Connecticut remains committed to unfair SBAC Testing Scam in new federal plan

Earlier this month, with no legislative oversight and limited public input, the Connecticut State Department of Education become one of a handful of states to submit its proposed action plan under the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

Although the Trump administration has postponed the date states must submit plans until September 2017, the Malloy administration decided – for reasons that remain unclear – to jump the gun and submit a plan that fails to adequately utilize much of the flexibility contained in the new federal law.

One of the most noticeable and absurd aspects of Connecticut’s new ESSA plan is despite proposing record cuts to Connecticut’s public schools, the Malloy administration claims that it will ensure that 100 percent of all students will be proficient on the state’s standardized tests by 2029-2030.

The truth is that while the Every Student Succeeds Act continues much of the test and punish elements of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Race to the Top Program, the federal law does provide states with greater flexibility when it comes to how it relies on the use of unfair, discriminatory and inappropriate standardized testing schemes.

However, Connecticut, one of only 12 states to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education, informed federal officials that it remains committed to the use of the poorly constructed and blatantly unfair Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scam.

In a recent new report, Education Week Explains;

Under ESSA, states are required to pick both long-term and interim goals for student achievement and graduation rates.

And

States are supposed to give separate, “substantial weight” to student achievement, graduation rates, English-language proficiency and another academic indicator, as well as an indicator of school quality or student success. Academic indicators—like test scores and graduation rates—are supposed to weigh “much more” as a group than the indicator of school quality or student success.

Education Week goes on to note that;

Connecticut hasn’t set student achievement goals, although it has set growth goals for elementary and middle schools. The state considers its targets as setting “growth to proficiency.” 

and,

Connecticut is still working on its English-language proficiency indicator, which it plans to attach to student growth, rather than consider separately. Peer reviewers may question the fact that the state won’t be measuring English-language proficiency right from the start, and the fact that ELP won’t be a standalone indicator.

In addition to 100 percent achievement by 2029-30, the Connecticut plan claims that it will reach 94 percent graduation rates for all students, and all subgroups of students. In 2014-15, the graduation rate in Connecticut was 87.2 percent.

It is a sad commentary that the Malloy administration and his political appointees on the State Board of Education remain unnecessarily and inappropriately committed to the unfair SBAC testing system.

You can read more about Connecticut’s plan in Education Week via – http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2017/04/academic_goals_states_ESSA_plans.html

Charter schools pose financial risk to municipalities by James Mulholland

The charter school industry is proposing a change to Connecticut’s school funding system to require that local communities hand over local funds to subsidize charter schools attended by local students.  The “money follows the child” funding system leaves local public schools without the resources necessary to ensure children have access to a comprehensive education.  In this piece, first published in the CT Mirror, educator and education advocate James Mulholland examines this latest money grab by the charter schools.

Mulholland writes;

In  December of last year, the Connecticut Department of Education issued a request for proposals for new charter schools – the first time in nearly three years.  As the state grapples with a budget disaster and Gov. Dannel Malloy continues to propose changes that would dramatically change the way Connecticut pays for education, the state should refrain from opening any new charter schools and freeze the funding of existing ones.

Moody’s credit rating service has warned of the fiscal risks to municipalities posed by charter schools.  In its 2013 report, Charter Schools Pose Growing Risk for Urban Public Schools, Moody’s concluded that a rise in charter school enrollment, “is likely to create negative credit pressure on school districts in economically weak urban areas.”

According to Michael D’Arcy, one of two authors of the report, “A small but growing number of traditional public districts face financial stress due to the movement of students to charters.”

As urban areas such as Hartford teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, lowered bond ratings could have a devastating effect on already dire budgetary circumstances.  Gov. Malloy is proposing a new municipal accountability system for cities and towns facing severe fiscal difficulties.  The proposal includes a multi-tiered ranking system for communities that could lead to greater state oversight of local budgets and limit annual property tax increases for the cities and towns deemed most at risk.

Under the proposal, a municipality could be assigned to one of the first three tiers if it has a poor fund balance or credit rating.  Bridgeport and Stamford have resisted the state’s efforts to open charter schools in their cities.  In 2015, the State Board of Education unanimously approved the application of the Stamford Charter School for Excellence despite the fact that the Stamford Board of Education voted 7-1 to urge the state to deny the application.  The state of Connecticut may very well force cities to accept a charter school that may adversely affect its credit rating in the future.

