Recently, Seattle Schools Community Forum published a guest post about the Summit Atlas Public Forum that was held on September 29th. The Summit charter school chain set up in Seattle last year and there is one to open in West Seattle in 2017 even though there is a second charter school lawsuit pending in the courts as of this writing. I found three details about Summit’s new principal, Kathryn Bubalo, very troubling. First, she is a Teach for America graduate and she worked as a teacher at a New Orleans charter school. Thirdly, Ms. Bubalo is a product of the Relay Graduate School. Relay Graduate School, to me, is a red flag, so I wanted to share with our readers Peggy Robertson’s experience with this organization. -Carolyn Leith
This blog post, and many future blog posts, are going to be focused on the Relay Graduate School indoctrination occurring in my school and many schools across the country this year, due to the Relay principal academy which occurred this past summer. Colorado folks should also know that Relay intends to set up a permanent campus here in Denver. Relay Graduate School was created to support the needs of charter schools, specifically KIPP, Uncommon and Achievement First. Many of the individuals who work with Relay also publish books that detail scripted ways of teaching, disciplining and leading. If you start researching the leaders of Relay Graduate School you will see that they are ripe with all sorts of training and experience that ultimately does not equate to true experience within the field of education. And one cannot equate charter school experience (like KIPP for example) as teaching experience.
I’d call it school to prison pipeline training.
At the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE), teacher education that balances research, theory and practice has been replaced by ‘filling the pail’ training. Designed to serve the needs of three charter school chains — KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools— RGSE has no university affiliation, yet awards masters degrees in New York State.
In order to enroll in their program, one must teach, uncertified, in an affiliated school. Traditional public school teachers need not apply. Degrees are earned by online video and reading modules, attending discussion groups and by the uncertified teacher’s students’ test scores. If the test scores are not up to snuff, the teacher does not earn her degree. There are no classes in educational theory or history, nor any indication that the candidate must complete a masters thesis requiring research and reflection. It is cookie-cutter training grounded in one vision of instruction — the charter school vision. Each candidate’s pail is filled with the same techniques.
Doug Lemov, a Relay “teacher”, and the author of Teach Like a Champion, has a doctorate in business from Harvard and two degrees in English. As far as I can tell from digging through articles and bios on Mr. Lemov, he has four years teaching experience. Three of those years were in a private school in New Jersey where he taught English grades 9 -12, in addition to being a counselor of admissions. He taught one year of intro. to composition at Indiana University. He’s ultimately never taught in a public school, but he has plenty of experience leading and shaping charter schools.
If you are familiar with this blog, you will know that I spend a great portion of my time discussing opting out of high stakes testing and various facets of how to tear down corporate education reform. Tearing down these faux graduate schools will be a new venture for me and one that I must pursue simply for selfish reasons – it is inside of my school, infesting our democratic inquiry-based school with all sorts of propaganda – and sadly, we are just beginning. We are in year one of a three year grant.
You probably are wondering – how did this happen? My school is in “turnaround” status. We have a very diverse population of students within a high poverty community. At last count we had approximately 40 languages represented in our school and approximately 75% of our students on free and reduced lunch. Our state passed legislation to create a school “turnaround” leaders program. My school is one of the unlucky recipients of this program. Our Colorado Department of Education then picked so-called graduate school programs to assist in “training” school leaders/principals, within this program. Relay was picked as one of the providers. As you keep digging and researching you’ll discover all sorts of ugliness to be found in terms of money wasted on Relay in lieu of more resources and small class size for our urban diverse districts. There’s been several articles written on Relay in terms of the training – see here and here . I also recommend checking out this blog titled School Finance 101. JerseyJazzman has a great takedown of North Star, a charter school that Relay uses as a “model” for all schools to follow.
The following was my first attempt to explain what I’m experiencing at our beautiful elementary school where we have worked incredibly hard for the last few years to represent the culture and beliefs of an inquiry-based democratic school and community.
