Rocketship granted 28 charters

Rocketship Education has pitched for the opportunity to end San Jose’s education achievement gap by the year 2020. It will now have the chance.

With ambitious growth plans and the Santa Clara County Board of Education’s consent to pursue them, Rocketship is set to quickly become the equivalent of the second largest elementary district in the state’s sixth most populous county and one of the largest charter school organizations in California.

Mostly on votes of 5-2, the board granted 20 additional K-5 charters after a marathon meeting that crawled beyond midnight and into the early hours of Thursday. Together with its 10 schools operating or already approved charters, Rocketship plans to open all 30 schools by 2016-17 in eight school districts. Once built out, they will serve more than 15,000 primarily low-income Hispanic students. Rocketship also has two more charters, in San Francisco and East Palo Alto, on appeal with the State Board of Education, and plans to announce an expansion outside of California sometime in 2012.  Milwaukee and New Orleans are among cities vying for eight-schools.

Its geometric growth will sharply test the scalabilty of a school model that’s drawn national attention for high test scores and a blend of online and classroom learning. Rocketship recruits primarily high-achieving college graduates through Teach for America, trains them intensely, and offers them career paths as teacher leaders and administrators with higher-than-average pay in the expanding school network.

Rocketship and its supporters, who included San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, San Jose Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, and impassioned parents, characterized the need for Rocketship as a civil right and a fulfillment of the board’s commitment to SJ2020 to serve the needs of low-income children in 97 schools below the target of 800 on the state’s standardized tests.

“For my child, right now, there is urgency,” said Rocketship co-founder Preston Smith, a former teacher in Alum Rock, a district that would be most affected by the charter expansion.

But local school trustees questioned the urgency of pressing ahead with so many charters and the capacity of the county to monitor them all, and criticized the county’s granting a countywide charter as an encroachment on districts’ right to review and approve individual charters.

“I am asking you tonight to delay the approval of the 20 petitions before you in order to prepare for a slower rollout, to develop appropriate oversight mechanisms, and a method for measuring success,” said Pam Parker, president of the Santa Clara County School Boards Assn., in a letter she read, with a dozen school board members at her side.

In a hearing this fall, four district superintendents signed a letter in which they implied they would consider suing the county board over its authority to issue a countywide charter to Rocketship. The board determined that Rocketship’s plan to target its schools to low-income, English learners from any of the county’s 32 districts met criteria under state law.

Superintendents nonetheless said that Rocketship should be required to apply individually to each district and then appeal to the county board if rejected. Among those making the argument was Vincent Matthews of San Jose Unified. It rejected the first Rocketship charter five years ago but approved a Rocketship school last month, proof, Matthews said, that the district has a different mindset.

San Jose Teachers Association President Stephen McMahon, a rare union leader who praises Rocketship, even though nonunion teachers work in those charters, seconded Matthews. The county board is encouraging competition when it should be promoting cooperation between Rocketship and districts, he said.

Stating that San Jose teachers are “anxious, angry and frustrated” over roadblocks to reform, McMahon repeated a previous invitation, offering to sign off on turning over a failing elementary school to Rocketship. “This is not about unions but about student achievement,” he said. “If students succeed, the teaching profession wins.”

But county trustee Leon Beauchman said there was nothing to prevent districts from now negotiating with Rocketship over a district charter in exchange for dropping a county-approved charter. He doubted most would, so there was no longer cause for delay. Because it buys land and builds its own schools, Rocketship needs at least an  18-month lead time.

County trustee Grace Mah summed up the views of the majority of the board in reaffirming the commitment to move decisively to improve the education of underserved minorities within the decade. “And so we need a revolution,” Mah said, led by  Rocketship.

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About John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

45 thoughts on “Rocketship granted 28 charters

  1. Pingback: Rocketship granted 28 charters – by John Fensterwald – Educated Guess : SCOE News Reader

  2. Chris Stampolis

    Local public school districts running neighborhood schools have a more challenging adventure than does Rocketship’s network because Rocketship’s schools exclusively enroll students whose parents apply for admission.

