Relay Graduate School: a Slick “MarketWorld” Education Fraud by Thomas Ultican
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 offer“coursework 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 granting “a 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.
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.
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.
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.”