03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Should Teachers Be Selling Lesson Plans?

Teachers are now selling lesson plans, according to a New York Times front page article on Sunday that said thousands of teachers are now earning extra money selling lesson plans on two web sites, Teachers Pay Teachers and We Are Teachers.

Interesting idea, but most teachers I know don't sell or buy lesson plans from other teachers. Unfortunately, it does not look like a way to get rich for teachers.

The article has prompted an intense online discussion about who owns the intellectual property rights to teacher's lesson plans. If teachers are creating the plans for a specific classroom, then would the school district own the rights? Some districts seem to think so. On the other hand, teachers feel that if they are working at home on their own computers even if the plans are for a specific class, they own the plans and have the right to sell them.

The New York Times article says that "Beyond the unresolved legal questions, there are philosophical ones," and they quote Joseph McDonald, a professor at the Steinhardt School at NYU, who said that "the online selling cheapens what teachers do and undermines efforts to build sites where educators freely exchange ideas and lesson plans."

Professor McDonald need not worry because most teachers tend to share lesson plans and resources freely within departments, within school districts and on teacher community sites. But they don't sell them. At least in 25 years of teaching, I have never bought a lesson plan from another teacher and don't know any colleagues who have. Teachers tend to look for free and open lesson plans on many of the Open Education Resource (OER) sites. There are thousands of resources for teachers available on the OER sites.

Here are just a few of the Open Education Resource (OER) and free resources that are popular with teachers and are free.

Scholastic TeacherShare
OER Commons
Learn North Carolina
We the Teachers
Read, Write, Think

In addition, the Open Education Resource (OER) initiative is now supporting the open textbook initiative to schools and teachers nationwide. One site that is activity doing this is CK12, founded by Neeru Khosla whose goal is to provide open free textbooks at all grade levels. In Florida, college students now get free textbooks online.

You can find additional open textbooks on the Creative Commons website.

Making all this possible is Creative Commons licensing, the legal structure that allows for the easy sharing of these resources including photos, videos, audio, and text. More than 260 million objects are now licensed using CC licenses and some of the most popular are photos on Flickr and Picasa, music on Jamendo, text on Wikipedia, and OER on hundreds of sites just to name a few.

Many major universities are now using CC licenses for their online course materials. Here are the top ten universities with Free Courses Online. In addition, many other groups worldwide are using CC licenses to facilitate the sharing of work.

Anyone can choose to use a Creative Commons license on their work. Licenses are free and easy to use. One of the most popular licenses allows for "attribution" which helps creators spread their name and their work virally on the web.

While it is an interesting alternative for teachers to have the option of selling their lesson plans, realistically the culture of teachers nationwide is one of sharing, not selling.