    A neighborhood public school has to enroll all students – not just students of involved parents who apply.

    A neighborhood public school has to deal with enrollment churn correlated to mobility of renters.  Some neighborhood schools retain less than 15 percent of Kindergarteners through 5th grade “graduation” because parents move frequently.

    Nonetheless, neighborhood school leaders must be more vocal about their need to replicate some of Rocketship’s tools:

    1) longer school days – Rocketship has students on campus between 90 and 120 minutes more per day;
    2) more computer resources – Rocketship is loaded with state-of-the-art technology from private funders;
    3) teachers that are available outside classroom school hours – Rocketship’s teachers commit to be accessible to students and parents;
    4) individualized education plans for every student – Rocketship develops a personalized learning plan for every student and follows up with constant assessment.

    So, while Rocketship’s “applications only” policy simplifies its task compared to many neighborhood public schools, local school boards must stop hiding behind the excuses of funding and teachers’ unions.  School boards have the legal authority to impose teachers’ union contracts.  Teachers’ unions have the right and opportunity to speak loudly in favor of necessary reforms – such as longer school days, more computer resources, after-hours availability and individualized education plans.

    To eradicate this state’s socioeconomic and ethnic testing achievement gaps we need bold leadership from professional educators, elected education board members and community leaders.  I ask local education boards to agendize this issue for repeated public input and discussion at each of their next ten board meetings.  Send a message to your local community that you take reform seriously and will not hide behind incrementalism, defensiveness and status quo.

    - Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, West Valley-Mission Community College District
    408-390-4748

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  3. Beatrice

    Santa Clara County failed its neighborhood schools. There are promising aspects to the Rocketship model. True leadership by the County Office would have been supporting scaling and replicating the parts of the model that work by bringing them to all kids in county schools.
     
    Charter schools are kind of like dog catchers: they troll the neighborhoods scooping up promising kids from motivated families, populating schools with the kids most likely to succeed. It is ultimately deeply cynical, because real sustained changed in neighborhood schools is challenging. Better to focus on the salvageable few while simultaneously making it more difficult for the traditional schools to serve their communities. That county leaders believe this is their priority is damning and discouraging.
     
    Even the federal Department of Education, as pro-charter as they come, sound the warning. From yesterday’s CNN story on charter schools:
    “What the charters are is the mechanism for trying things outside of the larger system free of some of the red tape that is in these systems for good reasons,” said Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. “When we’re most successful, we learn from those examples, and then we’re able to learn how they can be adapted and taken up to scale inside our large school systems.”
    There have been some very successful charter schools across the country. But Shelton says they haven’t done a good job of replicating those successes in traditional public schools.
    “That’s one of the things that we’re trying to focus on in this administration … not only creating these innovative places that are breakthrough examples of performance, but also how do you create the kind of relationships and partnerships that allow for these effective practices to transfer into the core of the traditional education system?”
    Santa Clara County has received Gates funds for collaboration. Real collaboration would mean working with the districts to scale effective practices within the traditional schools. Instead, the County Board and Rocketship are in a partnership to compete with our traditional schools at a time when the challenges could not be greater. This is not leadership, nor is it innovative.

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  4. el

    I wouldn’t mind if the promising kids get scooped up as long as it doesn’t degrade the education of the kids left behind.
     
    Our neighborhood public school does have more minutes (and more days) than required by law, and has arranged for teachers to be available after school. It has been able to do that because that was important to all (the adult :-) ) stakeholders – teachers, the board, the administration, and parents. There’s no question there’s a cost to this and that cost is carefully considered by all parties every year the budget news comes out telling us to expect cuts of another 5-10% on top of last year and the year before that and the year before that.
     
    And hey, the nice people sending money for new computer labs for Rocketship I’m sure would be welcome to create those labs (especially if they would also fund an IT tech ongoing) in neighborhood schools across the state.

