The RI Department of Education will be holding a Public Hearing on the request for expansion by Achievement First tonight, November 9, 2016 at 5:00 at the Providence Public Library Auditorium, 150 Empire Street, Providence, RI 02903. These are the comments I emailed to RIDE on this matter. I plan to go to the hearing and summarize these comments tonight.
My name is Sheila Resseger. I retired in 2011 from a career as a teacher at the RI School for the Deaf. I also worked as a sign language interpreter at CCRI for a number of years. I am speaking against the expansion of Achievement First. My main concern is that all of the public school students of Providence and throughout RI deserve fully-resourced schools, with small class sizes, with full teaching staffs of thoroughly prepared teachers, full support staffs including nurses, social workers, counselors, and librarians, safe/clean/welcoming buildings, and a range of course offerings including art, music, drama, and phys ed. The majority of these children will be short-changed if money is siphoned off to additional charter school classrooms. Beyond that, I am concerned about the quality of the teaching and curricula at Achievement First, which is overly focused on accountability via test scores.
I have found out that Achievement First is advertising for the position of Teacher-in-Residence. This is essentially an on-the-job training position, which does not provide the background knowledge that novice teachers who graduated from an accredited teacher preparation program will have had the benefit of. Achievement First is one of three charter chains that partners with the Relay Graduate School of Education. This title is misleading. A number of scholars have suggested that it is not a graduate school at all.
When discussing the Relay Graduate School of Education, “Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University sums it up like this:
“It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… 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.
“Pennsylvania and California made worthy decisions in rejecting the Relay Graduate School of Education.”
Unfortunately the CT State Board of Education very recently voted to accept the RGSE despite testimony from many knowledgeable and experienced professionals who warned against it.
For example, here is testimony from Robert Cotto, Jr., currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department, as provided to the State Board of Education in CT on November 2, 2016.
“Relay deviates wildly from the structure and guidance required of other programs in CT that educate and certify new teachers. Created by the charter school industry and venture capitalists, Relay places its students into classrooms before extensive preparation, provides online modules in place of coursework, and assigns a teacher partner to supplement this “on-the-job” training. Relay calls this inferior preparation “a graduate school” and says it is for the good of Black and Latino students. As Ken Zeichner and other scholars have noted, there is no rigorous evidence to suggest this approach as an improvement or innovation to teacher and public education. …
Relay is “selling a subpar training program as a “graduate school” despite lacking real professors, courses, accreditation, or even State approval as a school or program. The combination of limited training and placement into primarily charter schools with high teacher turnover nearly assures that Relay students will leave the teaching profession quickly. When this happens, Relay will not hold any responsibility since they are not accountable in the same ways as other teacher education programs”
Here is additional testimony from Ann Policelli Cronin at the same Hearing:
“I have been recognized as Connecticut’s Distinguished English Teacher of the Year. I have been a district level administrator responsible for English education for 23 years and in that role have supervised and evaluated hundreds of teachers and both created and implemented innovative, state-of-the-art programs, which have won national awards for excellence. I have taught graduate level teacher education courses for 10 years. And, most recently, I have been a consultant in inner city schools identified as “failing schools”. I also recently was an advisor to a Connecticut university seeking accreditation for its teacher preparation program.
“Therefore, I know what good teaching is. I know how to prepare prospective teachers to be good teachers and how to help in-service teachers to grow and develop. And I know what kind of accreditation is necessary for a teacher preparation program.
“Based on that deep and broad experience as an educator, I can tell you that the Relay Graduate School of Education is a totally inadequate teacher education program.
“It offers its students the mentoring of “amazing teachers” instead of academic course work. In fact, the spokespersons for Relay shun the academic work of established teacher preparation programs. I have been and, in fact, still am one of those “amazing teachers”. I have mentored teachers and taught them my skills. There are teachers around the state who could tell you how they benefited from that mentoring. But mentoring is absolutely, definitely not enough. …
“Prospective English teachers need to know how cognition and intellectual engagement develop in children and adolescents because it is that understanding that dictates curriculum. They need to know the research from the past 45 years regarding the teaching of writing because, without that knowledge, they will not be able to teach their students to become effective writers. They need to know literary theory because it is that theory that dictates all pedagogy for the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature. They need to know the grammar and conventions of our language and what research says about effective ways to teach that grammar and those conventions to students. They need to know the research about learning being a social endeavor and know how to create the kind of classroom that incorporates that research, the kind of classroom that is a true community of readers, writers, and thinkers. For all of that, a teacher education program requires academic course work. Mentoring is not enough.”
I urge you to reject Achievement First’s request to expand, and to be vigilant in not allowing the Relay Graduate School of Education to get a foothold in RI.
Sheila Resseger, M.A.
Retired teacher, RI School for the Deaf