Moody’s recently reiterated its belief about the adverse effects of charter schools this past November when Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected legislation that would have increased the state’s cap on charter schools.  Moody’s warned Boston and three other Massachusetts cities that passage of a ballot measure to expand charter schools could weaken their financial standing and ultimately threaten their bond ratings.

Nicholas Lehman, an assistant vice president at Moody’s, warned that passage of the referendum would be a “credit negative” for the cities.  Moody’s responded to Massachusetts voters’ rejection of the plan with a “credit positive” and reiterated that the history of charter schools shows they drain money from city education budgets.

Connecticut currently provides funding in excess of $100 million per year to operate 24 charter schools, 10 of which are managed by six management companies.  These companies charge a management fee of approximately 10 percent of the amount they receive from the state.

“If we saw fees of 10 percent or less, that would be reasonable,” says Robert Kelly, who oversees charter schools at the education department.  In part, these fees are used to duplicate administrative services such as payroll and human resources, which are already provided by the districts in which charter schools operate.  It seems particularly wasteful at a time when the state is looking to regionalize municipal services.

While cities and towns have seen their education funding slashed, Connecticut’s charter management companies have seen their coffers overflow. Last year, the State Board of Education increased charter school enrollment by 4 percent for the current school year. While the enrollment increase cost the state an additional $4.1 million, funding for traditional public schools was cut by $51.7 million and regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, had budget cuts totaling $15.4 million

The diversion of millions of dollars from traditional public schools is one reason the New England Conference of the NAACP and the Massachusetts Lawyer’s Committee filed a motion against the effort to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.  It was the belief of Juan Cofield, president of the New England Conference of the NAACP, that “setting up a separate system is destructive to the notion of providing the best education for all students.”

Connecticut should not continue to pursue charter schools as a means to meet the educational needs of its children.  The financial risk to our cities and towns is just too great.

You can read and comment on the original piece at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/02/13/opinion-james-mulholland-2/

Connecticut charter schools violate state law with use of uncertified teachers and administrators

As a result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school agenda, Connecticut taxpayers hand over more than $110 million a year to the state’s charter school industry.  This largess comes despite the fact that Connecticut’s charter schools refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students with special education needs and those who require extra help learning the English language.

Equally appalling is that these privately owned, but publicly funded, schools refuse to follow Connecticut law when it comes to the use of certified teachers and school administrators.

Connecticut State Law is extremely clear.

For public schools, 100% of the teachers, administrators and service staff MUST hold an appropriate certification and authorization for the position in which they are serving.  State certification not only ensures that teachers and school personnel have appropriate training but it also means these individuals have gone through background checks before being allowed to teach children.

State law even mandates that public schools cannot even pay non-certified teachers and administrators.

However, thanks to aggressive lobbying by the charter school industry, charter schools “play” by a very different set of rules.

In charter schools, only 50% of the teachers, administrators and professionals must hold a traditional state certificate such as an initial, provisional or professional educator certificate.

This means that up to 50% may serve under a “temporary authorization” process or have what is deemed a “quick and easy” certification from a charter school preparation program.  In no case are charter schools allowed to use teachers and staff who don’t hold permanent or temporary certification.

Yet despite this enormous flexibility, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for still having a significant percentage of their staff “out of compliance” with Connecticut’s statutes and regulations.

This result is that parents of charter school students cannot be sure whether their student’s teachers and administrators are meeting the most basic requirements to be in a classroom and that taxpayers are paying for staff who should not even be hired by the charter schools.

The data on the magnitude of the problem in charter schools can been found at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

According to official reports filed with the State Department of Education, and current as of March 2016, 14 out of 24 (58%) Connecticut charter schools are were violating the law when it comes to ensuring students have properly authorized staff in the building.

It will not come as a surprise to those who follow “education entrepreneur” Steve Perry, that the greatest violator of the law is the Capital Prep Charter school chain.  As of March 2016, 80% of Bridgeport Capital Prep Harbor School’s staff did not have any certification what-so-ever and were therefore in violation of state law.

A number of other charter schools had staffing operations in which at least 30% of the staff were teaching or administrating illegally.  This list included Achievement First Amistad, Achievement First Bridgeport, Achievement First Hartford Academy, Achievement First Elm City, the Stamford Academy and the Stamford Charter School for Excellence.

