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Relay Seeking Approval For Colorado Master’s Program

Concerns Emerge Over Lack Of Demonstrated Success

In August, we reported on the National Principals Academy Fellowship run by the Relay Graduate School of Education (GSE). This program recruited Denver Public Schools principals and other administrators who attended a two-week intensive workshop in the summer to be followed by four weekend sessions in New York.

DPS has invested considerably in this program, sending 169 staff members and spending close to $2 million in tuition fees in addition to travel expenses to New York City. DPS expects to send 75 more administrators to the program next year.

The educational philosophy behind the program is that with increased and purposeful observation and practice in certain teaching and management techniques, teachers and principals can help their students focus, learn better, and subsequently perform better on tests. The data, as measured by test scores, are then analyzed to determine a student’s, a teacher’s and a school’s success.

The program promotes tightly controlled school environments where students compliantly follow established routines.

This summer, Relay GSE applied to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) for approval to grant master’s degrees in Colorado. The application included a letter of support from DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Students in the program would be required to be full-time teachers in K-12 schools. The program would be split with in-class modules (60 percent) and online instruction/work (40 percent).

Denver, as does most of the country, faces critical teacher attrition and shortages. As reported by the online education news site Chalkbeat in February, “More than 20 percent of all DPS teachers left their positions between 2012 and 2013, according to state data. And according to district information, half of all teachers leave the district within three years.”

The new program has the potential to help alleviate the problem. It is aimed at new teachers who continue to work in schools while doing graduate work.

As part of the application process, consultants evaluated the Relay proposal. Their reports raise serious questions regarding Relay’s program. The final recommendation noted the following:

• “[Relay’s program] relies heavily on part-time, temporary faculty members and a small cadre of full-time administrators, both who often do not have degrees beyond the master’s level nor extensive teaching experience.”

• “The proposed M.A.T. degree emphasizes classroom management and discipline. While appropriate classroom management and discipline are critical in teacher effectiveness, we have a significant concern about them being the focus of a graduate-level degree program.”

• “This narrow training on how to apply particular techniques has its limitations and does not appear balanced by a broader education in critical analysis and application of concepts and philosophies learned independently to solve complex problems in a variety of situations.”

• “Relay GSE has responded to several of our concerns, but many of their responses are only marginally acceptable and others are entirely unacceptable.”

• “We are significantly concerned that Relay GSE provided no evidence of objective, external quantitative measures indicating Relay GSE has successfully achieved its goals of “demonstrably effective teachers” and student “annual achievement gains.””

Significant questions were also raised throughout the process about Relay’s library support.

The evaluating team could not fully support the proposal, stating, “[we] are uncomfortable recommending unqualified and full approval […].

In an interview with Greater Park Hill News, Robert Mitchell, Academic Policy Officer for Educator Preparation at the Colorado Department of Higher Education, confirmed that Relay GSE met the statutory requirements to become an authorized institute in Colorado.

At this stage, Mitchell noted, Relay can conduct classes and academic programs in Colorado. “They cannot, however, offer degrees leading to teacher or principal licensure unless they follow the next two steps (per Colorado Revised Statute).”

Mitchell explained, “As Relay is interested in offering programs that lead to educational licensure, they are required by Colorado State Statute to seek approval from the Colorado Department of Education and their administering board, the Colorado State Board of Education. This process will be initiated at CDE as they examine various academic and content-specific aspects of the proposed program(s) that lead to licensure. If approved by the Colorado State Board of Education, the proposed program again comes back to the Department of Higher Education for final review and potential approval.”

Given Boasberg’s letter of support and DPS’ substantial investment in both human capital and taxpayer dollars in Relay’s principal leadership program, a question begs to be asked: will DPS sponsor its teachers to attend the newly rooted Relay in Colorado? If so, given the consultants’ review of the program, is this a sound investment?

Lynn Kalinauskas is the Education Chair for Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Her August piece on Relay can be read online at greaterparkhil.org. The consultants’ final recommendation on Relay GSE can be read in full here: http://highered.colorado.gov/CCHE/Meetings/2015/sep/sep15_iiic_attachF.pdf


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