For Whom the Memphis Bell Tolls: Are Graduate Schools of Education Incubating Their Own Replacements?

By Wayne Jebian

It is a new educational experiment, an in-vivo implantation of a (purportedly) viable degree-granting institute into a mature host, an existing university-based graduate school of education. According to a post on the blog Schools Matter signed by the faculty of the Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership at University of Memphis, the embryonic Master’s program will be run by New York-based Relay School of Education with the purpose of training and certifying teachers to work in urban charter schools.

The Relay School of Education has been operating under its current name in New York City since 2011, when it became the first independent graduate school of education to be newly credentialed in more than 80 years, according to company literature. Before that, it was called Teacher U, and operated out of the Hunter College Graduate School of Education. Teacher U was the creation of three major charter school companies in 2008: Uncommon Schools, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), and Achievement First. Currently, Relay’s leadership includes Wall Street operator Larry Robbins, and at least two trustees associated with the “venture philanthropy” organization Robin Hood Foundation, David Saltzman and Norman Atkins.

According to Nancy Bailey’s Education Website, the implanted program has a second parent, one which will share the task of teacher training: The New Teacher Project (TNTP), founded by Michelle Rhee. It has been described by the New York Times as a spinoff of Teach for America, of which Rhee is an alumna. Nancy Bailey lists organizations donating to or investing in the new school as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, J.P. Morgan and the New Schools Venture Fund, among others. Chalkbeat.org states: “To support U of M’s program, $24 million in donations have been raised through commitments from philanthropists, who wish to remain anonymous. “

There are indications that there is much more at stake than just one southern university being invaded and victimized by northern insurgents while money changes hands. According to Nancy Bailey, University of Arkansas already has a program like this, motivated by the Walmart/Walton Family’s pro-reform zeal. The newsletter speculates:

I would say most university schools of education should watch for TNTP and Relay to come knocking on their doors. But don’t rest on the idea that this new teacher package will be just for the poor. While these alternative teaching programs may start out that way, experimenting around with hungry children, if you eventually dissolve teacher preparation as we know it, TNTP and Relay will wind up being the teacher programs for the way all teachers are made.

I truly believe this is the ultimate goal for today’s education reformers.

If this sounds like the same peril that public schools face from charter schools and their privatizing backers, educators affiliated with higher education programs may just have more to fear. While the push to transform k-12 education has been arguably characterized by far more hype than substance, opinion leaders in higher education have been quietly gathering a consensus that graduate schools of education are ripe for re-invention. Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, is as mainstream and influential in education policy analyst as they come, and his concerns are almost perfectly in sync with those of Nancy Bailey’s “be very afraid” alarm bells. He stated in the Hechinger Report in 2013:

“The point is this: University-based teacher-education programs are in trouble and could possibly lose their franchise. Can they be repaired, or must they be replaced?”

Do No Harm
Wayne Jebian is an independent education writer based in California’s Silicon Valley. His past reporting experience includes UNICEF’s BFHI News, the Crittenden Wall Street Mortgage Report and CTLatinoNews.com. His teaching experience includes University of Connecticut, University of Hartford and Capital Community College. He studied at Yale and Columbia as an undergraduate and holds Master’s degrees from Columbia and University of Connecticut. Wayne Jebian’s skeptical take on education comes from the following quote by J.D. Salinger:
“Strictly for the birds. They don’t do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school. And I didn’t know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking and all. Maybe two guys. If that many. And they probably came to Pencey that way.”

Biopic

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