Look out Rutgers and Seton Hall–Cami’s “Relay-GSE” is out to eat your lunch

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Anderson--a little help for her friends
Anderson–a little help for her friends

New Jersey universities and colleges that offer graduate education programs are the next targets of what Gov. Chris Christie and Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson call educational “reform.” But what they are doing to block Newark teachers from earning credits at these traditional institutions looks–and smells–like insiders using their power to help old friends make money in the good old Christie ExxonMobil sort of way.

According to the  Newark Teachers Union (NTU), Anderson–at least for the moment– is insisting that stipends to teachers for taking graduate education programs be limited to those attending courses at an institution known as Relay-GSE, a free-standing operation with roots in Teach for America and the KIPP schools. Relay-GSE announced Anderson’s “approval” of the school in a press release March 3.

Anderson was, of course, an executive with Teach for America–and the KIPP charter people who operate TEAM Academy charter schools  are such good friends with Anderson that she sold them a public school at a discount.

Not too many people in the Newark schools have ever heard of  Relay-GSE (the GSE stands for graduate school of education although it’s not so much a school as a, well, adjunct to privatized “reform”), but Cami Anderson has been sending some of her favored administrators there for years–for example, Wayne Dennis, the principal she fired at Barringer, had to sit through Relay GSE courses in New York, apparently paid for by the taxpayer.

It is headquartered–and accredited and licensed–in New York. It is not listed in  New Jersey’s official list of colleges and universities offering teacher education programs but, of course, any student can attend an out-of-state school. In any event, Relay-GSE now lists a Newark branch  at 10 Washington Place which just happens to be the location of North Star Academy and the Newark Charter School Fund.

Cozy.

This is how the Newark campus of Relay-GSE describes itself:

“Relay Newark is the graduate school for teachers who want to close opportunity gaps and fight for social justice. By combining in-person practice, performance-based assessments and rich online learning, we help teachers become more effective for their students in some of New Jersey’s most challenging urban areas.”

This suggests that any teacher who would rather take graduate education courses at Rutgers, Seton Hall, Montclair State, Kean, or any of the other established schools of education is not a fighter “for social justice” and therefore does not deserve to be subsidized.

Whether Anderson can grant a monopoly to Relay-GSE for providing subsidized graduate education to Newark teachers isn’t known, but the NTU clearly is trying to stop her from trying. In a letter to presidents of institutions with graduate education courses, John Abeigon, the NTU’s chief organizer, warned college presidents that Anderson had made a decision “that will affect your future budgets and perhaps our profession.”

He then describes a provision in the agreement the NTU reached with Anderson in 2012. Both Christie and Anderson repeatedly refer to the agreement as “groundbreaking” because, well, it wasn’t very good for the union. In my conversation with AFT President Randi Weingarten at the time–I was still with the Star-Ledger–she said the union had to agree to these and other provisions because “times had changed.”

To be fair to Weingarten and local union leaders, this happened at a time when most people believed Anderson was rational. Opinions have changed, especially since her introduction of the “One Newark” plan, and now it appears the 2012 contract was simply part of her and Christie’s extended plan to bust the union and destroy neighborhood public education.

One of the provisions did away with the traditional way of rewarding teachers for taking graduate programs. Abeigon  says he still believes the provision could, as he wrote in the letter to university presidents “professionalize the acquiring of post-graduate salary advancement through approved programs.”

The clause said teachers could earn an additional $20,000 through the “completion of a district-approved program (e.g., a Master’s degree or other program) aligned to district priorities and Common Core Standards.”

The agreement required the creation of a “consultative committee” made up of representatives of NTU and the City Association of School Administrators (CASA) and an equal number of Anderson’s representatives.

The committee, however, has never met and, last week, Anderson decided she would choose the programs she wants teachers to take.  Abeigon wrote: “On March 3, 2015, the Newark Public Schools informed us that Superintendent Anderson has unilaterally selected Relay-G.S.E. as the sole provider from which candidates can receive their advancement credits and consideration.” That’s the same date as the Relay-GSE press release.

