Rocketship’s bold expansion

Parents urge approval; districts skeptical

Rocketship Education is running three charter schools in San Jose today. It wants to have 29 operating in the city and surrounding communities within seven years.

That prospect thrilled at least two of the seven members of the Santa Clara County Board of Education; saying closing the achievement gap is  a civil rights issue that cannot wait, they were ready to say yes after a three-hour hearing Wednesday night, even though the board vote is two months away. (Trustee Craig Mann intends to enter Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” into the board minutes to explain the urgency.)

But the magnitude of Rocketship’s proposal  – unprecedented in one county – gave pause to other trustees, who questioned Rocketship’s ability to bring its charter model to scale so quickly and pondered the political dilemma of approving so many charters against the wishes of superintendents and trustees in some of Rocketship’s target areas.

“I  too support good charter schools,” said trustee Anna Song, “but you have put us in a very uncomfortable spot with 20.”

Song and the board have already granted Rocketship a countywide charter for five schools, and it has four more either up or in the works. It’s now seeking four more per year for five years, starting in 2013-14.

County’s API leader

The intent, Rocketship’s Chief Achievement Officer Preston Smith said, is to play a leading role in ending the achievement gap – and realize the aim of SJ2020, which set that goal for San Jose by the end of the decade. Founded five years ago, Rocketship has earned the bona fides to claim that. Of the 91 elementary schools in Santa Clara County where a majority of  students come from low-income families, only two schools have an API score above 875, establishing that the majority of students are proficient or advanced in math and English language arts. Those two are Rocketship’s first two schools, whose students are predominately English learners and low-income Hispanics: Mateo Sheedy Elementary (API 925 two years straight) and Si Se Puede Academy (API 886).

Rocketship has drawn national attention for a hybrid school model that blends classroom instruction with a computer lab that accelerates individual learning. Foundations and individuals have donated millions of dollars to develop the software and information system for teachers. Rocketship has an extended day and fosters parental involvement through visits to the home of every student.

Rocketship would locate its schools near some of the 61 low-performing elementary schools in 11 districts – those with clusters of students scoring below basic and far below basic and API scores below 775. Smith promised to give districts a year’s notice before opening a school and six months’ notice on the exact location. In an unusual promise, Rocketship has invited the county board to withhold its right to start the next school if its own charters haven’t reached the 875 goal within three years of opening. And it vowed to collaborate – including paying market rent for school buildings – in districts willing to work with it.

But that didn’t assuage superintendents who testified at the hearing.

Saying Rocketship has no roots in his community, Sunnyvale School District Superintendent Benjamin Picard said that Rocketship “would be a distraction diluting our resources.” San Jose Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews, who once was a charter school principal, said that replication is difficult and Rocketship lacked a track record showing it could handle it. He urged Rocketship to seek charters through individual districts. “It is important that we collaborate, so I encourage you (the county board) to push Rocketship to come back to us.”

More receptive was Darcie Green, a trustee from Alum Rock Union Elementary School District, where Rocketship’s second school is located. While not taking a position on the 20-school expansion, she said, “Rocketship has made our district better” and encouraged a partnership that would help to “best utilize talent within the district.”

Whose ‘hot potato’?

Referring to Rocketship as a “hot potato,” Song said she would like to pass the applications back to local districts but wondered aloud whether local boards would have the courage to approve Rocketship. “I don’t see a proven record that boards would do the right thing,” she said.

The boards in both Alum Rock and San Jose Unified originally voted down Rocketship’s charter applications, sending Rocketships to the county on appeal. Rocketship could waste a year returning to districts for more charters to have the same result again.

Because Rocketship has an established relationship with the county office of education and a distinct instructional model, it can qualify for an expanded countywide charter. John Danner, Rocketship’s CEO and founder, said that approval of the expansion could actually jump start relations with districts. When it is no longer a question of  whether Rocketship will come but when, “then the conversation changes,” he said. “This will cause collaboration. “

Those testifying on Rocketship’s behalf included a former mayor, a former San Jose Unified superintendent, Linda Murray, and the current councilmember representing downtown, Sam Liccardo, who said Mateo Sheedy Elementary had become “a touchstone for hope in the community.” An aide for U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who represents San Jose, read a letter of support as well.

Most compelling were poignant remarks of Rocketship parents, including an East San Jose mother who said it “breaks my heart that my three oldest sons did not have the opportunity that my youngest has. Please approve more Rocketships for my community.”

Rocketship has until late June to respond board questions about its operation and plans.

Update: Since one of TOP-Ed’s readers charged that Rocketship pushes out its least skilled students in the spring, before California’s standardized tests, the CSTs, my colleague at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Bob Nichols, did some data crunching for Rocketship’s two schools that were open last year, Mateo Sheedy Elementary and Si Se Puede Academy. He compared the  official student attendance by grade   in October with number of students who took the CSTs the following spring and found nothing to substantiate the allegation. The numbers were nearly identical. You can see them below.

