Despite Opposition, Board of Education Approves Controversial Teacher Prep Program

CEA Educational Issues Specialist Michele O'Neill was one of many who raised concerns about Relay at today's State Board of Education meeting.

November 2, 2016

In spite of serious concerns raised by teachers, CEA leaders and staff, state university deans of education, and community members, the State Board of Education today voted to allow the controversial Relay Graduate School of Education to begin operating in Connecticut. Relay provides a shortcut to teacher certification whose methods and outcomes have repeatedly been called into question.

"Relay teachers do not receive the same training other teachers do," said CEA President Sheila Cohen. "Instead, they are given a crash course in teaching that focuses on increasing student test scores, not student skills. There are no do-overs for the students whose classrooms are managed by unprepared, inexperienced teachers who weave their way into the profession through these dubious, subpar teacher training programs."

Shortcut approach

"It is obvious that this program was preordained or it would have been discussed at legislatively created task forces that examine these specific types of programs," said CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg, referring to the Connecticut Advisory Council for Teacher Preparation Standards (CACTPS), Educator Preparation Advisory Council (EPAC), and Minority Teacher Recruitment Oversight Council (MTROC)—a point reiterated by Bridgeport teacher Mia Dimbo, who testified at today's meeting.

Dimbo, an MTROC member, was dismayed that the Council was not offered a chance to review and respond to Relay's plan, which claims it will fill vacancies in high-needs districts with minority teacher candidates.

(From right) CACTPS member Ann Grosjean, Bridgeport teacher Mia Dimbo, and CEA Student Program members voiced their opposition to Relay today.

"It is important that the Council have an opportunity to deliberate and advise the State Board of Education on proposals for minority teacher recruitment," she said. "You should know that this has not yet happened with the Relay proposal."

Doreen Merrill, who chairs the 17-member CACTPS, shared Dimbo's concerns and asked that the Board postpone any decision regarding Relay. CACTPS is a legislative group charged with advising the State Board of Education, the governor, and the joint standing committee of the General Assembly on matters relating to education concerning teacher preparation, teacher recruitment, teacher certification, teacher professional development, and teacher assessment and evaluation. In written testimony read at the meeting, Merrill noted that a key function of the council is to review and comment on all regulations and other standards concerning the approval of teacher preparation programs and certification.

"The Council had not been asked to review any information regarding Relay, the alternate route to teacher preparation/certification you are being asked to vote on today. We all recognize that minority teacher recruitment is an issue within Connecticut; however, minority teacher retention is perhaps an even larger one. As one who has looked into teacher preparation programs and has been a teacher for many years, I would like to see all programs focus on induction and support so that all teachers enter the workforce well prepared for the challenges they will face."

Rejected in other states

For reasons related to program quality, Relay was recently rejected in both California and Pennsylvania. An earlier application for approval in Connecticut was similarly denied in March 2016 because of the lack of depth and breadth of its curriculum, misalignment with Connecticut and national standards, confusion over the type of training Relay would provide, the absence of fieldwork and clinical experiences, and other significant flaws. A month later, Relay submitted a revised application, claiming it had addressed these issues; the program was again shot down, this time for focusing its assessment training almost entirely on student achievement tests.

"It's hard to imagine that in the mere seven months since its initial application, Relay was able to redress such serious programmatic flaws with any meaningful degree of fidelity," noted CEA Teacher Development Specialist Kate Field, a teacher for 16 years and an administrator for three.

"The ways in which Relay has revised its program are not detailed and remain unclear," said CEA Educational Issues Specialist Michele Ridolfi O'Neill, calling out the program's widely criticized lack of transparency.

Watch just some of the testimony raising concerns about Relay at today's State Board of Education meeting.

Read testimony submitted today

· Sheila Cohen, CEA President & Mark Waxenberg, CEA Executive Director
· Kate Field, CEA Teacher Development Specialist
· Jenna Rodriguez-Mancini, ECSU education student
· Doreen Merrill, Woodbridge teacher CACTPS Chair
· Ann Cronin, English teacher
· Shayla Beausoleil, ECSU education student
· Rachael Tyrrel, SCSU education student
· Mike Alfano, CCSU Dean of Education
· Michele Ridolfi O'Neill, CEA Educational Issues Specialist
· Mia Dimbo, Bridgeport Teacher
· Marissa Gannon, UConn education student
· Ken Zeichner, Professor of Teacher Education, University of Washington
· Robert Cotto, Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College

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