Rewarding Innovation or Facilitating Conflict? Exploring the Legal Implications of Teacherpreneurship

By Clements, Ryan | Journal of Law and Education, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

Rewarding Innovation or Facilitating Conflict? Exploring the Legal Implications of Teacherpreneurship


Clements, Ryan, Journal of Law and Education


I. INTRODUCTION

In 2017, the New York Times published an investigative report by Natasha Singer on companies that sponsor "brand name teachers" with prominent social media profiles to use new technologies in their classrooms.1 These companies (including Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon) give technology to "teacher influencers" provided they use the technology in their classrooms and provide user feedback.2 This article will explore the legal implications of this phenomenon (often called "teacherpreneurship") and will present a hypothetical case study to show how teacher code of conduct guidelines can be breached when a teacher accepts corporate sponsorship, even when it's directed for the benefit of students. Such behaviour also triggers supervising administrator concerns, children's advertising rules and standards, and intellectual property ownership ramifications.

This article will also review several teacherpreneurship cases and discuss policy issues, such as the impact of technology and poverty on learning and student performance, and technology's impact on the future of jobs. As will be discussed in this article, teachers who accept gifts from corporations trigger a host of significant legal concerns. Teacherpreneurship may reduce funding disparities in lower income schools; however, the evidence on technology improving classroom performance is mixed. Given the benefits and costs of teacherpreneurship, a potential balancing solution is to use "regulatory sandboxes" (as developed in the financial technology sector) where teachers can experiment with entrepreneurial ventures-that may benefit students-in a monitored way, to ensure that conduct breaches and other legal ramifications are mitigated, understood, and fully transparent.

II. THE CASE FOR TEACHERPRENEURSHIP

A. What Is Teacherpreneurship?

There is no universally accepted definition for the term "teacherpreneur." It has been associated with the concept of innovation within the classroom and directed at a subset of "teacher-leader" educators who innovate within in their schools.3 Authors Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd, and Alan Wieder in their e-book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don't Leave, define teacherpreneurship as merging "entirely separate lines of thinking-the dedicated, student focused teacher and the innovative, ambitious entrepreneur."4 In other words, it can describe an intellectually free educator, who uses innovation and creativity to effect positive change. Berry adds, "[t]eacherpreneurs are classroom experts who teach students regularly, but also have time, space, and reward to incubate and execute their own ideas-just like entrepreneurs."5 It is in the "reward" component of the idea incubation and execution process that this paper will focus on and, as will be shown, there are lines of ethical conduct that can easily be breached when rewards are sought in the private sector.

B. Allowing Private Incentives for Social Good: The Arguments for Teacherpreneurship

Teacherpreneurs who use the "entrepreneurial method"6 to iterate, experiment, and innovate in their classroom to generate better results, without accepting outside sponsorship, or developing and marketing (for personal gain) educational applications, technologies and products, or otherwise monetizing a "personal brand" are welcome in education.7 Are there advantages in allowing teachers to profit from personal brands and products they develop, while teaching and drawing a teacher salary? Author and teacher Ariel Sacks suggests that the uneasiness in allowing teachers to also be entrepreneurs is really based on a "false dichotomy" that these two worlds can't coexist.8 Educator Kilian Betlach notes that encouraging teacherpreneurship would reduce the number of talented teachers who leave the profession to seek out more lucrative pursuits in the private sector,9 and that the incentives for a "hybrid model" could be directed for a "public good"-that is, society's general welfare as reflected through the education of our children. …

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