What about edupreneurs?

I have thinking about this issue for some time. My initial interest was sparked by a growing list of individuals offering their services as educational consultants, presenters, and trainers who were teachers, but decided to leave the classroom in one of these other ways. I wondered at what point they could tout their teacher experience, often recognized in one way or another, to promote their new role. I admit this question stemmed in part from my own experience. How long after retiring as a full-time faculty member could I continue as an adjunct making the case that I was familiar with the best available research promoting one instructional tactic versus another. When did I lose credibility when I was no longer actively involved in research myself?

These folks have been described as edupreneurs as they are finding ways to generate income available from the funds available to support educational practice, but not directly from the practice of education. There are certain voids being addressed by these individuals. One might be the opportunity to provide staff development experiences and support schools do not feel they can provide themselves. With a decreasing emphasis on commercial textbook and educational resources, there is also an opportunity to create content resources available for sale (e.g., teacher paying teacher).

A recent issue has been making the rounds sparked by a New York Times article. The article holds a particular interest for us because the key example in the article is a North Dakota teacher familiar to my wife. I would describe the Times article as examining the potential conflicts of interest that may be created when educators make additional income promoting specific educational products and services. Larry Cuban has an interesting follow-up on the NY Times article. I encourage you to read both.

Some of the issues raised strike very close to home. My wife is an early Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) and a Google certified teacher. At the time of the Apple recognition she was a strong Apple advocate, but from my perspective the causality between her promotion and her award is important to understand. She was a strong promoter first and was recognized by Apple based on the projects she developed and the recognition received. Her approach diversified as other companies offered services and products she felt were effective. The projects and the awards certainly benefited her (and my) career, but I do not think that increased income was ever much of a motive, nor much of a reward. The opportunities she delivered to students and to teachers were the motives. She did spend most of her time without a class of her own, but she used her skills within a traditional school or university framework as a teacher/faculty support person and grant writer.

The concept of “addition” or “outside” income is different. It is not new, but the frequency in K12 circles may be new or at least increasingly visible. To the point, that such issues are not new allow a personal example. I spend a good part of my university career as a university department chair (psychology). One of the graduate programs that fell within my administrative responsibilities was a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. Several of the clinical psychologists within the department and clinical practices completely external to the university. These opportunities allowed these individuals to substantially augment their incomes in ways not available to the other faculty members and this inequity was a source of some friction. There were benefits of a sort to those individuals who spent more of their time working within the university framework (e.g., merit pay for research productivity), but these opportunities provided nowhere close to the same financial benefits. Similar opportunities exist everywhere in higher education – business schools, engineers, etc. There are certainly benefits to the institution – there is credibility and experience to be gained from practicing and applying. There is professional development to be gained without funding from underfunded institutions. However, there is always the issue of equity and pushing a good thing too far.

Administrators and school boards may need to give this situation careful consideration and come up with policies that establish guidelines. Will entrepreneurs be allowed to use school time to make money elsewhere (say doing professional development in another district or at a conference)? Is there any related compensation to the district for the time spent in such pursuits? Will schools spend funds on services and resources that educators are personally financed to promote? Should educators and administrators be required to reveal to administrators and school boards benefits they have received from companies providing educational resources? Should limits or limitations be placed on time spent or revenue generated?