New Teacher Preparation Program Lacks High Quality; Will Hurt Students

Connecticut Education Association Statement

October 31, 2016

New Teacher Preparation Program Lacks High Quality; Will Hurt Students

State must reject the Relay alternate route to certification program because it will decrease requirements and diminish quality allowing ineffective teachers in the classroom

"Relay teachers do not receive the same training other teachers do; instead, they are given a crash course in teaching that focuses on increasing student test scores, not on increasing student skills," said CEA President Sheila Cohen. "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."

"Connecticut should put funding into strengthening and growing successful state teacher prep programs, not lowering teacher quality," said CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg. "Children in urban areas need high-quality teachers who complete established and successful teaching programs—not fly-by-night, unproven programs that put poorly prepared teachers in front of our neediest students."

Teachers are the most important school-based factor in ensuring student achievement. That is why ensuring that new teachers enter the profession with the necessary skills, knowledge, and abilities is a critical function of state policies governing teaching—one that the State Board of Education (BOE) should take seriously.

Unfortunately, the BOE is set to vote on Wednesday, Nov. 2, to approve a corporate reform supported alternative teacher certification program, The Relay Graduate School of Education, which allows people with little preparation to become certified teachers. This action would erode, not strengthen, Connecticut's education standards at a time when requirements for traditional teacher education programs are intensifying.

"Our children can't afford to be treated as guinea pigs in this trial-and-error process," said Cohen. "Teaching is a complex and demanding profession. Our children deserve—and the public demands—highly qualified and trained educators with the skills and experience required to instill a love of learning in our children and help them succeed. The members of the State Board of Education must reconsider their position and reject Relay for what it is, a deceptive program that will hurt Connecticut's children, especially those in the state's poorest districts."

Relay rejected in other states

California and Pennsylvania have recently rejected Relay's entry into their states because the program does not prepare or support teachers to face the rigor and standards needed in the teaching profession.

Last week, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing denied Relay's application to operate its alternative teacher preparation program in the state. Relay failed to meet California's initial certification criteria regarding quality standards, which include having prior experience and effectiveness in offering teacher preparation.

In July, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) rejected Relay's program, writing, "Relay has not shown that it will employ adequately-qualified faculty for the education enterprise that will comply with accepted standards for teaching load, and who will be available not only for classroom instruction, but also for student academic advisement and student interaction."

Relay, founded by representatives from three corporate reform supported charter school chains—Achievement First, KIPP, and Uncommon Schools—plans to offer a substandard teacher prep program. Achievement First has already violated Connecticut state statutes by not employing adequate numbers of certified teachers and demonstrated questionable instructional practices that have resulted in unconscionably high levels of kindergarten and elementary student suspensions and expulsions.

"We cannot diminish the profession by decreasing requirements," said Waxenberg. "This is just an easy way for Achievement First to get their non-certified teachers a quick certification. Relay is nothing more than a teaching certification mill and should not be allowed to operate in Connecticut."

Numerous studies have raised questions about the effectiveness and equity of teacher prep shortcut programs like Relay. These studies have found

  • High rates of failure by new teachers
  • High turnover rates within five years for those who survive their first year
  • More inexperienced teachers in high-need districts, where experienced teachers are needed most
  • Minimally qualified teachers with limited or nonexistent mentoring and collaboration
  • Students in classrooms of underprepared teachers perform worse academically than those in classrooms of well-prepared teachers

Support for effective, verified programs

Connecticut already has many proven, successful teacher certification programs at higher education institutions, as well as the alternative route to certification program (ARC). And it has implemented innovative programs to help paraprofessionals become certified teachers.

One such program, Teaching Opportunities for Paraprofessionals (TOP), was well-respected and successful in preparing minority teachers across Connecticut for over 10 years before funding was eliminated in the 2002 state budget. More recently, districts like Bridgeport, Waterbury, and Hartford implemented innovative minority teacher recruitment (MTR) programs funded by the State Department of Education (SDE). In its first two years, Bridgeport's MTR program would have helped 20 paraprofessionals become well-prepared, highly effective new minority teachers in direct response to the district's needs. However, SDE cut funding for the program, abandoning the first five students in the program midstream.

Alternative route to certification programs can help alleviate the teacher shortage and encourage more minority recruitment, but only if they maintain the same high standards, rigor, and content of traditional programs. Without high standards, programs like Relay do more harm than good. These programs do not provide teachers the high-quality preparation they need to excel with students in the classroom, nor do they help recruit, and just as importantly, retain minority teachers where they are needed most.

"These questionable teaching models and connections to the corporate education reform movement threaten to perpetuate inequalities in low-income communities," said Cohen. "They create two separate systems of education, exacerbating the existing achievement gap between our urban and suburban districts."

"It makes no sense to lower standards and ultimately hurt our students. Policymakers must measure the effectiveness of the programs that prepare teachers and not allow substandard programs, like Relay, to undermine Connecticut's high standards," said Waxenberg.

Cohen concluded, "The current teacher preparation system creates the highly skilled, experienced, and dedicated teachers our children deserve. This system has made Connecticut a leader in its commitment to high-quality teacher training and a model for the rest of the country. Allowing Relay into Connecticut will erode our standards and standing as one of the best school systems in the country."

The Connecticut Education Association represents 43,000 teachers in Connecticut.

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