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  5. John S. Leyba

    I asked Rocketship founder John Danner about their funding model a couple years back. While they take SOME private money, their system is designed to run in the dollars given to it by the state. THAT INCLUDES finding, buying, and developing teeny parcels of land (about a half acre minimum) to build a school and spreading the costs over 30 years. And the computer technology, which for BASIC LEARNING and drills does the job for far cheaper than any flesh-and-bones teacher. Danner doesn’t want to need extra money on top of that because a) it’s unsustainable, and b) he wants to prove that public schools can do better with the resources they already have, despite what the education lobby says.

    In any educational setting “direct instruction” is only a small fraction of the day. Why not fill in the rest (and make the day longer) with robots computers! Week after week we read articles in the Merc and the national press about Khan Academy and other online tools that the kids in Los Altos are using. What about the poor kids in East San Jose?

    And although students/families have to opt-in, Rocketship builds in and recruits in the poorest, most under-served neighborhoods. It’s nice for West Valley folks such as Chris (above) to wax eloquent about “neighborhood schools,” but I *went* to school (K-8) in East San Jose; any day of the week I would have rather been in an elementary classroom somewhere across town. And that was 20 years ago. Many East Side schools are worse now. Rocketship brings the quality into the heart of the neighborhoods.

    Later I attended Catholic high school on work study scholarship. What about the other kids left behind in my neighborhood high school (aka drop-out factory)? Rocketship serves a need NOW while the educational bureaucracy talks, blogs, and conferences. And then they have the gall to “steal our good students” and “take our money”. Good for them. Maybe the SCCOE can approve another 50 schools five years from now.

    I am very hopeful about Rocketship’s ability to scale. While my heart just *aches* for the superintendents about not being consulted, the reality is: a) there are too many districts in this town for that to be practical, and b) traditional schools have had decades to close the achievement gap. Time’s up. Sorry guys!

    @Navigio, the “Achievement Gap” is that when controlling for family income, education dollars, and other demographic factors, Latinos and Blacks underperform Whites and Asians on standardized tests and other measures of academic achievement (graduation rates, college attendance, etc). Do a quick google search if you need more info. It’s a pretty common edu-speak term.

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  6. navigio

    Thanks John. I know what achievement gap is supposed to mean. The problem is we use the term loosely so I would like some specifics.
    Mostly I am looking to understand the basis for the claim that they can address all achievement gaps (since you define it so broadly, i’ll simply assume thats what they mean).
    Their best scoring school is almost half white. (and almost 80% non-minority if you include asians). Surprisingly, their similar schools rank is only 7 and the previous year is was only 5. That is falling significantly from the 9 they achieved the year before that.
    In their primarly latino schools, of the three that there is data for online, it looks like 2 will enter program improvement this year.
    Its not clear there is a significant number of african americans, asians or swd in any of their schools (other than that one high-achieving one mentioned above). (admittedly, not all schools have data online).
    from what i can tell they have focused on elementary, and in one case k-8. not sure why the talk about high school and dropout rates as something they’ve addressed. (again, I can only go from what I can find online).
    I am also dismayed to hear the claim that public schools need less money to succeed, and this charter group would like to prove that. I fully welcome the charter group to start a campaign to eliminate the rodda act, and to amend our state and federal constitutions to eliminate the equal protection clause as a prerequisite step along that path. Until they do, their actions will not prove that public schools can work more efficiently, it will prove charter schools do not align with the values of California voters.
    To be honest, I was willing to give them a fair shake until you relayed what the charter leader said. Now Im not so sure I can..

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  7. Karen Bracken

    You can build all the schools you want and throw all the money in the world and it will not help children that have no core family life or values.  If you don’t have parents that dedicate themselves to their children and their education where they learn or how money a school has makes no difference.  There are busing programs all over CA and these children (even though exposed to high educational standards) still fail to thrive because when they go home there is no support system.  This will just result in more segregation and more money wasted.  We need to teach people how to be parents or teach them how not to get pregnant in the first place.