Other charter schools in which at least 10% of the staff were in violation of Connecticut law included Booker T. Washington Charter School, Brass City Charter School, Highville Charter School, New Beginnings Family Academy charter school and Path Academy Charter School.

Rather than giving Connecticut charter schools even more state money, state officials should be withholding funds until charter schools fulfill their legal duty to their students, parents and the taxpayers of Connecticut.

Relay Is A Very Bad Joke-One That Hurts Kids  (By Ann Cronin)

Writing on her blog, Real Learning CT, educator, education advocate and education blogger Ann Cronin explains;

The Relay Graduate School of Education recently applied to be a graduate school of education in Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut. That application was denied in Pennsylvania and California. That application was approved in Connecticut.

What is the Relay Graduate School of Education? Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University sums it up like this:

It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

Pennsylvania and California made worthy decisions  in rejecting the Relay Graduate School of Education. So how did it get approved in Connecticut?

On November 2, 2016, the Connecticut State Board of Education held a hearing to listen to testimony about whether Relay should be approved or not. More than 30 people testified. The overwhelming majority of those who testified strongly recommended denying Relay’s application. Some cited research about Relay and its ineffectiveness and its lack of quality . Some cited their own experience as teacher educators. Some cited their experiences in being trained as teachers. Some cited ways to bring people of color into the teaching profession in Connecticut without lowering standards and expectations for them. Only those already enrolled in or employed by Relay and two paid advocates forConnecticut charter schools spoke in favor of approving Relay.

Astoundingly, within minutes after the hearing, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved Relay as a valid program for certifying teachers in Connecticut.

The political fix was in.

Connecticut children, particularly those most in need of a good education lost. Again.

Below is my statement at that hearing:

Testimony to the Connecticut State Board of Education on November 2, 2016

My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been recognized as Connecticut’s Distinguished English Teacher of the Year. I have been a district level administrator responsible for English education for 23 years and in that role have supervised and evaluated hundreds of teachers and both created and implemented innovative, state-of-the-art programs, which have won national awards for excellence. I have taught graduate level teacher education courses for 10 years. And, most recently, I have been a consultant in inner city schools identified as “failing schools”. I also recently was an advisor to a Connecticut university seeking accreditation for its teacher preparation program.

Therefore, I know what good teaching is. I know how to prepare prospective teachers to be good teachers and how to help in-service teachers to grow and develop. And I know what kind of accreditation is necessary for a teacher preparation program.

Based on that deep and broad experience as an educator, I can tell you that the Relay Graduate School of Education is a totally inadequate teacher education program.

It offers its students the mentoring of “amazing teachers” instead of academic course work. In fact, the spokespersons for Relay shun the academic work of established teacher preparation programs. I have been and, in fact, still am one of those “amazing teachers”. I have mentored teachers and taught them my skills. There are teachers around the state who could tell you how they benefited from that mentoring. But mentoring is absolutely, definitely not enough.

Teaching is complex. Teachers need more than a “how”; they need a ”why”. Brain surgeons in training certainly benefit greatly by doing their surgical rotation with expert surgeons, but when they are on their own as licensed surgeons, they must have a depth of knowledge to deal with all of the possible complexities that could occur in any surgery. So too with teaching.

Prospective English teachers need to know how cognition and intellectual engagement develop in children and adolescents because it is that understanding that dictates curriculum. They need to know the research from the past 45 years regarding the teaching of writing because, without that knowledge, they will not be able to teach their students to become effective writers. They need to know literary theory because it is that theory that dictates all pedagogy for the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature. They need to know the grammar and conventions of our language and what research says about effective ways to teach that grammar and those conventions to students. They need to know the research about learning being a social endeavor and know how to create the kind of classroom that incorporates that research, the kind of classroom that is a true community of readers, writers, and thinkers. For all of that, a teacher education program requires academic course work. Mentoring is not enough.

The accreditation process has standards to insure that graduates of teacher preparation programs have a deep knowledge of their field and a deep knowledge of child and adolescent growth and development. To be accredited, a teacher education program must also require its prospective teachers to have specified experiences of being mentored by amazing teachers. All prospective teachers need both academic course work and mentoring. Relay denies its students an essential element of teacher preparation, the element that is the foundation of all else.

