In places like Louisiana, teachers are being enlisted to help write online curriculum. School officials have determined that Common Core hasn’t worked out well. So isn’t it nice that they asked teachers to supplant Common Core by coming up with their own unit ideas?
Shouldn’t that make teachers feel good—that finally school officials, and businesses, and people marketing educational content finally believe in their professional worth?
Or, will teacher ideas become the online curriculum that eventually ends teaching careers?
Are teachers writing their own demise? A recent report by Emily Talmage, about the political future of online learning, promoted by both political parties, should give us pause.
In my book Losing America’s Schools, the last chapter is about conversion of brick-and-mortar schools to online learning. Everyone is waking up to the fact that teachers may be replaced by computers!
Teacher ideas in Louisiana were first turned into a guidebook, but it apparently didn’t work well—we are told. So, the school district paired with LearnZillion a DC based digital curriculum provider for K-8 math and English language arts.
Founded in 2011 by a charter school chief and a McKinsey consultant, LearnZillion charges districts to supply teachers and students with five-minute mini-lessons based on the Common Core State Standards initiative—designed to align states’ curriculums—and delivered by master teachers. Students can use LearnZillion to review class material, but equally as important, teachers can use it to get ideas for their own classes and to study videos to improve their teaching methods. The company has about 120,000 registered teachers (and adds 5,000 new teachers every week) and reaches about 1.4 million students. LearnZillion, a favorite of ed-tech enthusiast Bill Gates, has also formed alliances with Washington, D.C., and Syracuse, New York, public school systems.
From Education Week:
That was part of the impetus for the Louisiana project—to give teachers something digital, accessible, and teacher-created that they were likely to use in full.
So the department linked up with LearnZillion, which procured $850,000 in funding from groups including the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and the Hewlett Foundation, to help fully build out the program for grades 3-12 and to put the units in a cloud-based platform. (The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust also helps support development of video capacity for Education Week.)
LearnZillion calls teachers who help write online curriculum the Dream Team. And teachers from public, private and charter schools get paid $2,000 for their work. But shouldn’t those teachers get royalties? If the work is stored on a cloud and used for digital instruction over-and-over and the company gets rich, aren’t teachers selling out—or selling their professional souls?
When online instruction takes over, as many believe inevitable, where will teachers be then?
It takes on added significance when one understands that in 2007, teachers were called out for selling their ideas online to other teachers. A teacher in New York was actually banned for selling her own work. But what happens when a state enlists teachers to write content that a private company then markets?
If a teacher makes a video, for example, it can be displayed repeatedly. Will we still need the teacher in the new world of online instruction? And will that teacher be fairly compensated for the video?
Teacher ideas are the property of the school district.
In 2004, a federal appellate court in New York ruled that “tests, quizzes, homework problems, and other teaching materials” were works made for hire owned by the district and that the “academic tradition” of granting authors ownership of their own scholarly work cannot be applied to materials not explicitly intended for publication.
But how does that work with agreements between the school district and private online companies? It is one thing for teachers to work with their peers sharing best practices. But isn’t it quite another thing when they supply outside companies the material those companies will use to make a profit—programs that could eventually replace teachers?
Digital learning is uncharted. Teachers are usually kind and caring—willing to do what they can to help children learn. They should be careful here.
I will end with another quote from the Ed. Week report.
That’s also why more states may start taking cues from Louisiana—not necessarily about creating a curriculum from scratch, but about aggregating and packaging digital materials that work for their own teachers.
Work for their own teachers, or work for the eventual teacherless digital program sold by the company? That’s the million dollar question.