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.

Op-Ed: Why Joel Cruz Is Best Candidate For Hartford Mayor By Robert Cotto, Jr.

Robert Cotto Jr. is one of the most important public education advocates in Connecticut.  In Hartford, where the majority of Board of Education members are appointed by the City’s Mayor, Cotto is not only one of the few elected members of the Hartford Board of Education, but is widely recognized as one of the most important voices for Hartford’s students, parents, teachers and schools.

In this piece, Robert Cotto Jr. weighs in on next week’s election for Hartford Mayor.  This commentary piece first appeared in CT Latino News.  If others would like to weigh in on this election feel free to send in a commentary piece or comment below. 

Op-Ed: Why Joel Cruz Is Best Candidate For Hartford Mayor By Robert Cotto, Jr.

When I vote for Joel Cruz, Jr. on Tuesday, November 3rd, I will be voting for him and his message: one Hartford. That’s what Joel Cruz will work for as Mayor of Hartford.

Like my own family, Joel’s came to Hartford as newcomers from Puerto Rico and settled in Hartford’s North End. When our families arrived in Hartford, the city was changing quickly.

White families increasingly left, while Black, West Indian, and Puerto Rican folks moved into the city. Finance and industry abandoned or took advantage of the city when it could. Federal and State policy facilitated this flight.

As kids, Joel and I grew up in this Hartford. When I met Joel a few years ago, I learned we had similar childhoods in the city. We bought penny candies, played in the same streets and parks, and, over the years, lost loved ones to drugs, guns, and poverty. Through the difficulties, he is more hopeful than ever about the city.

My family left to the suburbs for a time, but Joel and his family stayed. He graduated from Hartford Public High School at a time when it almost lost accreditation. He joined the U.S. Marines Corps, got himself through college, married, and started a family.

Today he helps men become better fathers to their children. Both his children attend the Hartford Public Schools despite the challenges of the system. And, like his father, he also works as a pastor. His time in the city matters, but what he’s done during that time matters even more. He understands what it’s like to live in Hartford, has made meaningful contributions, and is personally committed to its future.

Hartford is changing again. State government and private finance want to use Hartford as a way to make new profits. Although investment can be helpful, the current plans are very limited. The main plan is simple: use public funds to reinforce downtown as an exclusive playground for high-income people. Although the plan is “colorblind”, it implicitly means a playground for primarily white folks and the handful of Black and Latino people that can pay to play. In short, this vision is of two separate Hartford’s.

That plan might have some benefits, particularly for the elite and well connected. But it’s unlikely that real benefits will spread to everyday people throughout the city. During this year’s debates, the candidates for Mayor were rarely asked about how they would confront this problem. Why didn’t anybody address or ask about this issue?

Well, it’s simple. The very same people that intend to profit from “two Hartford’s” have spent roughly one million dollars so their candidate can implement the elite plan.

But when I hear Joel Cruz talk, I hear an inclusive message when it comes to jobs, housing, health, culture, or education. Joel’s logic is common sense: If we are going to invest into the city, then we must all benefit, not only the well off and well connected. This is a better vision for all of Hartford.

Serving on the Hartford City Council, he has experience with inclusive change. He believes we need to bring out the best of people in our city, rather than discipline, over-police, or contain less fortunate people. Based on these beliefs, he worked for agreements that require new development to include jobs for Hartford residents. He also worked to make the city more accommodating for new immigrants. For Joel, Hartford’s residents are assets, not deficits.

As we gathered several weeks ago on Capen Street, new and long-time residents came to support Cruz. His supporters came from all races, walks of life, and neighborhoods in the City. At the press conference, Cruz powerfully noted that all the neighborhoods of Hartford face similar challenges. Most importantly, he said that all of our neighborhoods – North, West, and South – have been neglected for a long time.

I know Joel Cruz, Jr. will remember Hartford residents as mayor. All of us.

#onehartford #JoelCruzforMayor #Row2E

Robert Cotto, Jr. lives in Hartford and is an elected member of Hartford’s Board of Education serving his second term. He is an educator and holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and Trinity College. His views are his own.

You can read and comment on this commentary piece at:

Stunning Charter School take down by Robert Cotto Jr.

Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money!

Robert Cotto Jr. is one of Connecticut’s leading educate advocates, an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education and part of the Educational Studies program at Trinity College.

In his recent CT Newsjunkie commentary piece entitled, Show Me The (Charter Management Fee) Money! Cotto lays bare the truth about the charter school industry is taking Connecticut’s taxpayers for a ride while diverting scarce public funds from Connecticut’s real public education system.

Robert Cotto writes;

When traditional schools pay their bills to educate kids, they usually don’t have much money, if any, remaining. When charter schools pay their bills, they often have money left over to spend. How much? It depends on the school. For a number of charter schools, roughly 10 percent of all of public dollars meant for educating children in these schools go to pay fees for private companies called “charter management organizations.” That’s a problem.

