The Denver Public Schools awarded a large contract to “Relay Graduate School of Education” to train principals and other staff in the public schools. This year, 70 Denver administrative personnel attended Relay training.

The first thing you need to know about Relay is that it is not really a “graduate school of education.” It just calls itself one. It has no scholars, no researchers, no Ph.D. holders on its “faculty.” It is an organization created by three “no excuses” charter chains to train teachers for charter schools.

The second thing you need to know is that this ersatz “graduate school” is landing contracts in many place: “In addition to its initial location in New York City, Relay now has campuses in Chicago, Delaware, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Newark, NJ, and Philadelphia and Camden. Whitehead-Bust said a Denver campus is planned in the coming year.”

Read the article. If you think of teachers as professionals, you may find it mind-boggling.

For example:

The philosophy of Relay

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 follow strict routines.

For example, the Relay 2014 curriculum proposed a 13-step process to describe how students should walk inside their schools, including the following:

• “Scholars enter the building and walk down the steps (holding on to the railing) with lips zipped

• Scholars then walk in HALL [Hands by your side; All eyes forward; Lips zipped; Legs walking safely] position to their table and greet the lead teacher

• Scholars sits (sic) down and begin to eat their breakfast with lips zipped

• After eating breakfast the scholar gives the non-verbal signal (hand on top of head) to signal he/she is finished eating and ready for clean up.”

Terms such as “grit,” “no-nonsense nurturing,” “sweat the small stuff,” and “no excuses” are often used to qualify this type of approach…..

The Critics

Although no one can learn in a chaotic, disorderly environment, the approach has its critics. Some educational activists note that a punitive environment and the push for increased test scores diminish students’ love of learning. In the same way, the pressure for teachers to constantly “perform” and outperform themselves strains their enthusiasm for teaching to the point where some leave the profession.

Others push the criticism further, declaring that such an approach endangers the fabric of our democracy, quashing creativity, innovation, critical voices and public engagement.

“Relay is dehumanizing schools,” says Peggy Robertson, teacher and co-founder of United Opt-Out National. “It creates compliance via punitive behavior and teaching models. It places an intense focus on data collection techniques that dumb down learning. It creates an environment void of thinking – for teachers and for students.”

The program recommends that principals or school leaders greet every student in the morning. Although this seems to function as a friendly gesture, it is also a control method to check uniforms, check who is walking according to HALL position, etc.

Such a greeting, repeated day after day, eventually loses its authenticity and becomes robotic.

The two schools of thought have been part of a national conversation that will be repeated in the upcoming DPS school board elections. They are at odds with each other in what seems to be irreconcilable differences between the corporate reform movement of which Relay is an active part, and more grassroots actors who demand that educators be recognized as trained professionals and not under constant fire from administrators.

The latter feel their voices have been eradicated from the larger political conversation about education….

Would Denver classrooms benefits more from smaller class sizes and having more paraprofessionals in each classrooms, especially in the early years when literary is fundamental to future success? How do we find the right balance?

Perhaps we need a test to answer that question!

Lynn Kalinauskas is chair of the education committee for Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.