Abeigon reminded the university presidents that many Newark teachers attended New Jersey’s traditional colleges and universities. He urged the higher education leaders to “take whatever actions available to you to assist us in reversing this decision.”

The NTU already has brought a grievance about the failure to abide by the agreement to arbitration. Abeigon said the union would take further “appropriate” steps.

Of course, the deck is stacked against the union and the city’s teachers–as it has been since Christie and former Mayor Cory Booker decided to make Newark a national model for their version of “reform”–eliminating neighborhood public schools in favor of charters like KIPP and Northstar–and bring in Booker’s former political operative (Anderson) as superintendent. The state education department is unlikely intervene–and neither is the useless and toothless higher education office in state government.

While some education deans and faculty members might speak out, college and university presidents are morbidly afraid of Christie–just consider the Rutgers University administration’s sellout of its own trustee board.

So the deal is probably done, but people should know just who Relay-GSE is. It was begun as a training program for three New York charter school networks–KIPP, Acheivement First, and Uncommon Schools–the parent company of North Star. Its “president” is Norman Atkins, a founder of Uncommon Schools. It gets financing from Teach for America.

The “dean” of the Newark “campus” of Relay-GSE is James Verilli, a founder of Northstar.

For witty reviews of just how Relay-GSE operates, see Bruce Baker’s blog (here, too). Baker is a real educational researcher employed by a real university, Rutgers. He and others have noted that a major thrust of Relay-GSE education is to measure its own student performance by their students’ test score performance.

Tests, tests, tests, tests–replacing education with data, all to the profit of the friends of Anderson and Christie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 comments

  1. Tom Bishop

    Why is it necessary to be “fair” to Randi Weingarten? At the same time as she was covering for Cami Anderson for Relay-GSE with “times have changed” she was pushing through a teacher contract in Newark which included merit pay based on “teacher performance”. “Times have changed” is the rhetoric of corporate education reformers.

    Bob Braun: I can’t argue with you. The sense I got from her and other union leaders back in 2012 was that there was no way the membership was ready to strike. It’s the same sense I get now. The few times when I’ve urged militance, I am roundly reminded that it’s not my livelihood on the line. I can’t argue with that either. The only actions that will unseat Cami and, maybe, even Christie are a strike combined with a parental boycott and a student walkout. It would take an extraordinary amount of organizing to get this done and I don’t see the resources here.

  2. Urban Teacher

    I would not give a free pass to Randi Weingarten. She has been on board with the reformers from day one. The AFT has accepted donations from Bill Gates. The “union” contributed money to build housing for TFA in Newark. The AFT worked to ram the “historic” contract down the throats of Newark teachers. I personally received two phone calls from the national AFT office. By the way, Weingarten is aiding and abetting the Cuomo agenda against the “public school monopoly” in New York State.

    Bob Braun: Truly disturbing.

  3. Al Sharif Muwwakkil

    Thank you Bob Braun for bringing this article to our communities attention everywhere. Seems so similar to Halliburton, Dark Alliance, and right here at home Bridge Gate. There are some who mix some truths with a whole bunch of lies to persuade others to follow them to their detriment. I adore excellent journalism that doesn’t seek to divide but rid society of divisive agendas. Thank you again, hopefully everyone hasn’t been lured to sleep from the over exhaustive fight with day to day nuances that they will start to understand pulling a lever is not enough.

  4. Janet Mandel

    I have a friend whose daughter, a TFA teacher in Newark must take Relay courses. She tells me they are all about classroom management and student control and of course test prep; nothing about curriculum, child development, children’s literature, or the like. Also, I can’t seem to find the video on the Relay web site that so startled and then enraged me when I first saw it. It was a tutorial on how to manage a KINDERGARTEN class. It looked like a Nazi youth training camp video. Perhaps they decided to take it down.

