Thomas Ultican: Relay Graduate School Forced onto DC Black Community
Thoams Ultican looks at how the Relay (Faux) Graduate School training was forced on a select group of DC schools. This is the story of how only the poor, majority-Black schools were required to undergo “no excuse” training, and how some excellent educators lost their jobs for speaking out. Reposted by permission.
School leaders and teachers in Washington DC’s wards 7 and 8 are being compelled into training given by Relay Graduate School of Education (RSGE). West of the Anacostia River in the wealthier whiter communities public school leaders are not being forced. When ward 7 and 8 administrators spoke out against the policy, they were fired. Two of them Dr. Carolyn Jackson-King and Marlon Ray, formerly of Boone Elementary School are suing DC Public Schools (DCPS) for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act and the DC Human Rights Act.
Jackson-King and Ray are emblematic of the talented black educators with deep experience that are being driven out of the Washington DC public school system. They are respected leaders in their schools and the community. When it was learned Jackson-King was let go, the community protested loudly and created a web site publishing her accomplishments.
In 2014, Jackson-King arrived at the Lawrence E. Boone Elementary school when it was still named Orr Elementary. The school had been plagued by violence and gone through two principals the previous year. Teacher Diane Johnson recalled carrying a bleeding student who had been punched to the nurse’s office. She remembered students fighting being a daily occurrence before Jackson-King took over.
In 2018, Orr Elementary went through a $46 million dollar renovation. The community and school board agreed that the name should be changed before the building reopened. Orr was originally named in honor of Benjamin Grayson Orr, a D.C. mayor in the 19th century and slave owner. The new name honors Lawrence Boone a Black educator who was Orr Elementary’s principal from 1973 to 1996.
Jackson-King successfully navigated the campus violence and new construction. By 2019, Boon Elementary was demonstrating solid education progress as monitored by the district’s star ratings. Boone Elementary which is in a poor minority neighborhood went from a 1-star out of 5 rating when Jackson-King arrived to a 3-star rating her last year there.
City Council member Trayon White petitioned Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to rescind the removal of Jackson-King as principal stating,
“I have received many letters, emails and texts from parents and former students regarding this action. I join them in getting answers. I have personally witnessed Dr. Jackson-King’s leadership. Over the past six years, she has transformed Boone into a 3-star school by incorporating new partners and programs. She is not just a pillar at Boone, she is a pillar in the community with much respect from those who know her. … In the words of many, ‘Dr. Jackson-King has led our School Family Community from total chaos to success.’”
Marlon Ray was Boone’s director of strategy and logistics. He worked there for 13-years including the last six under Principal Jackson-King. Despite his long history in the district, Ray was apparently targeted after filing a whistleblower complaint over Relay Graduate School. Ray questioned RGSE’s relationship with DCPS, the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. He implicated Mary Ann Stinson, the DCPS Cluster II instructional superintendent who wrote Jackson-King’s district Impact review that paved the way for her termination. In the lawsuit, Ray alleges that DCPS leadership responded by requiring him to work in person five days a week in the early months of the pandemic while most of his colleagues, including Jackson-King’s replacement Kimberly Douglas, worked remotely. This continued well into the spring of 2021.
In October of 2020, Ray joined with about 30 Washington Teacher’s Union members, parents and students to rally against opening school before it was safe. Ray reported that he received a tongue lashing from a DCPS administrator for being there and then 2-hours later receive a telephoned death threat. He reports the caller saying, “This is Marcus from DCPS; you’re done, you’re through, you’re finished, you’re dead.”
Ray’s position was eliminated in June, 2021.
Dr. Jackson-King and Ray were not the only ones who experienced retaliation and were ultimately terminated due to opposing Relay. Johann Lee, formerly of Kimball Elementary School and Richard Trogisch, formerly of School Without Walls criticized Relay and DCPS’s COVID mitigation strategy, respectively. They are also both out. Ray says there are others who have not come forward.
Embracing a School Privatization Agenda
George Bernard Shaw noted that, “… the first rule of morals and manners in a Democratic country: namely, that you must not treat your political opponent as a moral delinquent” (Selected Non-Dramatic Writings of Bernard Shaw page 408). Keeping this in mind, I will try not to impugn Mayor Bowser’s integrity. I believe she is sincere in her belief that public schools are failing and that privatization is the cure. It is an illusion that started gaining adherents during the Reagan administration and the next five presidents have continued advancing it.
In Washington DC, the mayor has almost dictatorial power over public education. Therefore, when she becomes convinced of an illusion that falsely claims public schools are failing, there are few safeguards available to stop policy led destruction.