Relay has been promoted both as a way to bring people of color into the teaching profession and as a fast track to let the teachers of the children of color become certified or earn Master’s degrees. How demeaning is that claim! Demeaning to both the adults of color and the children of color. Prospective teachers of color are capable of the same academic challenges as their white counterparts in accredited teacher preparation programs. And children of color in our cities, whom these teachers in the Relay program are being trained to serve, are entitled to the same appropriately trained teachers as their counterparts in the affluent suburbs.

To permit Relay to prepare teachers in Connecticut is to perpetuate the same gap between the haves and the have-nots in Connecticut that we already have. It is racist and classist. We, as state, cannot endorse that. We must give our children better care. If not us, who? If not you as the State Board of Education, who?

You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s article at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/11/05/relay-is-a-very-bad-joke-one-that-hurts-kids/

Robert Cotto Jr. on why Relay Graduate School of Education should have been rejected

The following is the testimony provided to the State Board of Education by Robert Cotto Jr. on  November 2, 2016.   The State Board of Education went on to approve the poorly designed Relay Graduate School of Education proposal, thereby undermining Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs and the value of Connecticut’s teacher certification requirements.

Robert Cotto Jr.

Dear members of the State Board of Education,

Thank you for your service and the chance speak to this morning. My name is Robert Cotto, Jr. and I am a certified teacher in Connecticut, educational researcher, and resident of the City of Hartford. Based on the evidence and my experience, I have deep concerns about the Relay program proposal. I come today to ask that you reject the Relay proposal and explore new and existing alternatives to diversifying the teacher force.

Relay is an inferior teacher training program compared to existing university-based and alternative teacher certification programs. As a certified teacher, I can remember the hours of fieldwork, lesson planning, student-teaching, and reflection with mentor teachers and university professors that had decades of K-12 experience. This experience in MA allowed me to earn my CT teacher certification. Relay deviates wildly from the structure and guidance required of other programs in CT that educate and certify new teachers. Created by the charter school industry and venture capitalists, Relay places its students into classrooms before extensive preparation, provides online modules in place of coursework, and assigns a teacher partner to supplement this “on-the-job” training. Relay calls this inferior preparation “a graduate school” and says it is for the good of Black and Latino students. As Ken Zeichner and other scholars have noted, there is no rigorous evidence to suggest this approach as an improvement or innovation to teacher and public education. By comparison, imagine that another white entrepreneur offered Black and Latinx communities similarly trained novices for performing surgery in hospitals or practicing law in courthouses. The program would be called exactly what is: racial discrimination.

By delivering an inferior program, Relay exploits the hopes of prospective Black and Latinx educators. Despite the lack of program approval, the State Department of Education reports that Relay recruited 70 students for its program, 50 of whom are self-identified as people of color. These people are eager to enter the teacher profession and should be commended. Relay exploits that desire by selling a subpar training program as a “graduate school” despite lacking real professors, courses, accreditation, or even State approval as a school or program. The combination of limited training and placement into primarily charter schools with high teacher turnover nearly assures that Relay students will leave the teaching profession quickly. When this happens, Relay will not hold any responsibility since they are not accountable in the same ways as other teacher education programs in Connecticut. Instead, the Relay teachers and their students will be left to pay the debt for this ill-planned venture. This approach simply exacerbates the national and local trend of healthy numbers of Black and Latinx teachers entering, but quickly exiting the profession because of poor working conditions and compensation, and other forms of discrimination.

There are alternatives that the State could consider for diversifying the teaching force. The State could restore and expand its Alternative Route to Certification and Minority Teacher Incentive Programs. The latter offers grants to prospective teachers of color already in Connecticut teacher education programs. However, the Governor and Legislature cut these grants by about $50,000 and $80,000 this year respectively. The State Board could also use its authority to encourage efforts to diversify students and faculty in the existing teacher education pipeline and to ensure that approved programs respond and adapt to the needs of our diversifying K-12 student body. Finally, whatever intervention this Board takes, it must do so with actual evidence of the issues, concerns, and needs of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American educators and students rather than with the clever marketing and weak evidence provided by the charter school industry. Connecticut can and must do better for teachers of color. Please reject Relay.

Thank you,

Robert Cotto, Jr., Ed.M., M.A.
Member, Hartford Board of Education

 

Robert Cotto Jr.

