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Relay Graduate School: a Slick “MarketWorld” Education Fraud

18 Sep

By T. Ultican 9/18/2019

Relay Graduate School of Education is a private stand alone graduate school created and led by people with meager academic credentials. Founded by leaders from the charter school industry, it is lavishly financed by billionaires. Contending that traditional university based teacher education has failed; Relay prescribes deregulation and market competition. Relay does not offercoursework in areas typical of teacher education programs—courses such as school and society, philosophy of education, and teaching in democracy ….” Rather, Relay trains students almost exclusively in strict classroom management techniques.

Ken Zeichner is one of America’s leading academics studying teacher education. In a paper on alternative teacher preparation programs he noted that Match Teacher Residency and Relay “contribute to the inequitable distribution of professionally prepared teachers and to the stratification of schools according to the social class and racial composition of the student body.” Zeichner clarified,

“These two programs prepare teachers to use highly controlling pedagogical and classroom management techniques that are primarily used in schools serving students of color whose communities are severely impacted by poverty. Meanwhile, students in more economically advantaged areas have greater access to professionally trained teachers, less punitive and controlling management practices and broader and richer curricula and teaching practices. The teaching and management practices learned by the teachers in these two independent programs are based on a restricted definition of teaching and learning and would not be acceptable in more economically advantaged communities.”

Relay is another component of the destroy-public-education infrastructure that mirrors Professor Noliwe Rooks’ definition of segrenomics; “the business of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation.”

Founding Relay Graduate School of Education

Relay’s foundation was laid when the Dean of City University of New York’s Hunter College school of education, David Steiner, was approached by Norman Atkins of Uncommon Schools, David Levin of KIPP charter schools, and Dacia Toll of Achievement First charter schools. Dean Steiner agreed to establish the kind of Teacher Preparation program at Hunter College that these three charter industry leaders wanted. The new program which began in 2008 and was called Teacher U.

Kate Peterson studied Relay for a Philadelphia group. She noted,

“Receiving $10 million from Larry Robbins, founder of the hedge fund Glenview Capital Management and current board member of Relay, and $20 million from the non-profit The Robin Hood Foundation, the three charter school leaders partnered with Hunter College in New York to implement their program ….”

The following year the newly elected and extremely wealthy Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, tapped David Steiner to be Commissioner of Education.

Steiner and Tisch believed that there was an unhealthy university based monopoly of teacher education. Steiner moved to weaken that monopoly in 2010 by grantinga provisional charter to authorize clinically-rich teacher programs to address shortages such as in STEM areas as well as ‘students with disabilities and English language learners.’” The following year Steiner authorized and the state board approved non-institutions of higher education to grant master’s degrees in education accredited by New York State.

Almost immediately, Teacher U became Relay Graduate School of Education and received accreditation from the state of New York. Steiner’s roll in the establishment of Relay was so prominent that he is still a member of the school’s board of directors along with cofounders Atkins, Levin and Toll.

Relay Key Founders

Tisch and Steiner embodied a form of neoliberal ideology that the author Anand Giridharadas defined as “MarketWorld”. In Winners Take All Giridharadas explains,

“MarketWorld is an ascendant power elite that is defined by the concurrent drives to do well and do good, to change the world while also profiting from the status quo. It consists of enlightened businesspeople and their collaborators in the worlds of charity, academia, media, government and think tanks.”

Tisch and Steiner both embraced standardized testing as a legitimate measure of school and teacher quality. The former US Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, described Tisch as the “Doyenne of High-Stakes Testing.” Tisch and Steiner also looked to private business as a solution to perceived problems in education and they enthusiastically promoted Bill Gates’ Common Core State Standards. When Steiner resigned as Commissioner in 2011, Tisch replaced him with John King who had a similar education philosophy.

