teacher u evolves

A new graduate school of education, Relay, to open next fall

The logo of Teacher U, whose founders will create a stand-alone graduate school of education called Relay.

The founders of Teacher U, the nonprofit organization that developed a novel way of preparing teachers for low-income schools, will create their own graduate school of education, following a vote by the Board of Regents last week.

The new Relay School of Education will be the first stand-alone graduate school of education to open in New York since 1916, when Bank Street College of Education was founded, and the first in memory to prepare teachers while they are serving full-time in classrooms. The new institution will open its doors next fall; current Teacher U students will remain enrolled at their partner school of education, the City University of New York’s Hunter College.

The Regents’ decision inserts a new model for preparing K-12 teachers into New York’s education landscape. Unlike alternative certification programs such as Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows, Relay will not rely on existing colleges to provide its teachers with coursework required for certification; the new graduate school of education will design and deliver all of those courses itself. And Relay will likely take teachers who come into the school system through alternative programs like TFA.

Meanwhile, unlike most traditional schools of education, Relay will make training teachers its sole priority and will make proven student learning gains a requirement of receiving a Master’s degree.

The new school has already generated opposition from several existing schools of education, including from a top official at CUNY. In formal responses to the Teacher U group’s proposal, leaders of existing schools cited concerns about quality and the fact that, as officials at Fordham University put it, a new graduate school of education would be “duplicative in a market with sufficient program offerings,” according to a summary of concerns(PDF) made public by the Regents.

The Board of Regents approved the proposal with a unanimous vote and one abstention last week nevertheless, said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state education department. He added that State Education Commissioner David Steiner, who helped form Teacher U in his last job as dean of the school of education at Hunter College, recused himself from discussions about the application.

During recent visits to Teacher U’s current program, instruction topics ranged from how to tailor reading discussions to the racial and class backgrounds of students to how to write on a white board without covering your face with your writing arm. Much of Teacher U’s curriculum is devoted to passing on lessons learned by teachers at the charter schools that founded Teacher U, such as those collected by Uncommon Schools managing director Doug Lemov in his book Teach Like a Champion.

Teacher U also breaks students into groups arranged by subject matter and grade level to study what Atkins termed “pedagogical content knowledge” — the specific kind of knowledge needed to teach particular academic subjects. The term draws from the traditional academy; Stanford professor Lee Shulman coined it.

The new Relay model is in line with a push by Steiner and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to rethink university-based preparation programs. In 2009, Steiner announced that the state would consider giving alternative preparation programs the authority to certify teachers.

Teacher U CEO Norman Atkins, who will be the president of the new graduate school, said that Relay students will have to prove that their own students have made at least a year’s worth of improvement on standardized assessments in order to graduate. To do this now, Teacher U students use a mix of New York state assessments and, for grade levels and courses that are not tested by the state, select outside assessments to prove their effectiveness, Atkins said.

Response to the Teacher U program and the new graduate school reflects divided views about how to improve teacher education programs — and, in some quarters, about how much change is actually needed. Reaction also reflects contentious opinions about the founders of Teacher U, three charter school networks with impressive student achievement records but which operate outside traditional school districts: KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools.

Locally, the new graduate school’s entrance has already generated resistance from traditional colleges and schools of education, including Teacher U’s current host, CUNY.

“We welcome alternative approaches to teacher preparation,” CUNY’s executive vice chancellor and provost, Alexandra Logue, wrote in a letter to state officials last December. “However, New York City already offers a rich set of alternative approach programs, and so adding another player right now seems unnecessary given what is already a highly crowded field.”

Atkins said the program needed to become independent in order to innovate and achieve financial sustainability. As a certified graduate school, Relay can charge tuition and its students can receive federal student loans; neither is possible as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

The Teacher U team did address one concern before receiving Regents approval. The team had wanted to call its new school the Teacher U Graduate School of Education, but existing education schools complained that the letter “U” might cause the mistaken idea that the school is a university. It will actually be only a graduate school.

The founders — led by Atkins, board chairman Larry Robbins, and KIPP co-founder David Levin — selected Relay School of Education.

“In this race to close the achievement gap, we believe the baton of learning must be passed from master teachers to as many other teachers as possible,” Levin said in a statement. “Relay is designed to ensure that every teacher has the opportunity to be that excellent teacher.”

Steiner played a role in creating the program as dean of Hunter’s education school, and Hunter has continued to adopt some innovations led by Teacher U into its own separate program. One of these is the practice of giving teachers portable video cameras to use to record their teaching — and then have faculty members study the video results and respond with feedback.

CUNY raised concerns about the program nevertheless, urging the Regents to take “extreme caution” in considering the Teacher U group’s application.

“What TUGSE is proposing is essentially a similar educational model as the existing Teacher U/Hunter College partnership program, except that TUGSE would lack the depth of intellectual and other resources that a university brings to a partnership,” Logue wrote in the December letter.

Atkins described his organization’s relationship with CUNY’s Hunter College as solid. “We’ve loved working with Hunter College and continue to feel that Teacher U can continue to do terrific work in partnership with Hunter,” Atkins said. “At the same time, the founders were eager to develop an independent institution of higher education that could push on innovation and become financially sustainable.”

Logue’s letter went on to criticize Teacher U for having “no track record of successful teacher preparation as an independent entity” and for basing its program on “the presumed superiority of charter schools in securing great pupil learning and achievement gains.” But, she wrote, “data on charter school successes are mixed.”

As evidence of Teacher U’s effectiveness, Atkins cited the student achievement reports that Teacher U’s first class at Hunter College compiled in order to graduate. Seven out of 110 teachers did not receive Master’s degrees because they could not show that their students had made at least a year’s worth of academic progress. Of the 103 who graduated, 52 percent demonstrated that their students made at least one-and-a-half years of growth, Atkins said.

Teacher U has received praise at the national level, including from a group that has defended traditional schools of education in the past: the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. James Cibulka, the president of NCATE, submitted a letter to the Regents endorsing the Teacher U team’s application, citing a recent report by NCATE that cited Teacher U as an “exemplar” of needed efforts to “turn teacher education in the United States ‘upside down.'”

A partnership of three local charter school networks — KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First — produced Teacher U three years ago. The groups’ decision to create a teacher training program represented the next step in a learning curve that traces its roots to the founding of Teach For America 20 years ago. Whereas Teach For America, which trained many of the charter schools’ founders, began by offering vague summer training to its corps members, the program has concluded that more support is necessary.

Teach For America teachers are now among the students at Teacher U, which builds in more than 300 hours of classes taught by experienced teachers, many of whom still work full-time in the classroom.

Relay faculty include Levin and both charter and district school educators, such as Julie Jackson, the principal of the North Star Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey, and Jodi Freidman, a teacher at P.S. 63 in Chinatown.

The Relay School of Education intends to prepare teachers to teach in both charter and district schools, Atkins said. While most of the program’s first class of graduates taught in charter schools, 18% taught in New York City public schools.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.