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  8. Karen Bracken

    They are talking about minorities and the poor.  But they just don’t get it.  Without proper family support these kids will rarely achieve regardless as to how much you throw at the school or how many new programs you create.  It is all a waste because these kids have no support system at home.  CA has a ton of schools where the poor are bused in from poor neighbors to affluent neighborhoods and these kids continue to do just as poorly as if they had been back in their own neighborhood.  No parental guidance, morals or support and these kids are doomed no matter where they go to school.  Time for parental accountability and for Americans to realize there are going to be some that will achieve and some that will not.  Social Justice does not work!!
     
     

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  9. el

    And the computer technology, which for BASIC LEARNING and drills does the job for far cheaper than any flesh-and-bones teacher. “

    I think if the goal is to make learning better, that computers and some computer based instruction can have a valuable, augmenting role.

    I think if the goal is to make it cheaper – ie to assign more students per teacher –  the students will lose in the end.

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  10. Ze'ev Wurman

    Beatrice:
     
    “There have been some very successful charter schools across the country. But Shelton says they haven’t done a good job of replicating those successes in traditional public schools.”
     
    Wrong. It is not the role of  charter schools to replicate their successes in regular public schools. It is the role of regular public schools to learn, and replicate as necessary, the techniques of public charter schools.
     
    “John Danner says 30% of revenue coming from donations is “some”, then I’d sure like to see my community’s schools have “some” additional funds like that!!”
     
    A typical public charter is funded at about 70% of  a typical regular public school due to variety of statutes. Further, they typically need to acquire and finance land and facilities from scratch, while typical public school already has the facilities in place on a public land and — at most — needs to renovate them once in a few decades. So if you are willing to trade budgets and facilities between your regular public schools and your neighborhood public charters (including Rocketship) I can guarantee you charters will be thrilled to do so, donations and all.
     
    As to your claim that charters are like “dogcatchers,” seems like there are plenty of dogs baying at the dogcatchers’ doors waiting to be admitted, which makes your claim a bit ridiculous. Nevertheless, it’s always interesting to me to see people who are willing to sacrifice other people’s children on their own altar of equity, rather than be happy that the kids got their chance to escape bad schools.

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  11. Sue Moore

    A fascinating discussion, and one which I wish could be offered more often within school and community settings so that people have access to the insights offered here. 
    I have to make a comment – one I make often. 
    I have watched kids from incredibly supportive homes begin to deteriorate in high school – or middle school. Frankly, what made a considerable difference  was which teachers they had, especially in math and science. Another difference was the other influences they fell under  as they aged. There is a lot involved!
    My youngest kids are now in a charter school – and there wasn’t a “dog-catcher” involved because it is our neighborhood school. I see numerous problems in the school, and until we tackle the elephant in the room of under–performing teachers, many of the fundamental problems will remain. There is too much rhetoric now in the public school vs. charter debate, and the rhetoric has fueled division and rancor, thereby denying so much civil debate and data analysis that could have moved us all forwards. Honestly, “dog -catcher” doesn’t help.
    The first charter school I experienced as an observer was created in an affluent La Jolla neighborhood, when the parents (probably all college grads at the barest minimum) fled from Alan Bersin’s restrictive, cookie cutter reforms. Those parents couldn’t form a new school quickly enough, and they couldn’t accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. 
    My point is: for every example there is a counter example, so what is needed is a detailed, research process that does not shy away from teacher performance, the “fit” of curricular content and methodology  with the student population, and the capacity and willingness of the school staff engage the children in what motivates them, what hooks them as learners. Maybe Rocketship offers something that is slightly intangible, that connects the children and parents, and from which positive engagement flows. Human cognition is complex, we need to look at the complexity.
    Yes – I was a teacher, so I do know what teachers do. And yes, I have had students I have not engaged … 
    and those who became engaged … Most of those who were not engaged did make improvement as objectively measured, but nowhere near as much as those who were engaged! And we all know the difference in energy expended to teach an interested and engaged person  - we just look in the mirror and analyze our own responses to learning new things. 
    I do have a 92 question survey that I developed for my  own research that could be modified a little as a start for a multi-variate on-line   – all CA charter schools – baseline project. It is written so that the survey can be used for different stakeholders. There’s an entire two tier qual part as well. I got very interesting data from the research across San Diego County without disaggregating for traditional/charter. 
     