The idea that university based teacher education programs are a monopoly that must be broken is a farce. It is advocating that professionally run education programs guided by people who have spent their lives researching and practicing education must be replaced by a privatized alternative. Here in my hometown of San Diego, California we have four major teacher education programs. University of California San Diego and San Diego State University run the two publicly sponsored programs. The University of San Diego and National University run the two private school education programs. Those four competing programs are hardly monopolies plus they meet a high standard of professionalism, something Relay does not do.

As soon as Relay became New York’s first ever non-university associated and accredited education graduate school, billionaire money started rolling in. New Schools Venture Fund in Oakland, California sent them $500,000 in the founding year of 2011 and followed that with $1,500,000 in 2012. Between Relay’s founding in 2011 and 2017, John Arnold, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, the Walton family plus the New School Venture Fund granted Relay $21,625,322. During the first year of operation, Relay received $10,403,909 in grants and contributions.

Relay’s Organization

Norman Atkins who was and still is the CEO of Uncommon Knowledge has assumed the leadership of Relay. Uncommon Knowledge, Inc. and Relay shared the same address until 2017 when Uncommon Knowledge became Together, Inc, which established a new address but kept their books at Atkins’ office.

Uncommon Knowledge has been very generous to Relay graduate school; granting them more than $5,000,000 between 2013 and 2017. While Atkins remains CEO of Uncommon his pay all comes from Relay.

Salaries

Top Salaries since Founding Reported on Relay’s Tax Forms

Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her piece, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Most Relay Deans were the founders of the Relay campus in their location. There are now seventeen Relay campuses which are in reality little more than a store front or an office. In the last year, Relay has gone from zero education doctorates to four. Among the Deans, it appears that not one of them is qualified for tenure track at a legitimate college of education. Simply stated, Relay’s school leaders are not qualified education professionals.

When Relay tried for to go into California and Pennsylvania, both states refused them.  In an interview, Professor Zeichner remarked, “Their mumbo jumbo and smoke and mirrors game did not work however, in either CA or PA where the states ruled that Relay’s programs did not meet their state standards for teacher education programs.

Recently, there has been deterioration in the leadership at some Relay campuses. While in 2017, they all had deans, three no longer do. In Memphis, founding Dean Michelle Armstrong left Relay to be coordinator of instructional support at the Pyramid Peak Foundation. In Nashville, founding Dean Linda Lenz has departed and so has founding Dean Jennifer Francis of New Orleans. It appears that none of the “deans” have been replaced at their respective campuses.

Teach like it is 1885

Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the program of studies, “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.”

A good reference for understanding where the Relay theory of education spawned is Elizabeth Green’s Building A+ Better Teacher. Green is definitely a member of “MarketWorld” and she venerates the no-excuses charter founders, but her closeness to them provided her with deep information about these schools and the thinking of their founders.

Green notes that Doug Lamov, the author of Teach Like a Champion(TLC), was part of a new class of educators “from the world of educational entrepreneurs.” Green observed,

Instead of epistemology, child psychology, and philosophy, their obsessions were data-based decision making, start-ups, and ‘disruption.’ They were more likely to know the name of Eric Hanushek, the economist who invented the value-added teacher evaluation model, than Judy Lanier.”

Doug Lamov decided to create a common taxonomy that Green described as “an organized breakdown of all the little details that helped great teachers excel.”  His list of techniques expanded to 49 and that became TLC. It was a behaviorist approach to classroom management and teaching. Some of the techniques are fine but the relentless application in a no-excuses environment stunts student creativity and need to know.

Most trained professional educators find Lemov’s teaching theory regressive. Jennifer Berkshire published a post by Layla Treuhaft-Ali. Under the title “Teach Like its 1885.” Layla wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.”

Relay’s curriculum focuses on studying TLC through videos like this one. There is no lecture hall and no academic study of education. It is a 100% technical approach to building teachers who follow a script and teach their students to respond to cues.