Connecticut law states that a charter management organization (CMO), “means any entity that a charter school contracts with for educational design, implementation or whole school management services.” These CMOs claim that they are private corporations, not public agencies. Organizations that claim to be CMOs in Connecticut include Achievement First; Capital Preparatory Schools; DOMUS, and Jumoke/FUSE, which is now defunct. It’s often hard to tell the difference between the CMO and the charter schools they manage.


Roughly 10 percent of a charter school’s budget can go toward management fees. For example, the New Haven-based CMO called Achievement First charged Achievement First-Hartford Charter School a $1.14 million management fee in 2013-14. The state provided Achievement First-Hartford charter schools more than $11 million to operate. So about 10 percent of that state funding went to Achievement First the CMO, not the charter school in Hartford, which ended the year with a surplus.

For every $100 dollars the public spends on this charter school, the CMO called Achievement First gets $10 off the top.

Multiply this fee by the four Achievement First charter schools in Connecticut, and Achievement First Inc., the CMO, walks away with about $4.45 million in fees.


Instead of operating schools as public responsibilities, CMOs operate charter schools as moneymaking arrangements, almost like fast-food franchises. Companies like Subway Inc. charge local franchises a fee for services ranging from start-up, food supplies, to signage. This is how Subway makes a profit.

The CMOs could be spending this money on millions of dollars in No. 2 pencils, helping to buy foot-long Subway sandwiches at lobbying events, or paying for student field trips to rally for more charter school money. It’s just unclear.

To fully appreciate how Connecticut’s taxpayers are being ripped off by charter school companies, read Robert Cotto’s entire article at:

Connecticut: Where laws are fricking optional (for those who have the right connections)

Question #1:  Must Connecticut teachers and school administrators have state certification?

Answer:  Yes, it is mandatory unless you are Paul Vallas or one of a handful of other politically connected elites.

Question #2:  Must Connecticut teachers and school administrators be evaluated?

Answer:  Yes, it is mandatory unless you are Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.

The Connecticut license plates claim we are the Constitution State.

The phrase refers to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut which were adopted in 1638 and was our historical commitment to the notion that were the first to recognize that to be free one must be a state or nation where the rule of law rises above the “rule of men.”

And here we are 375 years later and we are witnessing the steady erosion of our historic dedication to that fundamental truth.

Take for example the latest news from Hartford.

Connecticut State Law requires that every local board of education “shall evaluate the performance of the superintendent annually in accordance with guidelines and criteria mutually determined and agreed to by such board and such superintendent.”

The concept is pretty clear – Every year Connecticut communities shall evaluate the performance of their superintendent of schools.

But as a result of special deal between Hartford’s Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland and Hartford’s Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, the leader of Hartford’s school system will go without any evaluation this year AND next.

Meanwhile, starting this year, as a result of Governor Malloy’s new education reform bill, it is mandated that teachers must go through an extensive evaluation process…every year.  And a poor annual review will start that teacher down the path of losing their job.

But what is mandatory for Connecticut’s tens of thousands of teachers is suddenly optional for the highest ranking “educator” in Hartford’s school system who is pulling down $238,000 a year plus benefits.

This latest news comes via a story in this afternoon’s Hartford Courant.  Vanessa De La Torre, a Hartford Courant reporter who covers Hartford, writes;

“The city board of education will not conduct an evaluation of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto for the final two years of her three-year contract…Kishimoto recently asked the board to waive its annual review of her performance for 2012-13 and 2013-14, board Chairman Matthew Poland said. Poland agreed with Kishimoto and notified board members on Monday that the decision was finalized.”

No discussion, no vote, just an agreement between Board Chairman Poland (who is appointed by Hartford’s Mayor) and Superintendent Kishimoto.

The rules in Hartford are clear:  Evaluations for everyone except for the person responsible for actually running the school system.

The Hartford Courant article adds, “Poland said he consulted with one of the city’s lawyers, Assistant Corporation Counsel Melinda Kaufmann, before waiving the superintendent’s evaluations…”

The Courant goes on to explain, “Board Secretary Robert Cotto Jr. said he disagreed with the decision to forgo the annual review and requested his own legal opinion in a letter dated Sept. 23 to Saundra Kee Borges, the city’s corporation counsel.

‘Evaluating employees at least annually is sound practice and wise policy,’ Cotto wrote. “For boards of education, it is also important to evaluate superintendents in order to monitor his or her current work and as a record for future legal or employment considerations.’”

As Robert Cotto Jr. went on to observe, “a lot of people are going to have some problems with the idea that the person who makes the most money in the city is not going to have an evaluation for two years.”

But that is because Mr. Cotto and many other people still think of Connecticut as the Constitution State where the rule of law rises above the rule of men.

But that concept seems to be a bit outdated when you consider what is going on when it comes to the certification and evaluation of Connecticut’s school teachers and administrators.

You can read the full Hartford Courant article here: