Something Is Rotten In The State Of Connecticut by Ann Cronin

In her latest blog post, educator and education advocate Ann Cronin reports on Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy and his administration’s loyalty to the charter school industry and their latest attack on public education.

Cronin writes;

On July 19, 2017, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport.

GO FIGURE:

Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.

PLUS

The new seats will cost the beleaguered and impoverished Bridgeport Public Schools money it cannot afford and will strip them of much needed resources. The Bridgeport Board of Education unanimously voted against the expansion plan because the cost of adding grades to Capital Prep Harbor School requires the Bridgeport Public Schools to pay additional costs for transportation and other services at an additional location.

PLUS

The expansion plan for Capital Prep Harbor School, approved by the State Board of Education in 2014, called for three grades to be added in 2017-2018, but Capital Prep Harbor School requested and was granted the expansion to six new grades, which increased the costs of services from Bridgeport Public Schools from $200,000 to $400,000 for 2017-2018.

PLUS

Capital Prep Harbor School does not serve the population of Bridgeport equitably. Based on the make-up of the community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep Harbor should be Hispanic, but only 1/5 are, and Capital Prep Harbor has zero students who have English as their second language although there are ample children in Bridgeport who have English as their second language.

PLUS

Capital Prep Harbor School was approved by the State Board of Education in April 2014 as a school with its stated mission to serve the “diverse communities of Bridgeport and surrounding communities”. Capital Prep Harbor School has failed to implement that mission because of its small percentage of Hispanic students and its total lack of students with English as their second language.

PLUS

Steve Perry, the founder of the Capital Prep Harbor School and its chief spokesperson at the July 19th hearing, has been found by state auditors to have violated the lottery system at his former school in Hartford, Capital Preparatory School. Instead of the students at Capital Prep being chosen by lottery, he, as principal, handpicked a significant number of students (131 in three years), chiefly for their athletic talents. When asked by a reporter at the July 19th hearing if he was using similar illegal practices at Capital Preparatory Harbor School, he refused to answer.

PLUS

After the revelations about the lottery violations at Capital Prep in Hartford, state education officials were asked if they intended to audit the lottery at Capital Prep Harbor School. A State Department of Education spokeswoman replied, “Not at this time.” The Connecticut Post surveyed enrollment practices in the six charter schools in Bridgeport. Five of the six schools explained the methods they used to insure the propriety of their lotteries. The sixth school, Capital Preparatory Harbor School, wouldn’t answer the newspaper’s questions.

PLUS

The State Board of Education scheduled the meeting to approve the new charter seats without informing the Superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools. The Superintendent, Aresta Johnson, was told by the State Department of Education that she had until August 4, 2017 to file a written reaction to the Capital Prep Harbor School plan to expand the number of charter school seats in  Bridgeport.  She found out about the July 19th meeting by chance. She attended that hearing and strongly opposed the expansion of charter school seats, stating that the costs would present a severe hardship to children in the Bridgeport Public Schools.

PLUS

Nationally, charter schools have no greater record of success than public schools although the student population of charter schools is more select than the population of traditional public schools. Charter schools have fewer special education students, fewer ELL students, and fewer students from unstable homes. A report commissioned by the Connecticut State Department of Education entitled Evaluating the Academic Performance of Choice Programs in Connecticut compared student achievement in public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, and among those students bussed from urban areas to the suburbs and did not find evidence that students in charter schools had greater achievement than other students, even with their more select student body.

PLUS

Charter schools are not public schools although they call themselves that when it serves the purpose of getting public money but declare they are not public schools when there are requests for transparency in how the public tax money is spent. Charter schools violate the democratic principle that the people should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. In public school districts, the elected school boards provide that oversight. With charter schools, it is all secret, and the profit motive is evident as the numbers of criminal cases of fraud that have occurred in charter schools demonstrate.