Robert Cotto, Jr. is currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department. Before his work at Trinity, he was a Senior Policy Fellow in K-12 Education for CT Voices for Children where he published reports on Connecticut’s testing system, public school choice, and K-12 education data and policy. He taught for seven years as a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Learning Center for Global and International Studies (MLC), an interdistrict magnet school intended to provide a high-quality education and promote racial, ethnic, and economic integration. Born and raised in Connecticut, Mr. Cotto was the first in his family to go to college and he earned his B.A. degree in sociology at Dartmouth College, his Ed.M. at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and an M.A. in American Studies at Trinity College. He is serving his second term on the Hartford Board of Education and in the past has served as Secretary and Policy Committee Chair. Since returning back home to CT from college, Robert has lived in the Frog Hollow neighborhood and he recently moved to the Forster Heights area of the Southwest neighborhood. View all posts by Robert Cotto Jr.

Malloy administration approves faux Relay School of Education teacher training program

Independent investigation needed into Malloy and charter school industry’s action to undermine teacher certification in Connecticut.

Is influence peddling behind the likely approval of Relay School of Education’s Connecticut proposal?

Although the corporate education reform entity, Relay School of Education, has recently been prohibited from working in California and Pennsylvania, Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education are poised today to grant the controversial teacher training scheme, “full program approval” to operate in Connecticut.

The stunning move comes after months of illegal lobbying by the Relay School of Education, including direct contact between Relay corporate officers and some of the highest ranking officials in the Malloy administration.

Relay School of Education is closely associated with the charter school industry and has particularly close ties to Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.  Achievement First’s CEO is a key player on the Relay School of Education’s Board of Directors.

Charter school advocate Jonathan Sackler, who help fund Achievement First and sits on its Board of Directors is one of Malloy’s largest campaign contributors.  A number of Malloy’s other top campaign contributors have deep connections to Achievement First and the charter school industry that has been working, so hard, to persuade the State Department of Education to overlook Relay School of Education’s poor track record and faulty Connecticut proposal.

In addition to engaging in illegal lobbying, the Relay School of Education has been violating state law and regulations by engaging in activities prior to receiving state approval.

However, despite these serious legal problems and a proposal deemed insufficient by a number of experts, State Department of Education officials are pushing for a quick approval of the Relay School of Education’s application at today’s State Board of Education meeting.

If Malloy’s appointees on the State Board of Education approve the Relay School of Education’s proposal, Connecticut’s Attorney General, the Office of State Ethics and the State Auditors should immediately open an investigation into the role Governor Malloy’s administration or his campaign contributors played in tilting executive decision making in favor of the Relay School of Education.

Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, public schools and taxpayers deserve better.

Academic expert tells State Board of Education to reject Relay Graduate School of Education plan

Professor Lauren Anderson is the Chair of the Education Department at Connecticut College, and a member of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Connecticut. In this piece, first published in the CTMirror, Anderson addresses the Signiant and serious problems with the proposal to allow the corporate education reform company, Relay Graduate School of Education to set up a program in Connecticut.

You can read and comment on the persuasive commentary piece at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/11/01/ct-can-do-better-for-minority-teacher-candidates-than-relay-gse/

Professor Anderson writes;

Without question, Connecticut needs more teachers who see themselves in their students (and vice versa), who have roots in the communities where they teach, and who are well positioned to instruct in ways that are academically challenging and culturally, linguistically, and community-responsive.

The pipeline into the profession for teachers of color is too often obstructed and unwelcoming, and change is imperative. We know, for example, that professional learning experiences, whether pre-service or in-service, situated in colleges and universities or K-12, are too often laced with micro-aggressions —repeated racialized slights —that are neither micro nor slight on their own or in accumulation.

We know, as well, that working conditions for teachers of color are too often more stressful than supportive, and that robust mentoring remains too rare. And then of course there is the challenge of staying afloat financially on a teacher’s salary, particularly in an era of rising housing costs and student loans.

Confirming the complexity of the challenge at hand, a recent Central Connecticut State University dissertation study that engaged more than 200 black teachers state-wide found that, “Black teachers perceive salary, inadequate teacher support (particularly minority teacher support), unfair human resource recruiting and hiring practices, and poor perceptions of teaching to be the primary obstacles to becoming and remaining a teacher.”

It is clear that there is no easy or quick fix to the enduring demographic divides between the state’s public school students and their teachers. Ensuring accessible and sustainable career trajectories for teachers of color is a complex challenge and will require a systemic solution all along the pipeline.