I wrote on FB:
Okay – so now that I’m getting indoctrinated with charter school rhetoric (even though I’m not IN a charter school) I am utterly in awe of how absolutely mind-numbing and surface level thinking absolutely everything is – from the discipline to instruction to data collecting to greeting students. Seriously. These folks lack any understandings of child development, instruction or an understanding of how to relate to children and build relationships, not only with children, but adults. They prefer barking orders and demanding compliance to scripts. Everybody gets a script – whether you are the coach, the teacher, the principal or the student. Orders barked and children parrot back all sorts of stupid crap. No thinking. Stupid posters everywhere that demand compliance about something. And stupid phrases folks are suppose to say to demand compliance – and they seriously request that the less words you say (as you bark orders) the better. Pretty much it’s all about raising test scores and learning nothing about anything. All about a “controlled” environment. And “aggressive” monitoring. No learning. For anybody. And definitely no learning about one’s self as a learner and future literate problem-solving citizen. It’s a combination of prison environment and some bizarro robotic world with a definite connection to the Native American boarding schools. It’s clear who will maintain the privilege here as they cash in on urban diverse schools such as mine. There’s definitely nothing about being human and caring about humans within a lovely community. That’s out the window. Kinda hard to stomach in a school that is striving to be a democratic inquiry-based school. I’d say it’s really like a serious punch in the gut. The more I read from the Relay Graduate School script the more I can’t fathom that there is any educator out there that would tolerate this bullshit. The fact that there is – and the fact that school districts and CO dept of ed HIRE these non-educators to “support” (I mean beat down until you comply) their schools – signals to me a clear step towards the end of the teaching profession as I know it and knew it. How anyone could believe that there is anything in this scripted process that is actually about meeting the needs of children I’ll never know. How to get it out and shut it down? That is the question.
So, I’ve spent this three day weekend researching Relay – researching their beliefs, their dog training, and the folks who are behind this – not only at Relay but here in Colorado – where certain legislators passed this bill and our Colorado Dept. of Ed. brought in Relay to provide these services.
My head has been spinning since the launch of our staff development where we received a quick outline of the fun headed our way via Relay. It’s hard to talk about what goes on in your school without revealing personal details – and I wish no harm to come to anyone in my school, but I do feel a responsibility to share what’s happening, as everyone across the country should do, in an effort to protect children, save our profession, and our public schools. The silence is what is killing us.
Which is why I wrote this on FB:
As education activists, it is our job to expose the evils of corporate education – but specifically we must expose the nuanced ways in which non-educators and testing are destroying our public schools and ultimately the lives of children. These fascist methods for forcing us into compliance to scripts which demand obedience to the test are becoming increasingly present in our urban diverse schools. The strangle hold is becoming greater by the day as schools in turnaround face the looming devastation which will occur as PARCC, or whatever test you must take, reaches its ultimate goal of shutting down public schools and creating great profit for corporations. In the final stages of this process it appears that many across the country are turning to those who embody everything we oppose – in a desperate attempt to keep a school from being shut down due to test scores. It’s a rather sickening process to watch. A bit of the Stockholm Syndrome twisted up with some strange process in which educators either fight back, or become one of them. It’s so important that educators do their research as these folks infiltrate their schools. Be prepared and know what’s coming. I’m devouring everything I can find on Relay Graduate School and their buddies at KIPP, etc. What scares me is that there is not a lot out there exposing Relay for what it is – which means, some are joining and becoming one of them. I will expose this nightmare every step of the way this year. We must take them down.
I want to dig a bit further into this idea of nuanced ways in which non-educators and their propaganda can infiltrate a public school. And please remember, one doesn’t have to be in a chain charter school to be the recipient of these militant practices – it could happen to anyone. I can assure you, never in a million years did I think they would make their way into my school, and now – here I am.
I am in a public school built on the ideas of community, inquiry, democracy, and love and respect for children. Yet, when I walked into school this year the language had changed. Language shapes a reality. And when the language no longer matches what you see with your eyes, it is unsettling and creates fear and instability. Our reality shifts as the language shifts. I’m thinking democracy yet I’m hearing achievement and college career ready. I’m thinking community yet I’m hearing 100% compliance. And then, you begin to see it visually – the signage, the weekly staff bulletins, the “professional development” books. You begin to see it emotionally in the faces of those around you – the denial, the sadness, the anger and the appearance of “acting” because it’s not really who we are. Every time one of those words – corporate words – militant words – fills the air – it’s like a stab in the heart of our school.