PLUS

Charter schools promote segregation. The NAACP, in October 2016, recognized the racism inherent in the concept of charter schools and called for “ a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice”  because “the NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably funded public education for all children”.

ADD IT UP: There is, indeed, something rotten in the state of Connecticut.

Fighting it will be an uphill battle. Big money from the charter school industry funds political campaigns in our state. The State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education are not elected by us; they are appointed by the Governor. Venture capitalists support charter schools because they are money-making operations. So how do we citizens of Connecticut make a dent in this monied political structure?

Well, we take a deep breath and remember what Edmund Burke said: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Then, we call one another, start talking, and get busy.

You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/07/21/something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-connecticut/

State Board of Education Member – 4 DUI’s in 3 months

Dedicated to the charter school industry and the corporate education reform agenda, Trumbull’s Stephen P. Wright has been one of Governor Dannel Malloy’s staunchest allies on the State Board of Education.

Now, as the CT Post and other media outlets report, Wright is being sought by the police for failure to appear for a court hearing following his fourth drunken-driving arrest in three months.

“Wright was arrested Feb. 22 by Norwalk police and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and released on a promise to appear in court, according to court records.

Five days later, he was charged in Shelton with driving under the influence and released after posting a $1,000 bond, records show. On March 17, he was charged by the State Police with drunken driving and failure to drive in the proper lane and released after posting a $500 bond.

He was then arrested by Stratford police April 10 and charged with drunken driving, operating while under suspension and failure to carry registration/insurance and released on a promise to appear in court.

A warrant was issued for his arrest on April 20 when police said he failed to appear for a court hearing on the Norwalk arrest. If convicted of all the charges Wright could face more than a year in prison”

Wright’s official state biography explains,

Stephen P. Wright was reappointed to the Board by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in February 2015. He serves as chairperson of the Academic Standards and Assessment Committee and is a member of the Finance, Audit, and Budget Committee.”

Wright presently has DUI cases are pending in Bridgeport, Norwalk and Derby.

Connecticut will no longer use SBAC and SAT as part of teacher performance evaluations.

As the CT Mirror reports,

The state Board of Education voted late Wednesday afternoon to adopt new usage standards for state mastery test data, explicitly prohibiting the use of those test scores in evaluating teacher performance.

[…]

State education board Chairman Allan B. Taylor and Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell both praised the board’s approval of the plan as an important clarification of the role state tests should play: a goal-setting tool for teachers, not part of a formula for rating an individual teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.

While state mastery tests – which include the Smarter Balanced assessments, SAT, CMT and CAPT science – are no longer an option, school districts are still required to measure teachers in part on their students’ testing success, which makes up 22.5 percent of the teacher evaluation rating. Now, school districts will have to choose from a number of non-state exams to evaluate teachers in that category.

In a written response, the Connecticut Education Association posted;

This is a big victory for students, teachers, and public education,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “The voices and expertise of teachers were heard and addressed by policymakers who did the right thing by putting the focus back where it belongs: on teaching, learning, and student achievement.”

[…]

Cohen concluded, “We feel confident that these new guidelines will have positive outcomes for everyone—students, teachers, and administrators—and will allow us to continue to move forward to improve the educational opportunities for all public school students in Connecticut.”

While the state’s action is an important and positive step, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test and the SAT will still be used for the unfair and discriminatory labeling of students, teachers and schools.

The State Board of Education Action means the SBAC and SAT will be used for the following inappropriate purposes;

Informing goals for individual educators
Informing professional development for individual educators
Discussion at the summative evaluation conference
Informing collaborative goals
Informing professional learning for groups or teams of educators
Any communications around planning
Development of curriculum
Program evaluation
Selecting or evaluating effectiveness of materials/resources
School/district improvement planning
Informing whole school professional development to support school improvement

The complete CT Mirror story can be found via the following link: https://ctmirror.org/2017/04/06/ct-scraps-using-state-test-scores-to-compute-teacher-ratings/

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.