Rocketship test data attendance comparison with Oct. 2009 with test dates in spring 2010. Click to enlarge. (Bob Nichols, education manager, Silicon Valley Education Foundation)

Rocketship test data attendance comparison with Oct. 2009 with test dates in spring 2010. (Bob Nichols, education manager, Silicon Valley Education Foundation)

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  1. Vincent Matthews wasn’t just ANY charter school principal — he was principal of San Francisco’s Edison Charter Academy 10-11 years ago when it was the big national story in education reform. (Edison was run by the then-wildly-hyped for-profit Edison Schools Inc. of New York, which was supposed to be the miracle savior of education, according to editorial boards, politicians etc. across the land. What happened? But I digress.)
    Anyway, if anyone knows from the inside just how likely it is that much-hyped miracles are really the magical ticket to success (or not), it’s Vincent Matthews.

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  2. When Rocketship or any other charter starts to accept all ELL’s, SDC, RSP and behaviorally challanged students then I will become a believer.  As it stands they sift from the top, by only accepting students whose parents can commit to the program, all the while turning away those that wold drain resources from their mighty program..
    With the population they accept now, it is no wonder their API scores are in the 900′s.  Any educator worth their salt could have 60 of these students in a class and still have high scores..

    The future will bring a whole new level of smoke and mirrors. One set of students will have charter schools that are successful ,and many others that are not, which will be continually be closed and re-opened in the name of academic improvement. 

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  3. John, in highlighting the achievement of Rocketship’s Mateo Sheedy and Si Se Puede, you overlooked Santa Clara County’s only neighborhood public school with an API score over 875 with the demographics you suggest.  You write: “Of the 91 elementary schools in Santa Clara County where a majority of  students come from low-income families, only two schools have an API score above 875, establishing that the majority of students are proficient or advanced in math and English language arts.”  You should change “two schools” to “three schools” and add Bracher Elementary School in Santa Clara, a neighborhood-attendance Title One school serving low-income mostly ELL families, that achieved 894 on the 2010 API.  I believe Preston Smith mentioned Bracher in his presentation to the County Board Wednesday night.

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  4. Very Well Stated Brook.
    You raised the correct questions:
    1. Are all the students accepted and retained
    2. What do the teachers in Rocket say, not the former leaders in education or legislators?

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  5. Rocketship has demonstrated that opening a new charter school with a self-selected population comprised of motivated and committed families will have positive results.
    Dandy.  That is not in itself justification for mass expansion.
    The next step must be conversion of a neighborhood school, with the entire student population in place.  If Rocketship can (a) prevent attrition and (b) demonstrate closure of the achievement gap with the same population that would otherwise attend that school then have proven theirs to be a replicable program worthy of expansion.
    Otherwise, Rocketship opening more schools to skim off invested families is just creating a two-tiered public school district in Santa Clara County.  It is not good public policy, it is not good for communities and ultimately, it is terribly cynical about what it means to educate children of poverty.

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  6. Thanks, Chris. I didn’t hear Bracher Elementary mentioned last night, but I may have missed that.
    Here are the figures on the percentage of English language learners supplied by Rocketship: The average of the three schools is 76 percent; they range from 71 to 81 percent by school. Special education students make up from 3.6 to 4.6 percent of students by school. The percentage is considerably lower than the districts’ average (I don’t have the breakdown.) If it is true, as Rocketship says, that it codes fewer children with learning disabilities, perhaps a pertinent comparison would be the percentage of children who enter in early grades identified as  needing extra services. Can others enlighten me on this issue?

    Rocketship has an open admission policy. It also has offered to take over underperforming district schools.

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  7. KSC,
    I sincerely am interested to hear more about the facts/assertions of your post and to foster dialogue here.  I hope my comments are taken in good faith because blog posting often can be terse.  I have marked “**” next to each separate issue on which I hope we can dialogue.
    ** You write: “Rocketship has demonstrated that opening a new charter school with a self-selected population comprised of motivated and committed families will have positive results.”
    Could you please share more about what you mean by “self-selected population comprised of motivated and committed families”?
    Rocketship’s leaders claim to reach out to families and students who otherwise would not  apply for lottery admission to its schools.  Your post suggests that almost all Rocketship students live with parents and guardians who already are looking for alternatives to neighborhood schools – without the claimed outreach by Rocketship leaders.  By statutory definition a charter school’s students must have requested to attend the charter school by submitting a timely application.  However, Rocketship’s leaders claim to go deep into a community, surfacing many applications beyond what would be expected just through word-of-mouth in the “already looking for something else” community.  In your opinion are the Rocketship outreach claims accurate?
    ** Also, using the words of your post, why would “motivated and committed families” want to leave their neighborhood schools in favor of Rocketship?  If your description is correct, we should identify specifically what is attractive about Rocketship compared to neighborhood public schools.  Some families homeschool their children.  Some families send their children to private schools.  Some families apply for intradistrict public school open enrollment.  Some families apply for charter schools.  Some families specifically choose to reside in the catchment area of specific neighborhood public schools.  Other families send their children to whatever neighborhood public schools happen to serve their residences.  This competition of the marketplace already is the bedrock of the US education system.  Something about Rocketship (and similar schools) is attractive to some parents.  Can that “something” be duplicated in more neighborhood public schools?
    ** You next suggest “The next step must be conversion of a neighborhood school, with the entire student population in place.”
    While I am concerned about the number of schools Rocketship is requesting in this single application, Rocketship cannot by itself force the conversion of any neighborhood school.  State law requires a majority of a neighborhood school’s teachers to sign a form requesting conversion.  Assuming you, KSC, are serious about requiring neighborhood school conversion as a touchstone of success, perhaps this blog can identify a school that is ready to submit an actual written, signed conversion petition.
    ** Finally, though I believe 20 schools in one charter is a large step, why would it not be (in your words) “good public policy” to open public charter schools for “invested families”?  And, why would responding to “invested families” be “terribly cynical about what it means to educate children of poverty?
    Neighborhood schools and charter schools that achieve higher test scores among challenged demographics all assert different pedagogical approaches than most neighborhood public schools with lower proficiencies.  Are you asserting that student success primarily is based in family motivation and commitment?  Since some schools produce significantly higher proficiency levels than other schools among challenged demographics, might that mean that pedagogical differences matter significantly?  When will we begin celebrating proficiency success with giant headlines, fanfare and coverage of details?
    ** I’m glad to read substantive dialogue on Educated Guess about closing the achievement gap.  As a Community College Trustee, I’m concerned about the readiness level for future entering students.  Our Community College District budgets cannot reasonably continue to afford as much remediation as we currently fund.
    - Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, West Valley/Mission Community College District

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  8. Well I am a mom of two girls at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy so I consider myself an insider.. and I can say that its not a MIRACLE its called HARD WORK!! DEDICATION>>PERSISTENCE. We are a FREE charter school no cost!!  and if you haven”t experienced both sides like I have than you wouldn’t know  what Rocketship does not only for our Kids but for the community.. I invite you to come and see what Rocketship is about

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  9. Yes Mr. Chris, he is asserting “that student success primarily is based on family motivation and commitment!”  Research has clearly shown that parents and student motivation to be the most significant determiner of academic achievement (in the realm of +0.6), whereas teachers and “pedagogical approaches” (are in the +0.1.)  So, please do not even begin to explain what “surfacing” means, or that a “competitive marketplace is the “bedrock” of our educational system” becuase those are just fallacies.
    A side note, when testing is about to commence, Rocketship is very effective about shipping out “their less effective assets.)

    To MOMof2, thank you for caring about your children as they are “our” future!

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  10. I’m not convinced that there is complete agreement on whether in-school or out-of-school factors are more important to student achievement.  W. Norton Grubb in The Money Myth: School Resources, Outcomes, and Equity suggests that in-school factors are more important.  This can be an important decision when deciding to spend money on schools or other community services.  It’s been awhile since I read the book, but I believe he found that teachers are the most important of the in-school factors.

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  11. My son is a former Rocketeer and We attended Almaden Elementary. It was not until we attended rocketship that we got the assistance needed to get my son to grade level. He has an I.E.P. and at Almaden his services were cut because the school did not have a full time service (Ilegal). It was a huge battle to get Almaden to really see my son for the intelligent boy he is and not a problem child (He was identified as being a behavioraly challenged student). Coming to Rocketship was a very scary move for me, but it was the best thing I could have done for my child in one year he went from below grade level to proficient and advanced. Rocketship works. It may not be a fit for everyone but please do not be stuck in the “Rocketship pulls from the cream of the crop” . It is a misconception that I too held when I first was informed about Rocketship. But it is the farthest from the truth. I can not speak on all Charters but I do know Rocketship will not turn a student away because they have special needs.

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  12. I commend John Fensterwald for covering this very important topic and including the myriad of concerns and opinions.  My esteemed board colleague Anna Song is always thoughtful and I know she cares deeply about the plight of all children.  As she spoke the other night, I had answers in mind for each of her concerns as follows: She says, “ I too support good charter schools,” said trustee Anna Song, “but you have put us in a very uncomfortable spot with 20.”  I am with her on the first part, but I more uncomfortable with the ~90 school communities that are currently being underserved.  For me, the ’20′ barely scratches the surface of the emergency at-hand.  Its like a raging inferno with 90 homes ablaze where saving them all is the goal of the responding engine crew, but 20 may be all your engine crew can manage.  Lets save the ’20′ we can while other engine crews (schools) respond and assist with the balance.  

    My dear colleague went on to say, “I don’t see a proven record that boards would do the right thing,” she said (Anna Song).  She is absolutely, damn right!  She and I have suffered through too many charter school petition appeals because local districts refuse to collaborate, refuse to partner and refuse to follow the law.  But for the wisdom of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, many of the charter schools in our county would not even exist.  One superintendent asked the other night ‘Why 20 and why now?‘.  My response to him based on the facts on the ground and the history of  local districts standing in the way of the best interests of students is, why not?  Governor George Wallace, a segregationist, stood in front of the door of the University of Alabama to prevent Black students from enrolling and it took the National Guard to facilitate the enrollment process. I see the Santa Clara County Board of Education in the role of the National Guard as relates to ensuring our students are not denied the education they want and deserve. 
    I will be as prepared to vote yes on Rocketship’s petition on August 10, 2011 as I was on June 15, 2011 given the opportunity. Anyone that would suggest that students trapped in low-performing schools should ‘wait’ another school year, another generation for the system to improve itself on it’s own terms and it’s own pace should read the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1963). This classic letter is replete with everlasting wisdom. Here is one quote,’ We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the force…s of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.’

    I doubt any reasonable person could read the entirety of Dr. King’s letter, reflect upon it (see url below) and still come away with the perspective that our students and their families should ‘wait’ yet another school year for good schools to sprout in their neighborhoods.

    Craig Mann
    Member Santa Clara County Board of Education

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  13. Chris,
    As you probably know, you are unlikely to read substantive responses to your questions on this blog, because those who make the charges of creaming, discrimination, and self-selection rarely attempt to substantiate them, except by citing isolated anecdotes, often reported second-hand from years ago.  Their rhetorical strategy is to simply repeat these charges, over and over, in every thread, in the hope that at least a few impressionable readers will believe them.  It is good to read here about the experiences of parents who have actually chosen these schools and seen first-hand what they can do for children who have been ill-served by our traditional monoploy schools.

    To some extent, parents who seek out a better school for their child are no doubt different, as a group, from the parents who don’t have a care in the world about their child’s future.  The latter group is very small, and no school — traditional or charter — has figured out how to consistently educate children from dysfunctional homes where parents show none of the typical concerns for their children.  But this is really just a straw man argument.  It does nothing to explain or justify why the vast majority of milllions and millions of parents should be denied School Choice because a small minority of children, tragically, are unlikely to succeed in almost any educational environment that is provided. 

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  14. Paul, I don’t think there’s any doubt that teachers are the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement.
    There’s also no doubt that socioeconomic status is the primary overall factor affecting student achievement.
    I’m not going out on a limb in saying there’s pretty much universal agreement on those two points.
    An issue is that promoters of corporate education reform like to repeat that point and conveniently leave out the adjective “in-school,” which turns a common-sense factual point into a teacher-bashing falsehood.

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  15. Jim, this is exactly what those of us who “make charges of creaming … and self-selection” say:
    “… parents who seek out a better school for their child are no doubt different, as a group, from the parents who don’t have a care in the world about their child’s future.  … no school — traditional or charter — has figured out how to consistently educate children from dysfunctional homes where parents show none of the typical concerns for their children. ”
    That sums it up perfectly.
    “The latter group is very small” — well, that’s a question. A fellow public education activist/charter skeptic got interested in this issue and made an informal, unscientific survey, asking every educator she could find : what number of dysfunctional students (currently called Intentional Non-Learners) fatally disrupts a class or a school? A wide range of respondents agreed that it took 10%. So if a charter school gets none of those kids, and that means the public school down the street reaches that fatal 10% — you’ve helped us see the issue clearly.
    This all raises more questions, but I’ll leave it there for now.

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  16. We hear this frequently from teachers, staff and involved parents in public schools near acclaimed charters — that there’s a sudden exodus of students from the acclaimed charters right before testing time.
    It’s unprovable without a major study — something obviously beyond the capacity of a teacher or parent who observes what’s going on.
    Since the press overall has been very inclined to be positive and unquestioning about charter schools, the press response has been pretty consistently “Come on, where’s the evidence of that?” rather than “Hmm, let’s check out those widespread reports!”
    Back in 2001, when now-failed for-profit Edison Schools was the hot thing in charters, there were widespread reports that Edison schools around the country were dumping the more challenging students on other schools (schools run by the district that had contracted with Edison).
    It was interesting that when SFUSD was in the spotlight over its conflict with Edison, editorials scoffed at those reports coming from SFUSD — and for many months while this issue was a hot news item, the press didn’t check with other Edison client districts to find out if they had the same complaints, which seems like Journalism 101 to me. (Other Edison client districts did have those complaints, which is why Edison lost contract after contract.)
    But then in June 2001, a Newsweek reporter did decide to check it out, and located and interviewed families whose high-need kids had been kicked out of San Francisco’s Edison Charter Academy. So it can be done.
    Despite many years as a newspaper editor, I sometimes can’t figure out the ways of the press.

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  17. Caroline,
    I know, I used to think the same.  However the book I referenced above gave me some serious doubts that my thinking was correct.  However, putting the disagreement in perspective is useful.  I believe the Coleman report attributed the effect of out-of-school vs. in-school factors as 60/40.  Grubb is saying the attribution should be reversed 40/60.  Either way the “other” factor is still large.

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  18. I am interested in some additional data points.  First, I think it’s important to drill down a level and disaggregate the EL population by ethnicity and if possible, by parent’s level of education (literacy in primary language would also be helpful).  If we are to really compare apples to apples, this data should be compared to neighborhood data because it’s a very strong predictor of student academic achievement. Too many comparisons do not drill down to parent levels of primary language literacy.  This information is vital in assessing who are our Long Term English Learners and what strategies would be successful. (see “Reparable Harm” by Laurie Olsen)   Second, I  am intersted in the curriculum at Rocketship as well as the pedagogical emphasis. These issues are  important for two reasons, first, it is vital that children get a balanced curriculum in content areas (not just what is tested-otherwise we create a “access to knowledge gap”); and second, the pedagogy should align to support more speaking and writing performance assessments-and not assessments emphasizing multiple choice tests.  Speaking and authentic writing are vital in increasing academic English proficiency and college readiness for Long Term English Learners and Standard English Learners, who comprise most of the gap children.

    So regardless of whether a school is charter or traditional public, I think we need to ask two questions.  First, how do they define and  align content with “college and career readiness”?  Those of us in the P21 California Coalition believe decision makers do not pay enough attention to this issue and have allowed college and career readiness to devolve to API scores.

    College and career readiness is really about supporting a broad curriculum that prepares students for CTE/STEAM pathways and engages them in relevant, interconnected content.  We will never get there ifwe  rely too much on just low level multiple choice assessments focusing in two content areas.  In fact, in speaking with folks in higher ed, we know that there is a serious misalignment in k-12 curriculum, assessments and instruction with what college readiness really is. What I hear time and again is that k-12 does not prepare students to write and think critically about the content-even in high API schools.  

    This leads to the next question, how is the school system’s pedagogy aligned with college and career readiness? In other words, how are teachers teaching  the content? Although not necessarily their fault, too many teachers have aligned pedagogy and instructional strategies with assessments that do not measuer a student’s ability to “show (speak, write or present) what they know.”  Are they using Deeper Learning strategies that lead to critical thinking and writing, comunication, and innovation?  Isn’t this the direction that Smarter Balance is attempting to steer us toward?  We need to be much more mindful of what’s the outcome of k-12.  What do we really want for a 21st Century education for all children?  How are we working to align curriculum, instruction, assessments, and evaluation of teachers and administrators to get there?

    I notice that this particular charter offers extended day courses and am curious if students have opportunity to be exposed to a whole curriculum and if minutes are balanced especially by upper primary grades.

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  19. So I think Caroline is saying that if the local school district monopoly is afraid that a charter will avoid all of the “Intentional Non-Learners” (even without evidence that it ever happens to any significant degree), and therefore bring the public school down the street closer to the “fatal 10 percent”, then it is acceptable to compel all of the other parents and students in the district to stay in a school that they don’t want to attend. 

    I suppose that some central planner in a faceless, unaccountable bureacracy might have no problem telling a parent that “your kid needs to stay put, to dilute the influence of the kids we can’t teach”, but an awful lot of people would find that kind of reasoning unconscionable.  If families are being held in these schools just to preserve “the mix”, then it’s time to delete all of that “for the students” wording in those districts’ Mission Statements and substitute something more honest:  “Equal Misery for All”.

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  20. Theres seems to be some confusion between county approved and countywide charters.
    The education code states:
    “A county board of education may only approve acountywide charter if it finds, in addition to the other requirements of this section, that the educational services to be provided by the charter school will offer services to a pupil population that will benefit from those services and that cannot be served as well by a charter school that operates in only one school district in the county.”
    I don’t quite understand how the County will reach that finding without looking at the particulars of each affected school or district, especially with an agreement going so far in the future.

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  21. Part of me would be fine with the idea of skimming out the high achieving kids – as long as we know that that’s what we’re doing. Those kids do need and do benefit from a different curriculum.
    Can we as a group acknowledge that, that we fully expect and understand that this curriculum is a winner but only for kids and families willing and able to put in the extra energy? And then find a way to work with the neighborhood school with the kids who remain there?
    If local schools are unwilling to adopt it wholeheartedly, why exactly? I’d like to hear their objections as to why they think this curriculum will not work. Is it a matter of funding or philosophy? They may have very good reasons, and I have not seen any of those reasons discussed.
    Or what about installing Rocketship as a parallel academy within an existing school, like many bilingual/immersion programs are? This would make it accessible to more kids, right?
    20 brand new schools… from scratch. Honestly, that’s a big effort, and I would have serious, serious reservations about any organization (inside any service category) able to quadruple its size in such a short time. They will necessarily be relying on a lot of new hires and will be testing the limits of their training and supervision.

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  22. By the way, the update saying that the counts are the same and thus there are not kids being pushed out is insufficient to settle the question. What you need to know is if they’re the same kids. My intuition says that the numbers are actually too similar for them to be exactly the same kids – that kids come in from the waitlist during the year as other kids leave the program because it’s not a good fit or because they move etc.

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  23. Jim, some find it unconscionable that we are rapidly arriving at a two-tiered public education system with a shiny bright set of schools for the promising children of invested families educated and mobile enough to get to those schools of choice and another set of default neighborhood schools for the innocent children of less functional, less mobile, less invested families.
    Some people find it worthwhile to fight hard to support great neighborhood schools flexible enough to meet the needs of all students. Some people fight hard because they know that fierce investment in a neighborhood school is good for a healthy community — socially, economically, public safety — it all matters. It’s worth the hard work.
    The much easier path is the one we seem to be on: upright a new, alternative school system designed for and exclusively occupied by families who wish to be separate from “those” kids. Guess it’s just too hard to worry about their futures, their lives.  You’re doing a good job looking out for your kids, Jim.

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  24. SC,

    You write that some people are concerned about a “two-tiered public education system.”   Respectfully, has the United States of America ever had anything but a two-tiered public education system?  If so, please name the place and the year.  Quite seriously, in the former Confederate states wasn’t the fundamental core of public education to have a “two-tiered” system?  In many of those states, one still finds massive achievement gaps in today’s public schools, depending in which part of which community one lives.  Or, if one examines the public school system of America’s urban centers in the Northeast and Midwest, has there ever been a time when wealthier neighborhoods did not have more resources for their public schools than did less-financially-sound neighborhoods – even within the same public school district?

    Closer to home, here in California, do we not already have a two-tiered public education system – at least as judged by aggregate test scores when one compares between districts – or portions of districts?  I grew up in Los Angeles where public schools absolutely are different based on the portion of LA in which one resides – different in resources, different in family backgrounds, different in safety and teacher length of service.

    Is there that much difference between new charter options and previously existing open enrollment policies that enable parents to enroll their children in public schools miles from their residences?

    You are correct that “fierce investment in a neighborhood school is good for a healthy community.”  I also agree that the “children of less functional, less mobile, less invested families” are “innocent.”  Those innocents are born here and in other states and in other countries and hundreds of millions of innocent children live in desperate poverty all over the globe.

    If a neighborhood school wants community volunteers to be involved, that school’s comfortably-compensated, highly-degreed principal can request and publicize the need for help throughout the surrounding community.  If one is paid $90,000 or $110,000 or $130,000 a year for a ten-month gig, then it’s not really too much for that leader to get very involved in the community one is comfortably-compensated to serve.  Sadly, it’s pretty rare to see public elementary school principals walking door-to-door in neighborhoods just to say “hi” to residents.  Too often, one gets a parachute principal who “lives” elsewhere and commutes to “work” at the “neighborhood” school.  It’s a neighborhood school for the residents, but rarely for the administrators or teachers.

    Parents who consider charters or open enrollment are not community traitors.  There can come a point for parents when pedagogical concerns or persistently mediocre test scores or staff’s disinterest in engaging with community members or parent volunteers makes every day a battle for those parents.  It doesn’t seem reasonable to tell adults “if you have children and don’t embrace the public school serving this neighborhood, then get the heck out of this community, because loving this neighborhood’s public schools is a prerequisite to be a valued part of this housing tract.”

    Private schools of all types long have enrolled children whose parents chose a path different than public school.  Hopefully we don’t treat those families with disdain just because they chose not to enroll their children at the neighborhood public school.  Schooling options have been available since the 1600s on this continent.  The existence of charter schools, the existence of private schools and the existence of home schooling do not shrink opportunities for community members to get involved with their neighborhood schools.  But, the teachers and administrators of neighborhood schools first have to really want other adults involved on “their campus.”   Then they have to reach out and ask for community involvement, including academic support, fundraising or other assistance, if desired.  This doesn’t have to be “either-or” – it can be “both-and.”

    - Chris S.

