Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s. In its original form, it was an effort to personalize learning between a teacher and a student. Students don’t always learn at the same pace. The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years. Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money. To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine. No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation. They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011. A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report. According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:
…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.
Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute. The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages. In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.
Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing. They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning dream team. I don’t see these teachers as evil but rather teachers who are easily manipulated and coerced into being connected with the “next big thing”. I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.
Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013. At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial. Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age. Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning. More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months. At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.
In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL. She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.
Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America. Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”. What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.
Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware. The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code. Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time. This group shaped the future of education in Delaware. But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.
The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time. There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser. Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE. She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE. She was the person who scheduled all the meetings. An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.
After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions. At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning. He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union. Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University. Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this. Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group. Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group. She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.
Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar. Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call. Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting. “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?” No response. “Is Donna Johnson on the call?” Silence. “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?” Nothing. “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?” Empty air. She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them. Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.
Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction. They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coördination. The first drove the need for the second.
A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington. The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE. This put the entire city into an educational tailspin. Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE. Parents didn’t know what this meant. Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them. Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations. Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…
Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition. If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording: http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar
The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.
The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.
We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas. Please complete the following survey by September 10th: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.
Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group. We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf
Education Associate, ELA
Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development
Delaware Department of Education
401 Federal Street, Suite #2
Dover, DE 19901-3639
Coming up in Part 2: Delaware gets Marzanoed