Thursday, August 22, 2019

EnrichED, the National Charter Substitute (Sort Of) Service

You've had to miss a day of school, so you cross your fingers and put in for a sub. You prepare a whole lesson, run off materials, tag everything, put them in neat piles and arrange them on your desk. The day after your absence, you walk through your door and get a sinking feeling--the stacks of planned materials have been pushed to one side on your desk, but are otherwise untouched. "Oh, yeah," says a student in your first period class. "He said he didn't really get what you wanted us to do, so he just spent the period talking about his samurai sword replica collection instead."

Now. Imagine that someone built an entire business using that as a model. Not a but, not even a feature, but the feature.

Meet EnrichED.  

Founded in 2012 as one teacher’s day dream, Enriched has grown to become a national movement of educators, creatives and community leaders united on a mission to reimagine substitute teaching.

We believe that every day matters for kids and our communities are full of amazing people with skills and talents to share.

We’re on a mission to enrich lives, one classroom at a time.

She seems nice. I'll bet she dances well.
The founder is Andre Feigler, who began the company as a start-up in New Orleans, sharing office space with Uber and mSchool, teaming up with the 4.0 Schools group. The company puts its "guest teachers" through a "multi-step vetting process" (more about that in a bit) then gives them some "personalized classroom management lessons and workshops." The basic idea of the company was laid out in this 2014 profile:

EnrichED gathers diverse professionals – from public health workers to poets – and invites them to serve as guest teachers on substitute days. Students then spend the day learning about music, improv comedy or entrepreneurship from a first-hand source.

The business was scaled up to cities around the country, earning Feigler a spot on Forbes' 2015 30 under 30 for education.

Feigler had also launched Youth Run NOLA (YRNOLA) when she was fresh out of Barnard College, Columbia University, where she graduated with a double major in English and French and minored in Dance. Though she talks about having been a teacher (as well as "dancer, entrepreneur, yoga doer"), you will be unsurprised to learn that Feigler is a Teach for America alum, with two whole years in the classroom (spending the summer between them in France).

Their team of "doers, musicians, and advocates" reveals a bit of a pattern. EnrichED's "talent intake coordinator" Lynda Surajbali used to work in communications at CBS. The director of finance and operations has a marketing degree. The "head of community" is a Fishman Prize winner (that's a TNTP thing) and used to be band director at one of the Noble charters in Chicago. DC regional manager has a degree in criminal justice and worked with AmeriCorps. The "community care specialist" says she "hopes to revolutionize the education system." She has a degree in anthropology and used to work in Montessori school as a transitional teacher and administrative assistant for two years. And so on-- you get the idea. The whole leadership team includes a couple of people with an actual teaching background, a whole lot of TFA alums, and a bunch of sparky young folks with no education background at all. Each has a perky photo and a profile that is cute and breezy (the leadership team page also includes a profile for the office dog (who is empirically cute) Their mission--

Our mission is to maximize student success by connecting great people to great schools when they need it most.

They are in thirteen cities, and the list is recognizable as a list of reformster-friendly, charter-rich locations (DC, Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville...) They count 1200 guest educators "mobilizxed" and 700,000 hours "enriched." They reportedly pay about $17 an hour for their guests. They have 160 partners, and while the Enriched website doesn't say so, everyone who writes about Enriched characterizes them as a sub provider for charter schools.

They also have a new owners-- in July of this year, they were bought up by Education Solutions Services LLC (ESS) "leaders in the education staffing space since 2000." Feigler says the deal will "enable Enriched to streamline its operations and innovate," which sounds like bad news for some of the team. I hope they keep the dog.

What they apparently can't afford to streamline is their vetting process. The story that brought Enriched to my attention in the first place comes from a Nashville charter school, where a pair of fourteen year old twins found themselves in a classroom with a substitute teacher who is also the woman who shot and killed their older brother a month ago. While selling him weed in a parking lot. The substitute was placed in the charter school by Enriched. The CEO (sigh) of the charter, along with several teachers, had sent Enriched clippings about the fatal shooting, because the sub had worked in this school previously, and this just seemed like a bit of a red flag moment. But somebody at EnrichED messed up.

Look. The EnrichED idea is not the worst one ever, and given the choice between a sub who's going to give everyone a study hall while he takes a nap and a sub who's going to try to teach my students about dance or music, I would have picked the latter. But what I really wanted was someone who would just use the lesson plans that I left. 

I even believe these guys mean well, but it's more of the same stuff we've suffered from for two decades now. In 2014, Feigler told the interviewer that she hoped to redefine the role of teachers. "Many people care about students and should teach them. Bankers, entrepreneurs and artists alike can all lend their wisdom to the next generation, because any number of situations can spark a student’s imagination." This is the worst kind of amateur-hour baloney, the debasing of teaching to a job that just requires you to care a bunch and then just follow your bliss, and those poor Lesser children will just be elevated. It is Teach for America's educational expertise based on unicorn breath and fairy poop supplying yet another piece of the parallel school system where nobody really needs to know what they're doing as long as the have noble feelings and a desire to share their own awesomeness with Those Poor Kids. When the English teacher for a bunch of poor kids has to miss a day, why shouldn't those students still get a day of English class? We can do better than this same old "anybody can be a teacher if they just feel teachery," an argument we wouldn't accept from our doctor, nurse, lawyer, or plumber. Are we having trouble recruiting qualified subs? Sure. But the best answer is not, ever, to simply redefine the job.

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