In his second term as governor, Bobby Jindal drove a spear through the heart of the professional educator. It is clear that what he began, and a few continue, is an attempt to privatize public education by demeaning teachers, unfairly labeling them, and their schools, as failing and creating a false hope that the salvation of education can be found in charter schools staffed with unqualified teachers who are employed “at-will.” As a result, teachers who had reached the age of retirement left in droves; others, just left.
Now that the education reformers have created a teacher shortage, they have to provide a pathway for new teachers to become part of the unqualified, at-will workforce. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to give some background on Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE), which is Supt. John White’s provider of choice and was recently approved by BESE. The most disturbing thing about this is that the appointed head of our democratically run public education system is driving these policies, and the elected body that is supposed to represent us, facilitates it by approving his policies.
RGSE was founded by Norman Atkins, who co-founded Teacher U with David Levin. Atkins was the founder of UnCommon Schools; Levin, founder of Knowledge is Power Program, also known as KIPP Schools. These are two of the largest charter school networks in the country. Together, Atkins and Levin sought to solve the teacher shortage problem in their schools by expanding on Teach for America’s six-week teacher training program. They did this by teaming up with the Dean of Hunter College’s School of Education, David Steiner. They created a graduate program that focused on the “art of teaching” with very little emphasis on the “theory of education.”
Eventually, they thought it to be more feasible to break away from the traditional brick and mortar school setting and create a stand-alone graduate program. To do this, they had to get passed the New York Board of Regents. That was easy. Steiner was appointed to the position of Commissioner of Education. The rest is history.
RGSE needed to get into Louisiana. Just like in New York, the primary barrier was the Board of Regents. In 2014, RGSE hired Cate Swinburn as a consultant in the New Orleans area on a $180,000 contract. Swinburn previously held the position of Chief of Data Accountability District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). In that role, she was best known for her response to an investigation into the largest test cheating scandal, to date. She told investigators that they shouldn’t be so concerned about what had already happened and focus on moving forward. In 2014, a New Orleans rising star principal, Desmond Moore, lifted his school’s rating from F to B in his first year there. He then moved to a second school and did the same thing. Mysteriously, the year after he left both schools, they plummeted back down to F. That is a serious red flag for cheating. In the article linked above, Swinburn stated:
“You can’t determine whether someone, or a group of someones, has cheated based on (test scores) alone, and certainly not based on a single point of data. The data should flag anomalies; those anomalies should then lead to questioning and follow-ups with school staff and students.”
Ironically, Louisiana educators are judged on a single point of data. Moore is now principal of a turnaround school in Atlanta, GA.
Swinburn is apparently worth her weight in consultation/lobbying fees. In April 2014, she got the Board of Regents to approve RGSE as the 6th alternative certification provider in the state. There are currently eight alternative certification providers offering different variations of Teach for America’s 7 week training program; primarily certifying teachers for the charter school market. Coincidentally, Swinburn currently holds the position of Vice President of Educate Now!, an education reform non-profit founded by former BESE member and charter school advocate, Leslie Jacobs.
All of the alternative certification providers provide exactly that…a path to certification. Some provide initial certification to aspiring teachers; others, leadership certification to aspiring principals. None have the ability to award college credits. That is what sets RGSE apart from the other providers. They actually award college credits, and a graduate degree, to participants who complete their program. This has been met with much resistance from not only the Board of Regents, but also colleges of education at various universities. Why? Because the program’s emphasis is on the “practice” of teaching; not the research-based “foundation and theory” of teaching. In fact, up until about two weeks ago, members of the higher ed community fought this initiative vehemently; then in the final days, the Board of Regents had a change of heart and approved it. Why? This is a question that I want to know the answer to.
Alternative certification programs have been around since about 2004. They have been administered by the universities across the state, and are basically initial certification programs that award a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Participants are required to complete thirty hours of coursework while teaching full-time on a practitioner’s license. The coursework is essentially the same as the content and pedagogy classes taken by an undergraduate. Relay’s program is essentially the same, minus the coursework.
Participants enter a cohort by taking part in an eight week introduction class, then they are issued a practitioner’s license by LDOE to teach in a public school. Once employed, they are expected to complete 50 modules of learning. In order to “graduate” participants must complete the modules, pass the PRAXIS exam for their content area, and “defend their masters (pg. 45)” by providing evidence of student growth during the two years of teaching while in the program. That’s right. Participants DO NOT GRADUATE if their students don’t meet the minimum achievement expectation!
And there you have it. RGSE will only produce graduates who know how to teach to the test. This is important because now ESSA will require that teacher training programs be rated on the quality of teachers they produce by looking at their ratings after their first year of teaching. Traditional training programs will be forced to implement similar policies in order to keep their ratings up. The all-knowing education reformers have now gained headway in holding, not only colleges, but also aspiring teachers, to the same invalid measure of accountability.