In the chart above, notice that all of the key employees she chose to lead DC K-12 education have a strong connection to organizations practicing what Cornell Professor Noliwe Rooks labels “segrenomics.” In her book Cutting School (Page 2), she describes it as the businesses of taking advantage of separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education to make a profit selling school. Bowser’s first Deputy Mayor for Education, Jennifer Niles, was a charter school founder. Her second Deputy Mayor, Paul Kihn, attended the infamous school privatization centric Broad Academy. She inherited Kaya Henderson as DCPS Chancellor and kept her for five years. Kaya Henderson, a Teach For America alum, was the notorious Michelle Rhee’s heir apparent. The other two Chancellors that Bowser chose, Antwan Wilson and Lewis Ferebee, also attended the Broad Academy and both are members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.
The DCPS web page is quite unusual in that it is close to being a Muriel Bowser campaign organ. A 2018 message concerning the end of Education Week ironically stated,
“Today, Mayor Bowser also announced that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) awarded $1.5 million in grants to five nonprofit organizations to recruit and train more than 250 high-quality new charter school teachers. The Scholarships for Opportunities and Results (SOAR) Act Teacher Pipeline Grant awardees are: Relay Graduate School of Education, the Urban Teacher Center, AppleTree Institute, KIPP DC, and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.”
There are four main governing Components in the Washington DC school system: (1) The State Board of Education (SBE); (2) The Office of the State Superintendent of Education; (3) The Public Charter School Board and (4) The District of Columbia Public Schools. The SBE is an elected board with little power to effect policy. The other three entities are all controlled by Mayor Bowser.
The State Superintendent of Education who awarded $7.5 million in public education dollars to five private companies was Hanseul Kang. Before Bowser appointed her to the position, Kang was a member of the Broad Residency class of 2012-2014. At that time, she was serving as Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Department of Education while her fellow Broadie, Chris Barbic, was setting up the doomed to fail Tennessee Achievement School District. In 2021, Bowser had to replace Kang because she became the inaugural Executive Director of the new Broad Center at Yale. Bowser chose Christina Grant yet another Broad trained education privatization enthusiast to replace Kang.
(For a background information on the Broad Academy see Broad’s Academy and Residencies Fuel the Destroy Public Education Agenda.)
Bowser and her team are in many ways impressive, high achieving and admirable people. However, their deluded view of public education and its value is dangerous; dangerous for K-12 education, dangerous for democracy.
“Teach like it’s 1885“
The root of the push back against Relay training by ward 7 and 8 educators is found in the authoritarian approach being propagated. NPR listed feedback from dismayed teachers bothered by schemes such as:
- “Students must pick up their pens within three seconds of starting a writing assignment.
- “Students must walk silently, in a straight line, hands behind their backs, when they are outside the classroom.
- “Teachers must stand still, speak in a ‘formal register’ and square their shoulders toward students when they give directions.”
Dr. Jackson-King noted, “Kids have to sit a certain way, they have to look a certain way. They cannot be who they are. Those are all the ways they teach you in prison — you have to walk in a straight line, hands behind your back, eyes forward.”
RSGE does not focus on education philosophy or guidance from the world’s foremost educators. Rather its fundamental text is Teach Like a Champion which is a guidebook for no-excuses charter schools.
Three no-excuses charter school leaders established RGSE. In the post “Teach Like it’s 1885”, published by Jenifer Berkshire, Layla Treuhaft-Ali wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.”
The Hampton Idea comment is a reference to W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1906 speech at Hampton University in which he called on the Black students to seek academic skills not just technical education.
In her book Scripting the Moves Professor Joanne Golann wrote:
‘“Ultimately no-excuses charters schools are a failed solution to a much larger social problem,’ education scholar Maury Nation has argued. ‘How does a society address systemic marginalization and related economic inequalities? How do schools mitigate the effects of a system of White supremacy within which schools themselves are embedded?’ Without attending to these problems, we will not solve the problems of educational inequality. ‘As with so many school reforms,’ Nation argues, ‘no-excuses discipline is an attempt to address the complexities of these problems, with a cheap, simplistic, mass-producible, ‘market-based’ solution.’” (Page 174)
Legitimate education professionals routinely heap scorn on RSGE. Relay practices the pedagogy of poverty and as Martin Haberman says,
“In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their intrinsic value rather than to foster learning.”
Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her piece, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”
“These two programs prepare teachers to use highly controlling pedagogical and classroom management techniques that are primarily used in schools serving students of color whose communities are severely impacted by poverty. Meanwhile, students in more economically advantaged areas have greater access to professionally trained teachers, less punitive and controlling management practices and broader and richer curricula and teaching practices. The teaching and management practices learned by the teachers in these two independent programs are based on a restricted definition of teaching and learning and would not be acceptable in more economically advantaged communities.”
This is the training program that these courageous educators were fired for opposing.