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.
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.