Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues

“Any time you are paying a public employee to promote a product in the public classroom without transparency, then that’s problematic,” said James E. Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine who is a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “Should attorneys general be concerned about this practice? The answer is yes.”

Ms. Delzer and other educators forcefully argue that they’re motivated by altruism, and not company-bestowed status or gifts. “I am in this profession for kids,” Ms. Delzer said, “not for notoriety or the money.”

At a time when teachers shell out an average of $600 of their own money every year just to buy student supplies like pencils — and make pleas for student laptops on DonorsChoose.org, a fund-raising site — it’s understandable that teachers would embrace free classroom technology.

“My kids have access to awesome things that, as a district, we could never afford,” said Nicholas Provenzano, an English teacher in the Detroit area who is an ambassador for companies that make $1,299 3-D printers and $300 coding kits. He noted that he had apprised his school, and his students, of his company ties.

Another important draw for teachers, who already often feel underappreciated: Having tech companies, the icons of American society, seek their views provides welcome attention. “Teachers have really responded well to feeling like they are being listened to,” said Carl Sjogreen, a co-founder of Seesaw.

The benefits to companies are substantial. Many start-ups enlist their ambassadors as product testers and de facto customer service representatives who can field other teachers’ queries.

Apple, Google and Microsoft, which are in education partly to woo students as lifetime users of their products, have more sophisticated teacher efforts — with names like the Apple Distinguished Educators program, Google for Education’s Certified Innovator Program and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program. Each yearlong program selects teachers to attend a conference and work with the company to help create, or develop, education innovations, often using company tools. The tech giants position their programs as professional development for teachers, not marketing exercises.

Microsoft and Apple said they worked with schools to make sure any conference travel expenses they covered for teachers complied with district ethics rules. Google said it provided meals but not teachers’ travel…

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