this to make ends meet. Should they give their time away? Should doctors give their time away? It’s weird to me that teachers are faulted for asking for their time to be compensated when no one else is asked to do this.
I love Teachers pay Teachers. By having cheap access to master teachers’ resources I bring a better school experience to my students and more time to my family. Faulting teachers for getting $2 for hours of their time is ridiculous and small-minded.
How do you feel about censorship?
Hi! My name is Gina and I run the store All Things Algebra on TpT. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion. However, I do want to clarify a couple things. I can speak on the behalf of most all TpT sellers that yes, we do collaborate and continually seek to improve. I am constantly asking my colleagues for feedback and tweeking my resources to make them better. I am much of a perfectionist and never settle for just okay. Second, many of us take our original ideas and translate them into other grade levels/subject areas per request from those that have used our materials. For example, I spent 5 years+ writing an algebra curriculum. Many of those who purchased it asked (okay pretty much begged!) for a geometry version because they had seen the success of the algebra materials. They could have absolutely taken my ideas and written a curriculum for their personal classroom, but wanted ME to do it.I agreed to do this, and gave up about 60+ hours a week of my life over the course of a year to do this. I am now doing the same for Algebra 2. I take custom requests all the time, some are huge projects like those I just mentioned, and some are smaller. This does not make me a “sell-out”. Teachers should be compensated for this type of extra work. And also, I’ve noticed an increase in district purchase orders, which is great! Schools are seeing the benefits of teacher created materials over textbook companies.
Please consider these things and do not create an “us vs. them” environment as someone mentioned above. We are ALL working for the benefit of all learners. There is so much going on at TpT than I think you understand, and I’d be happy to chat with you about it. Feel free to email me at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.