This understanding, in part, informs opposition to Relay Graduate School of Education’s expansion into our state, where it is being framed as a solution to minority teacher recruitment and an engine for ameliorating educational inequities. In fact, Relay is no panacea for our pipeline problems, and instead represents the tip of an approaching iceberg that threatens the education of the state’s most under-served students and sells short the very teachers to whom we owe the best preparation, support, working conditions, and compensation available.

WHAT IS RELAY GRADUATE SCHOOL OF EDUCATION?

First, it is not a graduate school in any recognizable sense. It is a charter-style network of independent teacher preparation programs created by the leaders of three prominent charter school chains (Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First), primarily as a means to bypass traditional teacher education. Relay has recently set up shop in New Haven, where it has reportedly enrolled a cohort of candidates who will finish its one-year program this academic year, despite the fact that it has not received approval as a preparation provider.

Its “campus” address is a PO Box; its offices are co-located in a partner charter school; its faculty are unnamed and not required to hold degrees comparable to teacher educators elsewhere; and its nationwide curriculum has been critiqued for emphasizing methods that are reductive and control-oriented, rather than research-based and conducive to critical thinking.

In short, Relay would lower the bar for teacher preparation in Connecticut, increasing the likelihood that students in districts such as Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven would receive teachers who have not met the same standards of preparation as those in more affluent districts.

WHAT IS THE HARM IN APPROVING RELAY?

For candidates in targeted districts, the harm would come from providing a program that doesn’t honor their potential as professionals and would not be deemed acceptable preparation for those certified and employed elsewhere in the state.

For students in targeted districts, the harm would come from providing their teachers with preparation that is based on a reductive, behaviorist view of teaching and learning, and that emphasizes the kind of techniques shown to narrow the curriculum and adversely affect students’ socio-emotional development. For targeted districts and the communities they serve, the harm would come from partnering with a provider that has no credible research base to support its claims to effectiveness or to indicate that it will improve minority teachers’ retention in urban schools. For the public, the harm would come from establishing a pathway into teaching that is not accountable to the profession or state in ways that most other programs are.

Shouldn’t these matters concern us all?

WHY DENYING RELAY IS ‘RIGHT’ RIGHT NOW.

 There’s no wrong time to make hard, equity-minded decisions. And, at this particular moment, other entities and events are also helping to reveal what Relay represents and why it should not receive approval. Other states—Pennsylvania a few months ago and California a few days ago—have decided against approving Relay’s proposals for reasons related to program quality. The NAACP’s recent vote in favor of a moratorium on the expansion of privately managed charter schools also signals pertinent concerns.

A quick glance at the list of “partners and philanthropic investors” on Relay’s website confirms its tight linkages to the privatization movement. Although that movement often deploys the rhetoric of equity and diversity to rationalize itself and enlists compelling, community-based representatives to promote its agenda, that agenda has typically worked against community interests and exacerbated inequities —draining resources from struggling districts, deepening segregation, diverting attention from systemic change to individual choice, and so on. Why then would we endorse an unproven model of teacher preparation that is based on the same approaches being called into question in K-12? Why would we rush to approve a provider that is facing scrutiny and rejection elsewhere? Simply put: we shouldn’t.

WHAT MIGHT WE CONSIDER INSTEAD?

Yes, we have a problem; but it’s a complex, systemic problem, worthy of a complex, systemic solution. There are viable, research-based alternatives for improvement all along the pipeline. Genuine residency and “grow your own” programs are one option, whereby established programs partner with districts to create locally-responsive pathways into teaching that are research-based and actively seek to enroll community members, minority candidates especially.

Another is to expand investments in minority teacher incentive grants and loan-forgiveness for those who go through approved programs and commit to working in shortage areas and high-needs districts. A third is to establish induction programs that are community- and culturally-responsive and that extend over multiple years so that the newest members of the profession receive the supports they need in order to survive and thrive during their critical first years on the job and beyond. Under the new federal education law, ESSA, there are opportunities for states to invest in any or all of these options.

In sum, there’s no question that we all have to do better for teacher candidates of color and teachers of color. This will require us to resist quick-but-compromising fixes like Relay and instead insist that minority teacher candidates receive the best preparation and support the field and the state have to offer.

State Board of Education – Reject the application by Relay Graduate School of Education (By John Bestor)

To the Members of the Connecticut State Board of Education:

I am writing to share my concerns associated with impending CSBE approval of the Relay Graduate School of Education Alternate Route to Certification.

I would like to make you aware of some insightful commentary from Peter Greene, a New York teacher and education activist who writes the CURMUDGUCATION (“Trying to make sense of what’s happening in education”) blog. Last January, he wrote extensively about the founding and intentions of the Relay Graduate School of Education, concluding “In short, Relay is a teacher training school founded and operated by three people who have almost no teacher training, next to no classroom teaching experience, and who have spent their careers in the charter world…. It’s a remarkable achievement. If some buddies and I got together and declared that we would open our own hospitals and train our own doctors, even though none of us have any medical training or experience, we could expect to be laughed out of the medical field. If I showed up at a law school and said: ‘I am ready to be a legal professor, training the lawyers of tomorrow, though I have done nothing my whole life but teach high school English, I don’t think I’d be hired on the spot.'”

There is a body of evidence beyond Relay’s own aspirational website and marketing that tells a different story than the one you may have already or are likely to hear from SDE Chief Talent Officer Sarah Barzee, her SDE boss Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, and Achievement First’s  Co-CEO Dacia Toll. To be fair, I would ask you to conduct due diligence and read what Mercedes Schneider, a New Orleans teacher, education activist, and the author of three books on “education reform”, including her most recent: School Choice: The End of Public Education?, had to say about this “phony” graduate program which makes a “mockery” of graduate programs in education. Follow her deutsch29 blog (10/03/16) and read the many reasons why the Pennsylvania Department of Education refused to approve Relay’s request for state-sponsored recognition, especially as to the minimal qualifications necessary to become a Relay instructor. Dr. Schneider’s commitment to shedding light on these issues is highly informative, yet not likely to be found in mainstream media coverage or forwarded by SDE officials.

If you are so inclined, you may also want to read the recent Washington Post (10.24.16) article, entitled “The big problem with the Obama administration’s new teacher-education regulations”, in which the chair of Connecticut College’s Education Department co-wrote that the “academy provisions” which were incorporated into ESSA (after initially being developed by the two charter lobbyist organizations New Schools Venture Fund and Relay Graduate School of Education) would exempt “entrepreneurial ‘start-up programs’ (i.e. teacher preparation ‘academies’) … from many of the requirements that states will enforce for other programs – such as hiring faculty who hold advanced degrees or conduct research, holding students to certain credit hours or course sequences, or securing accreditation from the field’s accrediting bodies.”

There is no doubt that the promoters of “corporate education reform” will be out in force on Wednesday spinning their praises for this unproven experiment in graduate teacher and administrator training. It is no coincidence that the recent CT Mirror Viewpoint from an aspiring New Haven teacher was published one week prior to your decision on this controversial request for approval. Apologies in advance to its author, but the piece has Achievement First written all over it. And, in case nobody informed you, AF’s Dacia Toll is one of the three founding members of the Relay Graduate School of Education and, from her Achievement First and 50CAN vantage point, sits on its Board of Trustees.

Like much that takes place in public education these days, this effort to secure state approval fits the “corporate education reform” agenda, is based on misleading information and deception, and will result in further undermining established teacher training programs while – at the same time – continuing to enrich those who seek to profit and privatize public education.

As always, it is important that you – as the appointed protectors of public education for CT’s students – analyze the information presented, review the underlying motives of those who provide testimony, and draw your own conclusions based on independent fact-finding and consideration of differing points-of-view. The CSBE has to rise above pressures to pursue and promote policies and practices that have never been proven effective and are not grounded in professional research. Please DO NOT APPROVE this application without a thorough, honest, and transparent investigation of the claims presented.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

John Bestor
Cheshire , CT

 

Relay Graduate School is NOT the way to train teachers (By Carol Burris)

Today’s initial Wait, What? post was entitled, Relay Graduate School of Education – Illegal lobbying marks effort to undermine Connecticut’s teacher certification law.

For more information about Relay School of Education, the Wait, What? post also pointed readers to fellow education advocate Wendy Lecker’s piece entitled, Drive up education degree is an insult to every student, parent, teacher and taxpayer

The following commentary piece provides additional background about the faux education graduate program run by the corporate education reform group known as Relay School of Education.

The article first appeared in the Washington Post  in 2012.  It was written by Carol Corbett Burris who served as the principal of South Side High School in New York. She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.  Ms. Burris is now the Executive Director of the Network for Public Education. (See http://networkforpubliceducation.org/)

Carol Burris wrote,

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I keep this quote on my desk. No one knows who authored it — it is often misattributed to William Butler Yeats. Whoever created it was wise indeed for those whose vocation is educating students upon hearing it, recognize its truth.

