The Rodel Foundation of Delaware has a new name. They are now called Rodel. This landmark rebranding effort comes to you from Rodel. It is the 20th Anniversary since the Budingers sold their business to Germany and decided to launch an education reform non-profit company destined to jack up Delaware education for all time. In honor of this infamous anniversary, it is time to talk about what Rodel is up to and what their goals and agendas are really about.
I’ve been writing about Rodel for four and a half years. But the complete and utter crap I saw from them in the past couple of weeks is the height of arrogance. They have been pimping their snake-oil for 20 years but they are now reaching the height of their power. As an example, Rodel seems to think they are the sole force in the creation of Delaware charter schools. If you ever doubted the complete farce Rodel really is, this screenshot from their rebranded website should cast those doubts aside:
So let’s tackle these “achievements”…
This launch of 30 Delaware public schools. Would those be Delaware’s charter schools? Does Rodel take sole credit for their launch? Considering the Rodel Foundation wasn’t even around when the charter school law came out in 1995 and Charter School of Wilmington came out of that I find this statement to be very suspect. Given that many Delaware charter schools have closed in those 20 years does Rodel also take responsibility for those failures? It is no secret Rodel is very charter supportive.
Higher Standards. Rodel was instrumental in Delaware implementing Common Core into our schools. While no one talks about Common Core with the ire they once did (which is a shame, did we all give up on that?), Rodel made sure we were one of the first states to secure Race To The Top funding. Rodel and their bastard stepchild, the Vision Coalition, profited immensely off that farce. They used the whole “competing with kids in China” schtick that sold the idea of Common Core.
Social & Emotional Learning. They hijacked this concept. Rodel is always behind the curve and when they see opportunity they don’t just knock, they come into the house and pretend it is their own. Then they pervert the idea and make it seem like they came up with concept themselves. They use teachers to engage in their “thought partner” collaborations. This is all leading into the next big ed reformer nonsense, Social Impact Bonds and Pay For Success.
Personalized Learning. Think BRINC, the consortium of schools that came together to launch ed tech into the classroom. To share resources for off-site instruction. But it is more than that. Personalized learning, what it was originally meant to be, is a good concept. What Rodel and others of their ilk have done with it is abhorrent. The sole purpose of ed reform personalized learning is to change public education where students who struggle stay behind. The whole learn at your own pace thing is smoke and mirrors. Rodel used to pimp this as competency-based education but don’t use that terminology as much these days.
Teach For America and Relay Graduate School of Education. They most certainly did bring these fast-track teacher programs to Delaware. Like Common Core, no one talks about the impact of these programs in our school anymore. We like to talk the big game about teacher quality while allowing sub-par teachers into our classrooms. It can be equivalent to having an intern perform surgery on you instead of a trained surgeon. It is a risk without the value of knowing the long-term consequences.
Rodel Teacher Council. Teachers have always had a voice to effect policy change. DSEA has been doing this long before the Rodel Foundation was a gleam in the Budingers’ eyes. This is not a new concept. The difference, though, is that legislators have been sucked into the Rodel vortex to such a degree they think it is a new idea. When Rodel speaks, they listen. Most of them anyway. And there is a specific reason for that.
Behind every single Rodel agenda is the vessel of their supposed truths- standardized tests. Without those, Rodel would evaporate. Test like the Smarter Balanced Assessment serve one primary function- to show failing schools. Once you fix public education, the money stops flowing into corporate pockets. Some may call companies like Rodel and philanthropic effort but make no mistake, this non-profit profits.
Rodel would be nothing without sponsors. They are the vessels that fund Rodel. These are some of the biggest employers in Delaware. When these companies talk, legislators listen. They yield tremendous influence on every facet of Delaware, whether it is the economy, healthcare, and education.
The most important of those sponsors is the Delaware Business Roundtable. No other association in Delaware holds that much power and sway over the General Assembly. If they want it, it happens. The Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee is run by Rodel but it holds among its members some of the most powerful business leaders in the state. Rodel was a genius when they partnered with them.
It isn’t difficult to see why Rodel is still around after 20 years. When you align with these kind of influencers in The First State you are destined to see results. Some call it progress but I see it as a corporate takeover of education. But Rodel’s success is only as noteworthy as those who align with them. This is where the Vision Coalition comes in. Filled with district and charter leaders alike, the Vision Coalition is the funnel between Rodel and Delaware schools. The Rodel Board and Vision Coalition Leadership Team is a who’s who in Delaware leaders. Of course, Paul Herdman serves as the President and CEO of Rodel, a role he has held since 2004. As of Rodel’s last tax filing, Herdman makes around $398,000 a year for his leadership. This is more than any Superintendent in Delaware public schools.
Members of the Rodel Board and Advisors include: William, Donald, and Sue Budinger, Tony Allen (Provost, Delaware State University), H. Raye Jones Avery (Executive Director, Christina Cultural Arts Center), D. Wayne Holden (retired First Vice President, Merrill Lynch), Fred Sears II (retired President, Delaware Community Foundation), Jim Stewart III (CEO, Epic Research), Rodman Ward III (President & CEO, Corporation Service Company), Senator Thomas Carper, Tim Brewer (Instructional Technology Coach, Hodgson Vocational and Technical High School), Robert Buccini (Principal, The Buccini/Pollen Group), Cerron Cade (Delaware Secretary of Labor), Senator Chris Coons, Stephanie Clark Fitzgerald (CEO, Strategy For Education), Meredith Griffin (Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Fellowship and Christina Board of Education member), Lois Hobbs (former Superintendent, Indian River School District), John Hollis (Senior Advisor Community and Government Affairs, Nemours), Maria Matos (President & CEO, Latin American Community Center), Darryl Scott (former State Representative and Director of Account Management, Sitel), and Stuart Comstock-Gay (President & CEO, Delaware Community Foundation).