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  12. navigio

    Hi Sue. I could not agree more on the fact that this discussion is more needed. The problem is that people want simple answers to complex questions.

    A couple responses to some of your points.

    Firstly, I dont think people should take the dog-catcher term so literally. Its obviously a metaphor for the ability to be selective about enrollment. And just because people *want* to attend, this doesnt change the selective nature of it, and, more importantly, why that selectivity matters for the discussion. I dont think it helps to ignore the point because of how it was expressed.

    Also, I am concerned about what drove the creation of the charter in that la jolla neighborhood. My first reaction is to wonder how many of those parents actively showed up at board meetings and were engaged with the district in the first place. I also wonder whether the same thing happened in other areas of the district, and if not, why not? One thing is certain, that charter school is probably not helping anybody other than who is in it (if even that). And that really gets to the heart of the issue for me: charter schools are a reactionary response to a problem that needs something different. Even worse, the fact that that response is reactionary, actually makes the ‘problem’ worse. This is one reason, imho of course, that charter schools as a broad policy are so dangerous, even if some can and do provide a better alternative for kids.

    Regarding that last point, I really wonder whether kids in la jolla *needed* a charter school to succeed. As most people who look at data know, a student with engaged parents can and does succeed pretty much anywhere. There are kids who literally must fear for their lives on a daily basis, and that often flows over into schools. A charter school may (or may not) provide something that is a tangible alternative for those kids that really is not provided by charter schools in different environments. Unfortunately people who argue for charter schools rarely make that distinction (instead usually broadly categorizing all charters in the former light), and its a crucial one.

    I would also like to touch on this notion that by arguing against charter schools people are ‘sacrificing’ kids for an ideology. To be sure, people who believe charters dont work believe exactly the same thing about the charter ideology. Im not sure its productive to put it in that light. In fact, I think its clear that we have not reached the point of diminishing returns as it relates to school funding and resources, and this means that any tradeoff can be framed in the light of a sacrifice. This is the tragedy of the political environment in our state. So, I dont think classifying the tradeoff as a sacrifice helps anything. We really should either admit that we are simply willing to do that and get on with it (boo), or we should work to eliminate the need to sacrifice altogether (unlikely and difficult, but necessary).

    I would love to have a discussion on the notion of ‘underfunded charters’. That is such a problematic topic. Not only because the actual data is difficult to assess, but because one of the whole points of charters is that they are supposedly more efficient. It seems odd to claim that you can do more with less than complain that you get less (even though they likely dont). Even then, I encourage everyone to pick a few SARCs at random, some for public schools, some for charter schools. You will be quite surprised at the differences. It is of course not the whole story, but it should at least get people to start wondering and asking relevant questions.

    And in case anyone cares about research, this one provides some interesting data points:
    http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/EMO-RevExp.pdf

     

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  13. navigio

    Hi Sue.

    I would also like to question the nature of the elephant in the room. Are you sure it is teacher performance? IMHO, the elephant is poverty. But of course, even then its not that simple. Poverty has a symbiotic relationship with a number of other phenomena, all of which collude to negatively impact education and/or learning. And even then, its not a deterministic symbiosis.

    I also think focusing on teachers is a *potentially* dangerous approach for a couple reasons. Firstly, focusing on teachers from the accountability standpoint makes it essentially impossible to provide them an environment of trust. When you start getting into human personalities, there can be a fine line between a collaborative environment and a combative one. Even a good teacher can be made ineffective by a caustic environment. One of our societal problems (imho) is the extent to which we lack trust in other people (other than to trust that they will be self-serving). This is one huge difference between the US and other, especially european nations (and is one reason I think its always problematic to simply assume we can transfer others’ successes here).

