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Marketplace for Lessons: Reflections on K-12 Education

Teachers: Are you drawing a blank on your next classroom assignment? Having trouble finishing this year’s lessons plans in time for your submission deadline?

Don’t worry, you can buy the answers online.

A growing number of online marketplaces allow teachers to sell pre-packaged projects and lesson plans to other teachers.

This business-oriented approach to education has given K-12 teachers the ability to earn extra money or fund school-related projects. Some teachers have even become multimillionaires by selling their lessons, according to a recent video report from Education Week and the PBS News Hour.

While many teachers—buyers and sellers alike—see a demonstrable benefit in such transactions, some experts worry that the monetizing of classroom materials is fundamentally changing the nature of public education.

The largest of the online marketplaces is Teachers Pay Teachers. The company’s CEO Adam Freed tells the News Hour that nearly two-thirds of K-12 teachers use the site. According to Freed, teachers earned nearly $100 million over the last year through the platform.

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Jennifer White, a kindergarten teacher in rural Alabama, says she earned around $14,000 in the last quarter selling her materials. While much of that money has gone to supporting her family, White says she’s also used those funds to help revamp her classroom. As she tells the News Hour:

“In my classroom, we’re family. When they need something—if they need crayons, or they need glue, or they need a backpack, or they need something, anything—I can get it for them. I’m giving back to the people who have gotten me where I am today.”

White’s situation is not unlike that of other teachers.

With limited district budgets, educators often opt to buy classroom materials with their own money. And, with the average teaching salary hovering around $56,000 according to Niche Blog, many teachers see marketplaces like Teachers Pay Teachers as an opportunity to supplement their income.

For public school advocates, the marketing of learning materials is fundamentally changing the nature of education, from that of collaboration and the free sharing of ideas, to one of competition and transaction.

As Bob Farrace of the National Association of Secondary School Principals tells the News Hour:

“I think it’s not unreasonable to say that once you put a price tag on that collaboration, you begin to close people out of that market. We want these ideas to flow very freely among everyone–not just teachers who might be willing or inclined to pay for that collaboration.”

The monetizing of learning materials is perhaps a microcosm of a broader shift toward a more competitive, market-driven approach to K-12 education.

As school choice creates more alternatives to public schools, many public districts are adopting business-minded strategies—think marketing, branding, and customer experience. Now, it appears that teachers are following suit.

For more on the shift to a market-driven education culture, check out the latest edition of Course Correction with Dr. Philip Lanoue

As school districts wrestle with increased competition and potential enrollment and budget deficits, the push for teachers to monetize their work, both for theirs and their school’s financial benefit, might only grow stronger.

For more on the debate over lesson plan marketplaces, check out the full PBS News Hour report, below:

What do you think about teachers buying and selling learning materials online? Is your school or district adopting similar market-driven approaches? Tell us in the comments.