Some Last Words

More from Professor Zeichner,

“Relay teachers work exclusively with ‘other people’s children’ and provide the kind of education that Relay staff would never accept for their own children. The reason that I use Lisa Delpit’s term ‘other people’s children’ here is to underline the point that few if any Relay staff and advocates for the program in the policy community would accept a Relay teacher for their own children. Most parents want more than a focus on standardized test scores for their children and this measure becomes the only definition of success in schools attended by students living in poverty.”

Relay practices the pedagogy of poverty and as Martin Haberman says,

“In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their intrinsic value rather than to foster learning.”

Destroy Public Education Forces Retooling for 2019

26 Dec

By T. Ultican 12/26/2018

The destroy public education (DPE) national coordinating organization, Education Cities, has been closed, with its assets and personnel distributed to three new organizations; The City Fund, School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners. And there is more. In an interview with The 74, City Fund’s Managing Partner, Neerav Kingsland, revealed the establishment a new political action committee under IRS code 501 C4 called Public School Allies.

In October, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) announced that its leader for the past 10 years, Jed Wallace, would step down in January, 2019. The new President of CCSA will be Myrna Castrejón who is currently Director of Great Public Schools Now (GPSN). The announcement says of Wallace’s future, “He will move onto a new role advising charter school organizations across the United States.” Under Wallace’s leadership the CCSA replaced the California Teachers Association as the state’s largest lobbying effort on education issues.

The LittleSis map below shows the money coming into The City Fund and the new postings for the former Education Cities’ staff. During the interview cited above, Kirkland said, “Along with the Hastings Fund and the Arnold Foundation, we’ve also received funds from the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Ballmer Group.” The amount of money given by the Walton family and Ballmer is unknown.

Little Sis Map of Reorganization

Reorganizing DPE Forces (see Interactive Map here)

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reported that City Fund has started spending to promote the “portfolio model” of education reform. Barnum stated,

“Kingsland said The City Fund has given to The Mind Trust, which focuses on Indianapolis Public Schools; RootED in Denver; City Education Partners in San Antonio; the Newark Charter School Fund and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation; The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis; and RedefinED Atlanta. In Nashville, The City Fund gave directly to certain charter schools.”

The City Fund’s central agenda is promoting the portfolio model of school reform. The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test which reflects student family wealth but does not identify education quality. Testing and the portfolio model inevitably lead to an ever more privatized system – especially in poor communities – that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. Objections to the portfolio model include:

  1. It creates constant churn and disruption. Students in struggling neighborhoods need stable environments they can trust.
  2. Democratically operated schools are the foundation of American democracy. The portfolio model ignores the value of these democratic incubators.
  3. Parents and taxpayer lose the ability to hold elected officials accountable for school operations.

Even voucher enthusiast Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas wrote an open letter to John Arnold warning against the portfolio model. He noted, “The Arnold Foundation invests heavily in another initiative that promotes rigorous science for medical and policy decision-making, yet they do not seem to apply that same standard of proof to their own education strategy.

Myrna Castrejón and Great Public Schools Now (GPSN)

Myrna Castrejón attended college at the flagship Seventh-day Adventist school Andrews University. From there she matriculated to the University of Wisconsin where she took graduate work in Anthropology and Border Studies. She has spent time at various non-profits focused on education reform in both El Paso, Texas and Los Angeles, California. In 2003, she went to work for the CCSA.

By 2015, Castrejón was the Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, at CCSA where she led their Advocates group. At the end of the year, she left her $231,000 position to establish GPSN where her  pay raised to $255,133 for the first year.

GPSN was a start-up non-profit in 2016, however, it was extremely well financed. The Walton family gave $400,000 and Eli Broad sent $4,927,500 but the big money came from Bill Gates a whopping $24,985,965. With this money, Castrejón was able to finance a public relations campaign that gave her amazing access to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board, especially Ref Rodriguez and Monica Garcia at the start and later with Nick Malvoin, Garcia and Superintendent Austin Buetner.