  5. Eddy

    Relay has been escorted into TN and has been “proposed” (done deal) to actually reside on the University of Memphis campus – a state-run university with its own College of Education and undergraduate and graduate teacher prep programs. Relay GSE will thus compete directly with the University’s existing programs. This was all set up via the new president, who was escorted in via well-connected political and monied interests, and given the red carpet by our Governor.
    This has the stench and grubby mitt-prints of ALEC all over it… disgusting. I hope they lose in NJ, and elsewhere, but it seems that the writing is rubber-stamped on the wall.

    • Linda

      Sounds like Ohio’s Inter University Council (IUC), made up of public university presidents. Inside Higher Ed. reported that the organization was behind the union busting language that retitled professors as managers, so that they would be denied collective bargaining rights.
      No surprise, the right-to work bill sounded a lot like an ALEC model.
      The self-serving top managers at public universities have no sense of obligation to schools, funded for the poor and middleclass, so that they could gain the reward for their labor, by improving their economic opportunity, through education. Public university, Wright State, is at the “Director Level” of giving to the Dayton area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s legislative agenda, includes right-to-work legislation. Fortunately, there is journalist, Laura Bischoff, who publishes information about the egregious spending of Ohio public universities, on things other than education.

  6. Masters since 2012

    Utterly outrageous. Our NTU contract MOU stipulated that we could earn add’l pay for our masters thru an approved program. Because of Cami dragging her feet, there are quite a few of NPS teachers that decided to go thru higher learning institutions that have been aligned with NPS for years i.e. Seton Hall, Montclair etc. We expected, and we will continue to demand what the current administration agreed to, higher pay for higher learning. Those of us who earned it and are still waiting for it are furious. Do we really want to allow NPS to place us in this pigeon hole? Cami, pay us what we are due (don’t be a Christie) AND approve institutions that have served faithfully the people and students of Newark for many years of service. Enough is enough!!!

  7. Mark Collins

    Sad when the unions become collaborators. We’ve seen this inhistory before and the results aren’t pretty.

    Bob Braun: You’re right, but my conversations with union leaders–and not just NTU and NJEA–is that they fear to be too out in front of a membership that is not ready to take the sort of actions necessary to be a force for change. It is not the 1960s.

  8. Rev. Tony Johnson

    In his book, Losing Our Way, Bob Herbert is highly critical of the so-called educational reform movement and the de-funding of public education. Education is just one of the areas in which he says that we, as a nation, have lost our way. He also states that the political system is thoroughly owned by those funding the reactionary agenda that the only way to go is direct action. This weekend was one of celebration of the success of direct action in Selma fifty years ago. In my congregational blog last week, I wrote about how we need much more forceful direction than when are already engaged in. Here in Pinellas County, FL we are using time-tested community organizing tactics to address issues in the schools and the funneling of children into the judicial system. But both here and back home in New Jersey, we need to be prepared for more intense and — yes — riskier direct action. I am proud of and admire the high school students who took over Cami’s office. In Selma, prior to the big march, many of the actions/demonstrations were by public school students.

    The blog is at http://uucblog.org/category/ministries/our-minsiter/.

    (And I know there’s a typo in a date. Neither the editor nor I caught it before it went live. )

  9. Sarah Harnick

    So, the superintendent of the NPS has decided that the *only* approved post-bachelors/masters program for which the district will reimburse its teachers is one not licensed by the state of NJ? How cynical can they be? It’s a worthless degree. Faculty might as well get a doctorate from a diploma mill.

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  15. joan grim

    Relay is fully supported by the Obama WH & Duncan’s DoEd. Here’s their press release w/ a shoutout to Relay. They allocated federal $ grants to states that focus on “outputs” intended to “strengthen” our failed & failing teacher “prep” programs. Could the wording be any more Owrwellian?
    https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/25/fact-sheet-taking-action-improve-teacher-preparation
    Obama’s tragic legacy will be his planned, systematic dismantling of the US’s Pre-K through higher ed public education system.

  16. Linda

    A newly formed organization, UnKochmyCampus.org, will, with hope, stop the current 250 universities (Greenpeace, Koch Pollution on Campus), from taking money to further plutocratic agendas.

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