An isolated shot of a bucket of sand for the childrens play time either on vacation, at the beach, or just at home in the sandbox. (Matthew Benoit)

However, educational research as well as the wisdom that comes from instructional practice, tell us that learning happens in the mind of the learner. There is an engagement, a lighting of the fire, which must occur for deep learning to happen. As a young and somewhat naïve teacher, I once argued with Madeline Hunter that if my teaching were perfect, all students would perfectly learn. She smiled and told me that I was wrong.

“Effective teaching increases the probability of learning, you cannot guarantee it,” she said.

She was, of course, correct. Hunter spent her life pouring through research to identify the teacher behaviors that increased the probability of learning. A psychologist by training, she opened a lab school at UCLA, became a certified teacher and practiced her findings by teaching elementary children in her school. She had a respect for the profession that blossomed from her own practice and from her scholarship. How horrified she would be by the thinking that reduces teaching to test-prep drill and professional practice to a numerical score.

At the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE), teacher education that balances research, theory and practice has been replaced by ‘filling the pail’ training. Designed to serve the needs of three charter school chains — KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools— RGSE has no university affiliation, yet awards masters degrees in New York State.

In order to enroll in their program, one must teach, uncertified, in an affiliated school. Traditional public school teachers need not apply. Degrees are earned by online video and reading modules, attending discussion groups and by the uncertified teacher’s students’ test scores. If the test scores are not up to snuff, the teacher does not earn her degree. There are no classes in educational theory or history, nor any indication that the candidate must complete a masters thesis requiring research and reflection. It is cookie-cutter training grounded in one vision of instruction — the charter school vision. Each candidate’s pail is filled with the same techniques.

I invite readers to watch the Relay Graduate School of Education video entitled “Rigorous Classroom Discussion,” [Relay School of Education removed the video after this piece was published] In the video, the teacher barks commands and questions, often with the affect and speed of a drill sergeant. The questions concern the concept of a “character trait” but are low-level, often in a ‘fill in the blank’ format. The teacher cuts the student off as he attempts to answer the question. Students engage in the bizarre behavior of wiggling their fingers to send ‘energy’ to a young man, Omari, put on the spot by the teacher. Students’ fingers point to their temple and they wiggle hands in the air to send signals. Hands shoot up before the question is asked, and think time is never given to formulate thoughtful answers. When Omari confuses the word ‘ambition’ with ‘anxious’ (an error that is repeated by a classmate), you know that is how he is feeling at the moment. As the video closes with the command, “hands down, star position, continue reading” there is not the warmth of a teacher smile, nor the utterance of ‘please’. The original question is forgotten and you are left to wonder if anyone understands what a character trait is. The pail was filled with ‘something’ and the teacher moves on.

I do not fault the teacher in the video for her style. She is performing as taught by a system that, in my opinion, better prepares students for the dutiful obedience of the military than for the intellectual challenges they will encounter in college. In schools taught by RGSE teachers, the Common Core State Standards will be, I fear, merely heavier rocks in the pail.

As I watched the video, I thought about the rich discussions, open-ended speculative questions, ample think time and supportive feeling tone that I find in the classrooms of the teachers at my school. I remember the same culture in the middle school where I taught. Both are diverse schools that serve students with little as well as students with much. Suburban parents would be horrified by the magic finger wiggling and drill techniques used in the video clip. How sad that charter school students are treated as if, were they were given one second to think, the teacher would lose control. How horrifying that student grades and punishments are put on public display. The dignity of the learner comes in second to his or her compliance.

This, however, is the inevitable outcome of a system that is insular and that never looks beyond the practice of charter school leaders. Teacher education programs should bring together a diverse group of teacher candidates — from both city and suburb, and from private, charter and public schools. These programs should facilitate an exchange of ideas that fuels reflection and inspires inquiry into one’s own practice. When, a teacher preparation program is instead designed with a singular, data-driven focus, the fire that comes from the discussion of ideas of education’s great thinkers are but embers in a pail. “I can study Vygotsky later,” said an Empower Charter School teacher in an article on Relay in The New York Times. We can only hope that for her students’ sake, there will still be room left in the pail when ‘later’ comes.