That first year, she was able to grant Teach for America $4,200,000 in order “to increase the pipeline of high quality teachers in LA schools.” She also sent $500,000 to Boston’s Building Excellent Schools to recruit two fellows for founding, opening and leading “high achieving charter schools” in LA.

This past October she organized a “town-hall meeting” with “250 parents” to promote the charter industries dream of a common application for all schools. LAUSD Board President, Monica Garcia, Board member, Nick Malvoin and Superintendent Austin Buetner were all there to support her agenda.

Buetner at Great Schools Now Event June 29_2018

GPSN One Application Event with Austin Buetner (picture from #onecityallkids)

Myrna Castrejón has been a very effective leader in the DPE effort to privatize schools in Los Angeles and throughout California. That is why she will be the next leader of CCSA, the big dog among California’s DPE forces.

School Board Partners

Matt Barnum a reporter for Chalkbeat obtained a trove of emails between Myrna Castrejón and officials at LAUSD through a public information request. He made the 315 pages of emails accessible in his article, “New group will try to connect school board members pushing for ‘dramatic change’ in these 10 cities.”

The emails show that Ref Rodriguez, Monica Garcia and Nick Malvoin were more like partners with Castrejón than public representatives. This August, Castrejón messaged Garcia and Malvoin about the Launch of School Board Partners. She wrote,

“I am forwarding a networking and support opportunity that one of our partners is launching to advance the work of quality and equity in urban districts. School Board Partners is a new, spin off organization of the former Education Cities network, of which GPSN is a member. As you can see from Carrie’s description, their aim is create a Board level community of practice and make available resources and support for participating members on site and remote.

“This is at NO cost to participating Board members. If this is of interest to you, the initial cohort will launch October 1-3 in Denver. Let me know if I can connect you more directly. See the general description below, and the link to the live page that explains their work in more detail. I hope you find this helpful!

“Myrna”

The email that Castrejón forwarded was from Carrie McPherson Douglass, the CEO, of School Board Partners, which was in its first month or two of operation. The key portion of Douglas’s message reads,

“For year 1, our list of priority cities is: Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, San Antonio and Stockton.

“In each of these cities, we plan to support 1-3 school board members by providing these three sets of supports:

“1.  A national community of diverse school board members who are working to lead bold change in their respective communities. The network will meet annually in person and communicate virtually throughout the year as needed. Members of the network will learn together and support each other, as well as benefit from the support and resources of the team at School Board Partners.

“2.  A personal coach/mentor to support each individual school board member as they develop as an elected official and leader of change in your city.

“3.  Pro-bono consulting services to help school board members research, plan and execute thoughtful change initiatives specific to your board and city. Our first national convening of school board members will be held in Denver Oct 1st-3rd.”

Both Garcia and Malvoin indicate great interest in the group but cited a conflict with the October date. Garcia said her Pahara group was meeting then and Nick said a looming strike and some board business would make those dates difficult. Castrejón agreed to put them both in direct contact with Carrie Douglass.

Carrie McPherson Douglass from EC bio

Carrie Douglass’s Profile Picture on the Education Cities Cyber sight

Carrie Douglass was the Managing Partner at Education Cities. She signed their tax forms and made really good money. The tax form’s list her 2014 salary at $154,343, her 2015 salary at $168,942 and her 2016 salary at $182,595.

Before Education Cities, Carrie served as the Senior Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland, an Education Cities member, where she developed a blended learning pilot. Prior to joining Rogers, Carrie was the Director of Human Resources at Aspire Public Schools.

Carry earned a B.A. from the University of Portland, Oregon, in Education and Music. She was awarded an M.B.A. at Boston University specializing in Finance, Strategy and Non-profit Management.

Douglass lives and works from the beautiful little city of Bend, Oregon on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. Last year she was elected to the local school board.