Members of the latest Vision Coalition Leadership Team include: Tony Allen (Provost, Delaware State University), Jeffrey Benson (President, One Direction Insurance), Susan Bunting (Delaware Secretary of Education), Heath Chasanov (Superintendent, Woodbridge School District), Katrina Daniels (Principal, Colonial Early Education Program), Ernie Dianastisis (CEO, The Precisionists), Liz Farley Ripple (Associate Professor of Education and Public Policy, University of Delaware), Dorrell Green (Director of Innovation and Improvement, Delaware Department of Education), Paul Herdman (President and CEO, Rodel), Logan Herring (Executive Director, Kingswood Community Center), Mark Holodick (Superintendent, Brandywine School District), Leslie Newman (CEO, Children & Families First of Delaware), Justina Sapna (Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Del-Tech), Gary Stockbridge (President, Delmarva Power), Javier Torrijos (Chair, Delaware Hispanic Commission and Assistant Director of Construction and Delaware Dept. of Transportation), and Margie Lopez-Waite (Head of School, Las Americas ASPIRA Academy).
The question then becomes are all these folks a part of the Rodel agenda or just along for the ride? I would say it is half and half. Some roles in Delaware education, such as the Secretary of Education and other big roles almost have to by default. Tony Allen has always been an enigma to me. Since he serves on both the Rodel board and Vision leadership team, I have always questioned him. But I’ve met Tony many times and know he truly wants what is best for students. Some hay has been made on social media recently about Dorrell Green. As one of the two picks for Red Clay Superintendent, some question what his loyalty would be as a member of the Vision Coalition leadership team. It is his current role at the Delaware DOE that almost demands his spot on that team. But then I see Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting’s involvement with Vision all along and I wonder. I do not see her very transparent partnership with Vision and her selection as Secretary of Education by Governor Carney as a coincidence.
I don’t see any of these people as “evil” or the boogey men and women of Delaware. But I do see them easily led and misled by corporate education reform tactics that, ultimately, cause more disruption than innovation. As for Herdman, if I were making that kind of coin I would do what others want me to do as well.
Delaware’s last two Governors have followed what Rodel wants more than what is actually good for our schools. They let Rodel do whatever they want and damn the consequences. Governor Markell and Governor Carney preach the Rodel gospel to the Delaware General Assembly constantly. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is in charge of Delaware when it comes to education.
One would wonder, if Rodel wants to be such a collaborative force in Delaware education, why they don’t fully bring the Delaware State Education Association as an equal partner. If they truly wanted what is best for children they would never, not for one hot second, justify the use of standardized tests as any type of meaningful measurement. They talk about wanting more parental involvement in education. But when parents supported the opt out bill, Rodel fought the legislation like their very life depended on it. That’s because it did. Full-scale opt out would have disrupted Rodel’s plans in very significant ways. Without using faulty test scores of the barometer for how much we need to “fix” Delaware education, it all falls apart.
I would say, and have said many times, Rodel needs to stay the hell out of public education. I used to think of Rodel as the wolf and all the hens were joining them to survive. But many of those hens become the very wolves and Delaware children are the hen house. This is what happens with corporate education reform. It infests and takes over. To most people it is subtle and seems normal. Just a company that wants to help out and make everything better. Legislators get drawn into the web and can’t see the forest from the trees.
Many can, and should, say Delaware schools were failing long before Rodel came around. That could be said in some situations. Newark Charter School came about, in large part, because Christina parents were fed up. But it morphed into something way beyond those original intentions. Most of the charter movement in Delaware was the same thing. And Rodel supported every single charter school. But they were silent as charter school after charter school fell. They watched as a dysfunctional Delaware DOE and State Board of Education approved charter after charter, sucking the money away from traditional school districts.
Now we are at the culmination of Rodel’s machinations. Their dream of weighted funding is about to become a reality. Together with organizations such as DelawareCAN, they will unleash a huge push for more charter schools in the next couple of years. But whether those open or existing charters expand more, it doesn’t really matter because Rodel’s thumbprint is all over every facet of Delaware education. We will see a huge push from the small group of Delaware educators on the Rodel Teacher Council push legislators to fully adopt their Rodelian agendas for full-scale personalized learning, competency-based education, and digital badges. I have warmed up to pathway programs but only if these are pushed in high schools. I think it is very dangerous to have young teenagers get pushed toward a career pathway before they even know what comes out of puberty. I have grave reservations toward putting children in a position where they have to decide their future at such an early age.
On the flip side of this our schools are set up as an agricultural society. We do not live in that society anymore. Should we have year-round schools? Has America lost touch with the needs of skills that colleges can’t and should not provide? These are weighty questions and there aren’t any easy answers. But we need to look at countries like Finland to form our future, not the greedy denizens of corporate America that continue to profit off students. And Rodel is at the top of the list in Delaware.