Letter to State Board of Education (public comment): Relay teacher training program – November 2, 2016

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Dear members of the State Board of Education,

Thank you for your service and the chance speak to this morning. My name is Robert Cotto, Jr. and I am a certified teacher in Connecticut, educational researcher, and resident of the City of Hartford. Based on the evidence and my experience, I have deep concerns about the Relay program proposal. I come today to ask that you reject the Relay proposal and explore new and existing alternatives to diversifying the teacher force.

Relay is an inferior teacher training program compared to existing university-based and alternative teacher certification programs. As a certified teacher, I can remember the hours of fieldwork, lesson planning, student-teaching, and reflection with mentor teachers and university professors that had decades of K-12 experience. This experience in MA allowed me to earn my CT teacher certification. 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. By comparison, imagine that another white entrepreneur offered Black and Latinx communities similarly trained novices for performing surgery in hospitals or practicing law in courthouses. The program would be called exactly what is: racial discrimination.

By delivering an inferior program, Relay exploits the hopes of prospective Black and Latinx educators. Despite the lack of program approval, the State Department of Education reports that Relay recruited 70 students for its program, 50 of whom are self-identified as people of color. These people are eager to enter the teacher profession and should be commended. Relay exploits that desire by 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 in Connecticut. Instead, the Relay teachers and their students will be left to pay the debt for this ill-planned venture. This approach simply exacerbates the national and local trend of healthy numbers of Black and Latinx teachers entering, but quickly exiting the profession because of poor working conditions and compensation, and other forms of discrimination.

There are alternatives that the State could consider for diversifying the teaching force. The State could restore and expand its Alternative Route to Certification and Minority Teacher Incentive Programs. The latter offers grants to prospective teachers of color already in Connecticut teacher education programs. However, the Governor and Legislature cut these grants by about $50,000 and $80,000 this year respectively. The State Board could also use its authority to encourage efforts to diversify students and faculty in the existing teacher education pipeline and to ensure that approved programs respond and adapt to the needs of our diversifying K-12 student body. Finally, whatever intervention this Board takes, it must do so with actual evidence of the issues, concerns, and needs of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American educators and students rather than with the clever marketing and weak evidence provided by the charter school industry. Connecticut can and must do better for teachers of color. Please reject Relay.

Thank you,

Robert Cotto, Jr., Ed.M., M.A.

Member, Hartford Board of Education

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Robert Cotto Jr.

Robert Cotto, Jr. is currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department. Before his work at Trinity, he was a Senior Policy Fellow in K-12 Education for CT Voices for Children where he published reports on Connecticut’s testing system, public school choice, and K-12 education data and policy. He taught for seven years as a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Learning Center for Global and International Studies (MLC), an interdistrict magnet school intended to provide a high-quality education and promote racial, ethnic, and economic integration. Born and raised in Connecticut, Mr. Cotto was the first in his family to go to college and he earned his B.A. degree in sociology at Dartmouth College, his Ed.M. at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and an M.A. in American Studies at Trinity College. He is serving his second term on the Hartford Board of Education and in the past has served as Secretary and Policy Committee Chair. Since returning back home to CT from college, Robert has lived in the Frog Hollow neighborhood and he recently moved to the Forster Heights area of the Southwest neighborhood.

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