Why Teachers Selling Lesson Plans Have Sparked Debate

To earn extra money, many teachers around the country are selling lesson plans via online marketplaces. But as such sites become more popular, there are also concerns, including who legally owns the educational materials a teacher creates, and what it means for the collaborative spirit of the profession. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week reports from Alabama.

Full Transcript

Judy Woodruff:

Flash cards, puzzles, projects, worksheets, many thousands of teachers go online to find lesson plans and classroom resources.

For the educators who sell these ideas, the increasing popularity of these marketplaces can lead to a lucrative second income that helps other teachers. But some worry about the unintended consequences.

Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza, with our partner Education Week, traveled to rural Alabama.

Kavitha Cardoza:

Jennifer White is showing me around her hometown, Oneonta.

Jennifer White:

In 2010, my husband lost his job, and I needed to earn some extra cash.

Kavitha Cardoza:

So, in addition to her job as a kindergarten teacher, White started to tutor kids after school. But with three children of her own, two still in diapers, money was still tight.

Jennifer White:

It was probably one of the most difficult times in my life.

Kavitha Cardoza:

That led to a third job on weekends.

Jennifer White:

This is the gas station where I worked. There’s nothing quite as surreal as selling alcohol to former students.

Kavitha Cardoza:

Around this time, she heard about teachers who were making extra money writing and selling lesson plans online. There are a number of Web sites where teachers can share or sell their work. White started browsing through them.

Jennifer White:

It kind of planted a little seed, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, well, maybe I could do this.

Kavitha Cardoza:

The largest of these online sites is Teachers Pay Teachers, or TPT.

Adam Freed is the CEO of the company.

Adam Freed:

Teachers Pay Teachers is a marketplace where teachers come together to buy, sell and share original educational materials. Today, two-thirds of teachers in the U.S. are active members of our platform.

This is an activity on life cycles.

Computer Voice:

You have been assigned to put insects in the proper section of the local zoo.

Adam Freed:

It’s so much more engaging to get to the video this way, by doing something yourself.

Kavitha Cardoza:

The average TPT lesson plan sells for $5, and the company takes a cut of 20 percent or 45 percent.

Adam Freed:

We’re proud to announce that, this past year, TPT paid out more than $100 million to teacher authors across the country.

Kavitha Cardoza:

Some have even become millionaires, including a kindergarten teacher from Florida, an elementary school teacher from California, and an English teacher from Louisiana.

These online marketplaces are becoming more and more popular. But there are also concerns. Some legal experts say, if a teacher creates educational materials, those materials legally belong to the school district.

Some educators worry about quality. And there are those who question what this means for the teaching profession, which traditionally has shared these materials for free.

Bob Farrace is with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. He worries this trend could discourage teachers from working together.

Bob Farrace:

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.

Kavitha Cardoza:

Jennifer White worked on weekends to develop her first product, called Let’s Make a Pilgrim. The lesson sells for $4.50.

Jennifer White:

It includes patterns and pictures of the finished product.

Kavitha Cardoza:

The first quarter, she was excited when she made $300 from sales. Then a popular blogger shared her lesson.

Jennifer White:

And that next quarter, I think I sold $14,000 in that three-month span. And it was life-changing.

Kavitha Cardoza:

White now has about 100 different products online.

Let’s Make an Elf. Let’s Make a Snowman. I sense