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Conn. Gives Contested Teacher-Prep Program the Green Light

The Connecticut Board of Education on Wednesday approved a controversial certification program that aims to put more minority teachers into the classroom, reports the Connecticut Post.

The Relay Graduate School of Education, a stand-alone teacher-training program with no university affiliation, was approved for two years by a vote of 9 to 1. Representatives of traditional teacher-prep schools opposed allowing the alternative-route program to operate in the state, according to the Connecticut Post. They feared Relay would churn out teachers who are not prepared to lead their own classrooms.

Relay Graduate School, co-founded by members of three charter-school networks—Achievement First, KIPP, and Uncommon Schools—got its start in New York City in 2011. The fast-track teacher-training program has since popped up in Baton Rouge; La.; Newark, N.J.; New Orleans, Chicago, and other cities throughout the United States. Whereas traditional graduate schools of education have been criticized for teaching theory divorced from practice, Relay stresses hands-on, practical teacher training.

Associate professor Lauren Anderson, the chairwoman of Connecticut College's education department, has been a vocal opponent of Relay and has written several opinion pieces criticizing the program, arguing that it lowers the bar for teacher prep programs in the state and sells kids in the poorest districts short by providing them with teachers who are not as well-trained as those working in the most affluent areas.

Anderson lists a string of objections to Relay on the opinion site CT Viewpoints: "Its 'campus' address is a P.O. Box; its offices are co-located in a partner charter school; its faculty [members] are unnamed and not required to hold degrees comparable to teacher educators elsewhere; and its nationwide curriculum has been critiqued for emphasizing methods that are reductive and control-oriented, rather than research-based and conducive to critical thinking."

The dean of Relay in Connecticut, Rebecca Good, said the program has no intention of sending unprepared teachers into schools, according to the Connecticut Post.

"We are looking to be part of the solution," she said, and stressed that, of the program's 66 candidates, 52 are teachers of color.

Others, such as state Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell, argued that Relay will help working people, including those already employed as teacher aides, who don't have the time and money to attend a traditional education school to gain certification. Relay's program can be completed in a year and offers certification in elementary education, English/language arts, math, and science.

The state is interested in increasing the diversity of its teacher workforce and hopes Relay can help. Of about 150,000 teachers in the state, only about 8 percent are African American or Hispanic, according to Wentzell.  

Relay submitted an initial proposal to the board of education to operate in the state in February 2016, and after receiving feedback, made several program revisions before the board recommended approval. One area of concern for the board: too much focus on test data and not enough on classroom-based assessments. 

Connecticut already has three alternative routes to teacher certification, according to the Connecticut Post, two run by state entities and one by Teach for America.

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