Kate Peterson has put together a look at the folks behind the Relay Graduate School of Education. If you're anywhere that these folks are sinking their claws into education, you'll want to read her full policy brief at the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools website.
Relay GSE started out as Teacher U, a program begun by David Levin (co-founder of KIPP) and Norman Atkins (co-founder Uncommon Schools) in order to supply their charters with "high-quality" teachers. Or high quality "teachers." They brought in Dacia Toll (founder, Achievement First) to help create the program. Hedge fundie Larry Robbins kicked in $10 million, and the Robin Hood Foundation threw in another $20 mill. The very pro-charter Robin Hood Foundation is run by hedge fundie and venture philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones (you can read about him in this Forbes profile that asks if he can save American education).
Teacher U changed its name in 2011 and was chartered by the New York Regents and partnered with the NYC school system (fun nostalgia fact-- 2011 was the year that spectacularly under-qualified Cathie Black was in charge of NYC schools for three months). Relay soon spread to other cities, including New Orleans, Newark, Chicago, Houston, and Memphis. In other words, they have faithfully followed the Charter Industrial Complex players around the country.
Peterson breaks down the career arcs of the three current Relay honchos-- Atkins, Levin, and Toll-- and it is unsurprising.
Atkins holds degrees in history and educational administration. He worked as an independent journalist, then as a co-exec director at Robin Hood, then helped found and lead North Star Academy Charter of Newark in 1997, a school that has been very successful at carefully controlling who ends up in its student body. Then in 2005, apparently having figured out where the real money was, he started Uncommon Schools, a charter management company. He's also connected to Zearn, an online math program (that has also been funded by Robin Hood).
Levin started with TFA fresh out of Yale, then shortly after started KIPP. KIPP has gotten a ton of funding from the founders of Gap, Inc, and they also kick in for Relay. Levin also co-founded the Character Lab, and sits on the board of Zearn.
Toll is the head of Achievement First, a charter chain that also appears to owe its success to a carefully culled student body. Toll gathered an assortment of degrees in politics, economics and philosophy, and jumped into the charter school start-up biz after graduating from Yale (she did eventually acquire a teaching certification). She sits on the board of 50CAN, a national network of high-powered charter advocates.
In short, Relay is a teacher training school founded and operated by three people who have almost no teacher training, next to no classroom teaching experience, and who have spent their careers in the charter world.
It's a remarkable achievement. If some buddies and I got together and declared that we would open our own hospitals and train our own doctors, even though none of us have any medical training or experience, we could expect to be laughed out of the medical field. If I showed up at a law school and said, "I am ready to be a legal professor, training the lawyers of tomorrow, though I've done nothing my whole life but teach high school English," I don't think I'd be hired on the spot.
And yet Relay continues to spread like extra-stinky kudzu, in fairly astonishing ways. As Peterson notes, for example,
As outlined on Newark Public School’s website, according to its contract
with Newark Teachers Union, district teachers can only receive raises
for completing advanced degrees if they complete it through Relay.
Although two other institutions submitted a proposal, Relay was deemed
as the only institution that met the requirements established by a group
of teachers, school and district administrators, and higher education
representatives. The district will call for other proposals in the
future, but for now, only teachers who choose to attend an organization
that is unaffiliated with a college or university, that was created to
supply charters with teachers trained to meet the needs of these
specific charters, and that is based on the beliefs of teaching amateurs
will receive raises
Peterson's piece is on a Philly-centric site because Philadelphia-Camden is the new Relay operation. Peterson digs down into the Relay "faculty," and just one "professor" will give you an idea of how this whole scam works. Zach Blattner is the "Assistant Professor of Practice." He has a BA in English Lit, spent some time temping with TFA, and he's a certified principal courtesy of Relay's Principal school. He worked as a principal at a charter school.
Reformsters have managed to build and fund an entire alternate education universe in which they make up their own credentials, their own schools, their own entire system built on a foundation of nothing but money, connections, and huge brass balls. There's never been anything like it since hucksters pitched medicinal snake oil off the back of a wagon, and it would be kind of awesomely amazing, like watching a python consume an entire elephant-- except that instead of an elephant, this parallel shadow system is gutting public education in the communities where it is most needed.