This founding leader of School Board Partners is a “Broadie.” She completed the two year Broad Residency program (2007-2009) while working at Aspire. Her quote on the Broad Alumni page reads,

“I am amazed that Americans have accepted mediocrity from our public school system for so long. The status quo must end. The Broad Residency provides an opportunity for professionals with a wide variety of experiences to bring innovative solutions to the table, while simultaneously developing a deep understanding of the historical context to ensure appropriate solutions for urban education.”

In other words this very white woman from an extraordinarily white area of the United States believes Broad gave her the kind of “deep understanding” required for saving the black and brown children in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, San Antonio and Stockton. What could go wrong?

In a private email, Peter Greene responded to the establishment of School Board Partners with, “I call BS.” The point being that every state requires school board members to go through training and existing reputable private organizations like the California School Board Association also make many training and research resources available to board members. California’s Department of Consumer Affairs provides a plethora of training opportunities and informs all new Board members, “California … requires every appointed board member to complete a training and orientation program offered by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) within one year of assuming office.

School Board Partners is not a good Samaritan group filling a void. It is a DPE organization looking to co-opt elected board members into furthering the portfolio model of education reform.

Community Engagement Partners

This new organization is not well defined and their web presence is not much more informative than the non-existent web presence of The City Fund. Three former employees of Education Cities are developing this new DPE organization.

Kevin Leslie “provides finance and operations support to Education Cities and its two new initiatives: Community Engagement Partners and School Board Partners.

Rebecca Weinberg Jones is the Deputy Director of Community Engagement Partners (CPE). She attended Vassar College and earned a Masters in Urban Education Policy from Brown University. Her LinkedIn page says of CEP,

“Community Engagement Partners, an initiative of Education Cities, supports education organizations and leaders as they partner with and learn from their local communities with the goal of creating and sustaining great schools. We believe that the change necessary to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality school is only possible and sustainable when those most impacted by educational inequity are partners in the work and decision making.”

Charles McDonald is the Executive Director for CEP. In the past, he served as Senior Managing Director, External Affairs for Teach For America – South Carolina. He also served as Program Manager for Education Pioneers Greater Boston Analyst and Graduate School Fellowship programs for two years.

A paper McDonald wrote while at Education Cities is the only document linked on the CEP web page. It purportedly points to their purpose. In it he obseved,

“After nearly a decade of catalyzing and implementing nationally-recognized education reforms, The Mind Trust made an intentional shift from solely focusing on grasstops-driven reform efforts to recognizing the need to partner with key grassroots stakeholders and civic leaders with deep ties to the communities most impacted by educational inequity. In 2013, the organization hired Indianapolis native Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo [now at The City Fund] to help lead efforts to better align The Mind Trust’s strategy to the needs and values of the community and build a base of community support for educational equity.”

It seems like the CEP purpose will be to continue Education City’s efforts to organize and support on the ground DPE forces in America’s cities.

Some Final Comments

This October, Diane Ravitch addressed #NPE2018Indy asserting, “We are the resistance and we are winning!” 2018 certainly was a hopeful year for the friends of public education and professional educators. Charter school growth has stagnated and “choice” has been shown to be a racist attack rather than an expanded right. In Arizona, an ALEC driven voucher scheme was soundly defeated and in California, Tony Thurmond turned back the nearly $50 million dollar effort to make a charter school executive Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The DPE response is a new more opaque and better funded effort narrowly focused on its theory of quality schools through the portfolio model. It is yet another effort to transform education with no input from educators. Without billionaire money tipping the scales of democracy; vouchers and charter schools would disappear because they are bad policy. Educators ache to focus on improving public education but must use their energy fighting for the survival of America’s public education system, the world’s greatest and most successful education institution.

America’s teachers are educators who will continue sharing lessons on how to recognize highly paid political agents and profitable propaganda centers masquerading as “think tanks.” I predict, even with the greater spending and reorganization, 2019 will be an awful year for the DPE forces.