Please understand that those at my school are not caving to this nightmare…..but regardless, its presence takes its toll.
Words/phrases like: infraction, acronyms for rules (H.A.L.L., S.H.I.N.E., F.L.U.S.H.), bite-size targets, controlled atmosphere, unpacking standards, accelerate achievement, proficiency – these words – begin to become common place. We are encouraged to use economy of language – the less words the better when asking children to follow directions ( this is directly from one of the many Relay scripts).
Relay has scripts for everything. They have videos to show you second by second how to maneuver within these regimented practices. Within this system, the key to high test scores is compliance. When teachers are dealing with children who are traumatized, children who lack food and healthcare, children who are attempting to learn a second language, children who have no books in the home – when we are attempting to do all of this in a class size of, let’s say, 28 – the only way to keep a focus on the mind-numbing test skills (which is Relay’s goal) is to demand compliance while ignoring the realities in our classrooms. Google “Uncommon Schools:” on YouTube to see the very regimented practices that they demand of their teachers and their students. Here is an example:
These (practices in video above) are not in my school – but it does show you how far the compliance will go if folks buy into this militant training. One person who watched the video on Facebook said….Hitler Youth???
What scares me about Relay Graduate School and their propaganda is that folks are willing to sift through all of it to find the good. I’ve been watching this happen for several years now. A perfect example is the book by Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion. As stated earlier, Lemov is not an experienced teacher. He’s really a charter school king who is raking in the money by preying on urban diverse children. Yet, folks will look at Lemov’s book and find something good in it that they can use. I’ve literally heard folks say, “But there’s a few good things in that book!” Folks will also go to Relay training, or sift through Uncommon School videos and find something good. This is how the conditioning to comply begins. This is how little things – like a poster that says H.A.L.L. begins to create an atmosphere void of democracy and thinking human beings. It may seem perfectly innocent at first – but it’s not. Folks might say, structure is good! Remember this – structure and compliance are two very different things. I can create a safe structure/environment with my students that allows us time to think, talk, move, share, and work quietly as well as loudly!!! I can have a conversation with children before we walk into the hallway to help remind all of us (including myself) to talk quietly so we do not disturb the other classes. There is nothing democratic about compliance, which is what Relay Graduate School scripts demand. Finding a few good things in something that folks compare to Hitler’s Youth or Native American boarding schools – in terms of the big picture – is honestly, terrifying.
Ultimately, these practices are racist, classist and serve one purpose – protecting the privilege of a few while cashing in on our neediest children. These practices strip children of their culture, their ability to think, and they fuel the school to prison pipeline. Schools like North Star, which Relay uses as an exemplar, have only 50% of their children from the fifth grade class still attending in the 12th grade. They also serve far fewer children of poverty and/or those with disabilities. Check out their attrition rates here and that will tell you everything you need to know.
Another thought to consider – as Opt Out moves forward this year, schools like Relay will fall by the wayside if Opt Out indeed wins. Without a focus on test scores Relay has nothing – there would be no reason to demand such severe compliance of principals, teachers, and children, if indeed there was no need to bow down to high stakes testing. Schools in turnaround, such as mine, could return their focus to community building, student and teacher inquiry, democratic thinking, all in an effort to make the world a better place – a place where children walk down the school hallway talking and smiling. A place where children can share their thinking without being required to sit in their chair with hands folded – do you sit with your hands folded when in a meeting? A place where names like “Relay” for a “school” wouldn’t even exist – because in a relay there are winners and losers. We know how this is going to end if we keep playing this game – we will lose – we must stop playing. Stop giving the corporations, the faux educators and the pretend graduate schools what they want – we must quit giving them our children. Our children deserve it all – yet, we continue to sacrifice them to the corporations and those who dictate the corporate agenda. As educators, we cannot be silent as they experiment on our neediest children – we cannot be silent as they inflict practices on children which are meant to beat them down until they comply. To be silent – well, it’s simply a crime against humanity.
For more on Relay, see this post on Diane Ravitch’s blog: