Flip This Bob A! Joining BRINC & Spending Tons Of Money While Laying Off Teachers Sends The Wrong Message

For a school district that laid off 99 teachers over the summer to enter into the BRINC Consortium and sign contracts with companies like Modern Teacher prior to going to a referendum is not the smartest of ideas.  With that being said, this is exactly what Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski is looking to do.  The Christina School District Board of Education released the agenda for their meeting a week from today.  On the Consent Agenda is this:

Contract Services: BRINC Consortium/Modern Teacher

When a district signs a contract, it isn’t free.  It costs money.  Christina lost their last two referendum attempts earlier this year.  They will assuredly attempt a third one at some point in 2016.  This is not the time for Christina to start signing personalized learning or professional development contracts based on that personalized learning with outside companies.  The last time I went to a Christina board meeting in August, there was talk concerning how the district might look in a year.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  So why on earth would the district even attempt to sign onto this?

Two words: Bob Andrzejewski.  The former Red Clay Superintendent was voted in by the board as the Acting Superintendent after the soon to be resigning Superintendent Freeman Williams went on leave.  The vote was 4-3.  Since he was appointed, “Bob A” (his blog nickname, established long before I joined the scene) has told Christina parents and teachers in town halls he wants the district to join the BRINC consortium.  The original BRINC districts were Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech and Colonial.  Last year, Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney and Red Clay joined the “blended learning” initiative.  The only difference between personalized learning and blended learning is in the details.  They are both based on personalized learning.  Students still get that “personalized” touch, but with blended learning it is like a flipped classroom.

Last month, the United States Department of Education spotlighted the BRINC Consortium in an article.

Blended learning is an approach in which teachers deliver some instruction in traditional ways but also expect students to learn via digital and online media in and outside of class. Students are encouraged to follow a path of their choosing at a pace that is comfortable to them, as long as they meet expectations.

While BRINC is mostly a high school program, it will filter into the lower grades as well.  While I am all for innovation and technology, I don’t think students being guided to do their own thing as long as it fits “expectations” is appropriate.  There is a crystal clear reason why teachers and even college professors teach specific subjects.  They have been trained to do so (in most cases) and feel they can deliver that knowledge to the classroom.  I don’t think a “flipped classroom” is going to be effective in the long-term.  I definitely don’t think a “flipped classroom” with Common Core standardized assessment material embedded into a personalized learning environment to create a competency-based education experience is going to advance the proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment either.

As a result of this partnership, the Delaware Department of Education recently selected Schoology’s learning management system to replace its existing system to power online and blended learning for the entire state to shift education from being teacher-driven to student-centered, making active, engaged learners with access to the best, most effective technology.

That is a lot of power in an outside company’s hands.  Where does all that data go?  Schoology offers a cloud system where teachers submit ideas and lesson plans and other teachers pull it out of the cloud and use it.  But what this does is it takes away from that teacher-class relationship.  It turns it into a peer relationship opposed to a teacher-student mentality.  I just don’t agree with that.  Teachers are the adults.  They are not facilitators.  This is just the next education craze, but here is the issue with that.  Nobody is talking about Common Core anymore.  They have grown to accept it.  They are still complaining about the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is based on the Common Core.  Add personalized learning and competency-based education to the mix, and it is the future version of “Iceberg dead ahead”.  Many see Common Core and competency-based education as mirror opposites.  But Common Core has become embedded into all of it.  And the standardized tests will be as well.  Instead of once a year, they will be cut up into smaller pieces, all brought to Delaware by Schoology.  And since teachers have to keep up with all these changes, in comes Modern Teacher to save the day.  More professional development brought to us by Education Inc.

Back to “Bob A”.  I believe he is part of the Rodel/Vision/University of Delaware crowd.  The ones who are pushing all of this personalized learning and have been for a couple years now.  Even some of the BRINC Superintendents are a part of this crowd as well: Mark Holodick (Brandywine) and Susan Bunting (Indian River) are both part of the Rodel crowd now, and they are on the inner circle of the Vision Coalition.  But guess what, no matter what trends or crazes come in education, Common Core is here.  It is a part of all the personalized learning.  The standardized assessments are still here.  It is difficult to move on to the next thing if its foundation is based on a corporate education reform movement that turned Common Core into dirty words. but allow it to not only exist but thrive like never before.  But “Bob A” seems to want Christina to join this next big thing when the district clearly cannot afford it.  I would be hard pressed to meet any of the 99 laid off teachers from Christina who would be happy their jobs were replaced with vendor contracts and education technology to teach the other teachers who weren’t laid off how to sit back and watch students do most of the work.

Modern Teacher is just another in a long, long list of companies that will “transform” education and bring it to the next level.  Yawn…  From their website:

 “We are building a bold, ambitious solution to transform our current model of education by changing the end-user experience for teachers and students. A re-imagined instructional core binds today’s teachers, 21st century students, and digital content options into a personalized learning solution that truly transforms the K-12 classroom experience.”

Some think Andrzejewski will be the force that parts the Red Sea and allows Christina to win their next referendum.  I don’t see that.  I see someone who inserted himself into the district.  Whether that was him individually or if there were unseen hands pushing him there I can’t say.  But if I were the Christina board, I would be very wary of signing contracts with companies while the district could potentially go into receivership in nine months if their referendum doesn’t pass.  I just say more Rodelian and Markellian antics at play here.  Board members for all the districts need to become more involved in the negotiation phases of these contracts.  For far too long, the Superintendents have been the ones calling the shots in many districts.  They get the business and present it to the board.  The board is relying on the word of the Superintendent and their support staff.  The assumption is that the information conveyed to boards is open and honest.  But unless they are getting involved and doing the research into these contracts, I don’t think any board member can safely say they are voting on something that is the best for the students they are elected to oversee.  A Superintendent is appointed by a school board and they become the face of the district.  But a board is the law of the district.

As I read more and more of the Every Student Succeeds Act, I don’t like where all of this is going.  But there are clearly forces out there pushing this on all the schools and districts.  They contact the state non-profits (in Delaware’s case that would be Rodel) who then push it on the state Department of Education, and next thing you know, things like BRINC happen and spread.  There is a ton of money in education technology.  BRINC is not free, because students and teachers will pay the price.  You can attempt to have the board vote for a contract they most likely can’t afford with another education reform company, or you can flip this Bob A!