Education Opinion


By Nancy Flanagan — March 28, 2011 3 min read

Maybe it’s my natural inclination to be suspicious of anything “market-based.” But I’m just not sure what good it will do for schools and kids to unleash a multitude of “teacherpreneurs” on America.

The predominant policy thrust right now is toward using public education as springboard for the realization of policy “innovations” connected to recognition and profit. Merit pay. Boutique schools in gritty urban settings. Competitive federal grants. Creation of value-added teacher evaluation models. Heavily promoted documentary films to sway public opinion. Are these ideas we want to nurture?

Think about the $125K teacherpreneurs Zeke Vanderhoek hired for the Equity Project charter, willing to take the risk of working without tenure, for the big bucks. Or the venture-capital project of Geoffrey Canada in the Harlem Children’s Zone that led him to dismiss his entire first group of students because of their disappointing performance. Or the $8000 bonuses earned by teacherpreneurs in D.C. that turned out to be based on creatively erasing wrong answers on bubble-in test sheets. Or the windfall profits that enterprising educators will reap from creating new curricular materials and assessments based on the Common Core Standards.

As Whitney Tilson might say, there’s some insane leveraging going on in public education--and your tax dollars are funding a lot of it.

When I think of what a prototypical teacherpreneur might look like, I think: Teach for America corps member. Great idea (bringing the best and brightest into our toughest classrooms). Good intention (dedicating two years of your life to making the world a better place). Guaranteed personal gain (admission to the grad school of your choice and plenty of career advancement). All on the backs of poor students in districts where caring, committed adults and stable programming are critical.

I can hear my friend Jose Vilson sputtering--you’re misinterpreting the concept, Flanagan! You’re thinking about educational entrepreneurs, not teacherpreneurs. Well. The idea of a teacherpreneur has been around for some time--introduced by Cool Cat Teacher, who labels herself a “businesswoman,” back in 2006--and originally was associated with global collaboration through Web 2.0 tools. Here’s how Cool Cat defined teacherpreneurs:

They are the people that movies are made about. They get "in trouble" with their renegade practices until people realize that they work. Then, they leave teaching and write books, and make movies. We need more of them!

We need more teachers leaving the unglamorous, complex--and often frustrating-- work of the classroom to market their great ideas globally? And this will help--how? If I don’t get the advantages of entrepreneurism, specifically for teachers--I’m not sure your average Joe (or Bill or Arne) will be able to make the distinction between “accomplished teacher with good ideas” and “accomplished teacher whose good ideas can be exploited,” either. Another--crowdsourced-- definition:

An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterprise or idea, and is accountable for the inherent risks and the outcome. Entrepreneurs emerge from the population on demand, and become leaders because they perceive opportunities available and are well-positioned to take advantage of them. An entrepreneur acts as a catalyst for economic change, and research indicates that entrepreneurs are highly creative individuals who imagine new solutions by generating opportunities for profit or reward.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for productive change, for highly creative teachers sharing their dynamic ideas about practice and policy. And I think teachers should be paid well for their expertise. But I would call that “teacher leadership"--the principle that promising innovations should be elevated and distributed, for the benefit of all children and their learning. As Michael Fullan points out:

Teaching at its core is a moral profession. Scratch a good teacher and you will find a moral purpose.

An entrepreneur “acts as a catalyst for economic change.” Plenty of systems in our political economy run on entrepreneurial, market-based models. During the national conversation on health care, people better-informed than me regularly noted that a “free-market ideology is wholly inappropriate to health care issues.” There is plenty of evidence that justice can be bought--and sold. Our banking system nearly caused a global economic meltdown--and millions of Americans are suffering under the results of entrepreneurial lending and house-flipping.

Maybe there are some things that shouldn’t be controlled by the markets and consumerism. Is good teaching a commodity--or a principle-driven aspiration for community good?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read