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  25. John, thank you for the data update earlier this week.  Here is some additional interpretation of the data for Rocketship Mateo Sheedy.
    The 2010 Base API score for Rocketship Mateo Sheedy school was 925; there were 233 valid test scores.  Much of the “sales pitch” around the application for additional charter schools emphasizes the achievement that the 925 API score represents.
    However, this score does not fully represent the actual achievement of all students at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy school.  The 2010 STAR CST test scores, from which the API score is calculated, show that 249 students were enrolled, and 247 students were tested.  Closer examination shows that only 241 students had scores for the CST English Language Arts test, and only 243 students had scores for the CST Mathematics test.  Since only 233 students actually took both tests,  16 students either were not tested (2) or took only one of the tests (14).
    No suggestion is made here that an impropriety in testing has occurred.  However, further scrutiny of the 2010 STAR CST test data shows that only six (6) students with disabilities were tested, but only two of them had a test score on one test (grade 4 Mathematics)!  What is disturbing about this observation is not just the lack of test data for students with disabilities, it is the lack of students with disabilities.  If the student body were truly representative of the community as a whole, there should be 25 or 26 students with disabilities in the tested population.
    The testing data for Rocketship Mateo Sheedy may or may not indicate high achievement when examined in its entirety.  While the school API test score and the API test scores for the major groups of students are attractive, there seems to be a lack of performance on CELDT; only 23 students are shown as fluent-english-proficient in the 2009-10 test data.  Comparison of ELL data shows both Alum Rock and Franklin-McKinley elementary districts are doing better than Rocketship Mateo Sheedy.
    Of greater concern than the “anomalies” in the testing data may be the realities reflected in the enrollment data.  The comparisons to be made involve enrollment by grade, gender, and ethnic designation for the years 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-2011.  Just looking at the grade progression for all students in Grade 4 in 2008-2009 reveals part of the problem: 33 students in grade 4 in 2008-09 became 26 students in grade 5 in 2009-10; at least seven (7) grade 4 students left the school.  Furthermore, the 65 grade 4 students in 2009-10 became 52 students in grade 5 in 2010-11; and the 82 grade 3 students in 2009-10 became 68 grade 4 students in 2010-11.  Rocketship Mateo Sheedy may be serving many students from families that are mobile, but the grade progressions seen here are truly remarkable.  Note that there are no consequences to the perceived academic performance of Rocketship Mateo Sheedy from the students who leave the school (for whatever reason).
    While it might be true that the students “who can stick to the program” are benefited greatly by the Rocketship approach, it has not been shown that the Rocketship program can be successfully applied to all students.  Not only are some student populations (viz. disadvantaged) not adequately represented in the tested population, some fraction of the lower grades’ students seem unable or unwilling to complete the upper grades.
    The Rocketship program is an experiment in progress.  It should be continued, and it should be monitored closely for the results it obtains.  However, based on the results achieved to date, the program should not be expanded beyond its presently approved number of schools.

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  26. Poster “TomC” suggests “Comparison of ELL data shows both Alum Rock and Franklin-McKinley elementary districts are doing better than Rocketship Mateo Sheedy.”  State data proves this charge erroneous.

    To test TomC’s hypothesis, I reviewed the Adequate Yearly Progress data file that is posted publicly on the State Department of Education website.  The numbers there indicate that Rocketship Mateo Sheedy and Rocketship Si Se Puede each significantly outperform the aggregate numbers for ELL students in Alum Rock SD and Franklin-McKinley SD.

    According to the Adequate Yearly Progress data file, for English Learners in Alum Rock School District, for English Language Arts, 2273 out of 6209  (36.6 percent) tested as proficient or above and for Math, 3085 out of 6213 (49.7 percent) tested as proficient or above.

    According to the Adequate Yearly Progress data file, for English Learners in Franklin McKinley School District, for English Language Arts, 2175 out of 4990  (43.6 percent) tested as proficient or above and for Math, 2750 out of 4983 (55.2 percent) tested as proficient or above.

    According to the Adequate Yearly Progress data file, for English Learners in Mateo Sheedy Rocketship School, for English Language Arts, 150 out of 195  (76.9 percent) tested as proficient or above and for Math, 177 out of 195 (90.8 percent) tested as proficient or above.

    According to the Adequate Yearly Progress data file, for English Learners in Si Se Puede School, for English Language Arts, 98 out of 158  (62.0 percent) tested as proficient or above and for Math, 133 out of 158 (84.2 percent) tested as proficient or above.

    This data can be found at:, columns GP & GQ and GT & GU.

    Many thousands of English Learner neighborhood public school students achieve at levels of proficient or above.  Those successes should be celebrated!  And, while not ignoring current successes, how do we close the gap so the percentage of below-proficient students drops significantly?  Rocketship suggests that if they have more schools sited in low-proficiency neighborhoods, they will educate some students to levels of proficient or above who, if left to their neighborhood schools, would score below-proficient on the AYP scale.

    That Rocketship presumption can be assessed different ways, but we should ensure accuracy of data for the debate.

    Best regards,
    Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, West Valley/Mission Community College District
    Member, State Board, California Community College Trustees

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  27. Chris Stampolis,

    Thank you for emphasizing the point I was trying to make.

    There is no dispute regarding the achievement represented in the data for Rocketship Mateo Sheedy. The disconnect seems to be that this high achievement does not seem to be also manifest in the results of CELDT. Just go to Dataquest and examine the statistics for numbers of english learners and english proficient students. Simply stated, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy does not have adequate numbers of FEP students based on what seems to be very positive achievement on other tests.
    While it is very imporrtant to learn a wide range of skills (as measured by STAR CST, etc.), it is equally important to become fluent in English (as measured by CELDT).

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  28. Rocketship is doing some great work and I know for a fact that they do not “cherry pick” students.  I am hopeful that the conversation becomes more about sharing best practices amongst charter and district schools because the K-12 students are all of our responsibility.  There is never going to be a one size fits all solution to our education system, but we can start reforming it by opening lines of communication and creating collaborative spaces.  Rocketship is a wonderful option for many students and families; however, it is not THE answer.

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  29. Trussssst the ssssnake said Wall street regulators who defunded the Security and Exchange Commission since the Reagan era as described in the Pulizer prize winning “Eagle On The Street”.
    Once you accept that children produce test scores as a means of increasing school revenue, kids become a means to an end , or in other words they are commoditified like items on a balance sheet: these kids are either profitable or they are toxic assets to toss back into the public schools further encumbring these public schools and making them look bad on test scores.
    Have you all gone nuts?
    Here is some material fro our koch brothers blue print (remember the SwiftBoats for Truth? here we go:
    Have these board member been Edelman-=ed? Rhee_ed?
    Heree is an interesting blue print of how to con well meaning Democrats:
    Sleep well “Educator” n use your cherries for test score prizes if u ever work with kids.

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  30. Rocketship Mateo Sheedy (RMS) test scores are impressive.  It would be interesting to know why the number of students in kindergarten 120 drops to 80 in 1st grade.  Fifth grade tested only 26 which is not numerically significant.  I think that is because RMS is still growing and does not have a full complement of 5th graders.  In another 2 years we should see a trend.

    L.U.C.H.A. a charter in Alum Rock had API of 828 in 2009.   In 2010 the API fell 86 points!  Why doesn’t the Mercury News report that?  Also LUCHA has a drop from 40 in Kinder to 21 in 5th.  There seems to be quite a decline in students from kinder to 5th.  This could be due to the newness of these charters.

    Does anyone know or interview  students and their families as to why they leave Rocketship or other charter schools?  This would be very interesting.

    Carol Myers
    retired public school teacher

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  31. Families leave Rocketship for a variety of reasons.  Some leave because they move like any other school.  However,  some parents pull their children out of Rocketship because they see that their children are pushed and stressed beyond their limits, and it puts a strain on the family.  These children are expected to make huge academic gains in a school year.  The environment is all about “the test” and many parents see that their students are just a “number.”  Many parents express the concern about seeing so much teacher turnover in a school year.  Many teachers at Rocketship schools are TFA, and as teachers finish their two year commitment in TFA or decide to leave and teach somewhere else, a whole new staff is brought in to the school.  This concerns a lot of parents.  Not just the children and families are pushed to the limit, but staff is also. There is little tolerance to voice being overworked in this system.  THe majority of teachers keep quiet. Some parents see this, and pull out of this charter school.  Rocketship may fit some children’s needs, but it is not the answer or correct fit for ALL children.

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  32. Please let me be the first to explain that I can see why you might think that this is the way that my daughters school operates ,I mean too good to be true huh? Well it is true and we do accept all students and in fact we do target lower income families with low API scores from their local district schools .How is anyone to read the future of a students success. Can’t We just want to take those students who are doing poorly and show them that they can be just as educated as the upper income neighborhood schools . Like Palo Alto and Los Gatos  and Los Altos etc etc . And our record just simply shows that our program works. Most of our students are from lower income families and are reading far below their grade level and once they are attending our schools the program proves to bring them up to the level they should be or above. And mind you this is not magic or voo doo . This is hard work and dedication PERSISTENCE from our over qualified teachers who truly love what they do. They along with a parents dedication to be a part of this education has shown to be the answer and when teachers and parents work together with the children then how could they lose. This is also why so many students fail. What is weong with parent involvement. Don’t you want to be involved in your childs education and future. Even students which are challenged attend our schools. And they are doing very well. We in our school alone have 7 autistic children and others that have physical handicaps as well . I am not sure of that number. Oh by the way I am a parent and if a parent can not do the 30 hours a year (thats all) in the school then there are so many other ways to fullfill this commitment . There is always other things that they can do at home etc. etc. That is simply not true what you say about our schools and you should come visit one before you not allow your child to attend a school which just might prove to be the best thing you could have ever done for them . Come visit Rocketship Discovery prep I will even go with you and show you around. Just email me anytime you are ready for a tour . Like I said I am just a parent myself and I have many challenges that I face in my private life that prevent me from being there everyday so we can work on a good time for both. Donna Ikebe

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