No Superman, but super funding

Rocketship Education, Aspire get grants

An infusion of public and private dollars may improve the odds for families to win the charter school lotteries seen in the new film ” Waiting for Superman” – at least in California.

Grants and gifts totaling $13 million were announced this week to help two Bay Area-based charter management organizations expand the number of charter schools they operate.

Rocketship Education, based in Palo Alto, received $6 million in grants and loan guarantees from the Charter School Growth Fund to underwrite rapid growth over the next five years. Rocketship plans to go from three elementary school charters in San Jose to 30 in the Bay Area and an unnamed city, according to CEO John Danner. Rocketship locates in low-income neighborhoods and employs a hybrid model of classroom instruction and online learning. More than 80 percent of its students are English learners. The schools’ test scores – 926 API for its first school – have been impressive.

The Charter School Growth Fund made the award in announcing a fundraising campaign for $160 million to create charter schools serving 335,000 students over the next decade. It’s already halfway there, with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings one of the early contributors.

Also taking in $5.58 million in expansion money was Aspire Public Schools of Oakland. It was the only California charter management organization, out of a dozen grantees, to share $50 million from the U.S. Department of Education. This is the first time the feds have targeted high-performing charter organizations for replication. Aspire, with 30 schools serving 10,000 students in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Stockton, and Los Angeles, will add 15 schools with the money. Aspire also got a $1 million donation this month from Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network.


  1. “Follow the money.”

    As “Deep Throat” knew, thats where you find the nefarious deeds being done.

    Superman is as transparently shallow an analyis-complete with guys in white hats and guys in black hats-as you are ever going to find. If Michael Moore was ever going to make a film with no irony and absent of wit he has been beaten to the punch.

    John’s short essay tells the story behind many “high performing  charter organizations:” The funding. Millionaires will gladly donate to “foundations” that come off taxes and add to the bottom line rather than be taxed at a rate that could provide for the kinds of schools they say they want for all students.  Taxes, of course, come off the bottom line. “Follow the money.”

    And, there is something fishy about that whole Rocket Ship venture. Time will tell.

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  2. The connection between CTA/CFT campaign contributions and actions of the legislature couldn’t be clearer, John.  The teacher unions are “all powerful” as we all know. Because of those connections this state is amoung those states with the highest funding per child in the nation, we have the lowest class sizes, greatest number of librarians, nurses, psychologists, etc., etc. The waste, fraud, and abuse that can be traced back to the unions is all too obvious, isn’t it?

    Teacher seniority rights, under the law and collective bargaining agreements, are not being threatened and attacked by the legislature because there are too many experienced teachers at schools in struggling communities and they should be pink-slipped so that teachers with less experience can be retained. Oh no, wait! The seniority rights must be eliminated because those schools have too many inexperienced teachers and intern teachers. Those legislative puppets of the union bosses are doing…whatever…to correct that. No way would they let themselves be jerked around by one time RTTT dollars to implement failed “reform” ideas. Nor would they allow ruthlessly ambitious colleagues attempt to scapegoat teachers who work under some of the “finest” working conditions in the nation.

    The reality is CFT/CTA have had to operate like Clinton did in his last term with the opposition in control of both houses of the legislature. It’s not so much about making forward progress as it is about being able to stop really terrible things from happening. CA’s almost unique system of allowing minority control of the the budget creates this mess.

    CTA and CFT have done a good job making sure the system is at least maintained on “life support.” And that’s in the face of an oppostion of those who would like it taken off life support for either ideological reasons or becuase they see it as a vulnerable cash cow for private sector exploitation. If only they could get people on, say the SBE, who had direct financial links to the private sector charter schools management organizations you mentioned above then the state and the school system would be in real trouble. Whoops! There I go getting all conspiritorial again.

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    • I would agree, Gary, that without the CTA and CFT, cuts to K-12 education probably would have been bigger. And the unions, along with others, have caught the governor manipulating Prop 98. Neither the unions nor the Democrats aligned with them control a supermajority to increase spending for education. But the unions still exert the power to say “no” to changes in work rules, due process rights, teacher evaluations — the stifling conditions under contracts that have led teachers, not just “billionaires,” to form charter schools — and a reason why they flourish. I know it’s hard for you to accept that charter school leaders are also advocates of higher school spending. Read the report of the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence, chaired by Ted Mitchell, CEO of the State School Board and president of NewSchools Venture Fund. Those I’ve spoken with believe in stronger public schools — district and charter schools together. There’s also the obvious reason self-interest: Both would equally benefit from higher per student tuitions.

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