Saturday, September 19, 2015

What the New York Times missed about the teacher sharing economy

A story by Natasha Singer in the New York Times on Sept. 5th focused on the Teachers pay Teachers website. It is not surprising that a business reporter for the NYT would concentrate on a company making money off of sharing. A careful read shows that only a tiny fraction of the teachers on the site make a meaningful amount of money.

In this blog post by David Cutler discusses a concern that I share. What does the site say about teachers who share their work for cash instead of mentoring the next generation of teachers? What does it say about teachers who complain about one size fits all curricula and then turn around and buy lesson plans from someone that does not know anything about their students?

I would like to make a different point, though, the discussion of the sharing economy ignores the much wider phenomena of teachers sharing the products of their work WITHOUT charging anyone. Online platforms allow teachers to share in ways that were not possible before high bandwidth internet connection. For example the web-based quiz platform Kahoot! has over 3.3 million quizzes shared for no cost. Going even further, most of the quizzes on the site have a Creative Commons license that allow other teachers to change them to fit their needs and keep sharing the new results.

The US alone has over 3.5 million k12 teachers. If each one of them posted a few of their best lessons, we could have an incredible repository of lessons for every topic and grade level. Sharing could work even if we chose on the top 10% of teachers. We can monetize the creativity of teachers in a different way by sharing without charging. Sharing can lead to the creation of Open Educational Resources that would allow schools and whole states save on curriculum and use the savings to expand professional development and the reach of technology.

Another radical idea: instead of praising teachers for selling shiny apples from carts to supplement their income, maybe just maybe, we need to pay them well.

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