    The second reason is that teachers dont operate in a vacuum. An effective teacher will be rendered less effective by increasing their class size (generally speaking) and vice versa.  Even then, there will be variation depending on the particular group of students. (One of my favorite anecdotes (though I tend not to like anecdotes as a means for relaying information) was during a discussion about teacher performance, the story of a single middle school teacher who had both the highest and lowest performing classrooms in her school.)  So educational policy is also relevant. Most schools cut summer school this past year. Where do you think the impact of that from a performance standpoint is going to show up? Is that a measure of teacher quality? This notion of student groups is quite crucial imho. People often mention that private schools are better but its rarely acknowledged that this may be completely independent of the ‘quality’ of teachers. Arguably (though Im not clear who could dispute this), it is MUCH easier for a teacher to be effective in a private school environment, and one significant reason are the students themselves. Should that be relevant? Does that say anything about the ‘quality’ of teachers per se?  Some would go so far as to say that one does not have to be as ‘good’ of a teacher to teach in a private environment. If thats true, it is doubly troubling that educational policy disincentivizes for the most effective teachers to teach at the most troubled schools (see recent florida law for an example of where it is explicitly against the law to adjust the test score metric used in teacher evaluations to account for poverty. Other states have maybe less explicit but equally impactful disincentives).

    This of course is not to say that teacher quality should be ignored, but I do think we ignore way too many other factors when we try to narrow things down to a single cause, especially in this case. In another twist, from my perspective, a bad teacher is the fault of the administration (and even other teachers in some cases), since the exact reason we have those positions is so that people ostensibly familiar with the environment and trained in the field can make educated decisions about teachers. Instead, when we have enough money to adequately staff such positions, we’re more likely to hear the rhetoric that its simply too hard to do that job, and even worse, simply costs too much money to do (stories about how expensive it is to fire teachers). My feeling is that if we really did believe that teachers were so bad and that their quality was so important we would spend any amount of money to get rid of them. It says something to me that we’re not.

    So it seems that there may in fact be more than one elephant roaming around. And they might even be of different colors or sizes depending on the district or even school..

    Anyway, just my 37 cents..

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  14. Beatrice

    That “underfunding” canard is getting old. A number of charter conversions occur precisely because it nets increased revenue. So there’s that.
     
    Now let’s take our neighborhood charter. They receive $465 less than the comprehensive school several blocks away. The annual rent works out to $500/student. Of the 500 students, there are 4 students with IEPs for speech services, 2 for dyslexia.
     
    Here’s what they are NOT paying for: Transportation, Food Services, Facility Maintenance, Special Education, Health Services. These costs work out to $1550 per student.
     
    Net benefit to the charter: $585 per student. Before factoring in the $3,000 per student per year parents are expected to donate.
     
    And Ze’ev, charter schools are supposed to innovate, yet they are not expected to propagate those innovations? I call BS. Every charter approval should include a mechanism for exporting effective practices (assuming there are any). That they are given substantial benefits, but no requirement to bottle what works, is a defect in the system.
     
    As for your crack about sacrificing children, that has also grown old. Perhaps that should be the focus of the education reform philanthropists. But no, they are cynical at heart and only support saving the few at the “sacrifice” as you put, of the many. So generous of them.

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  15. Sue Moore

    I appreciate the feedback. The La Jolla Charter was founded because of the Alan Bersin/Antony Alvarado debacle. Mrs. O’Neill Zimmerman, if she were contributing today, could write a book on that one. The parents were engaged, they could not have done more, but they were totally dismissed so they formed a charter. The charter was founded so that the kids could still have a comprehensive curriculum. In fact, many charters were founded during, and because of, that period. It was not pretty! The most engaged parents were the ones who changed the system so that they were still stakeholders. (This is when La Jolla High School moved to a unique status!) I stuck with the system – but was attentive!
    I should explain: I am English, educated and trained there initially, and I know that there are differences in the two systems – I’ve taught in both systems, and taught  TEP and doctoral classes here.
    Teachers: I’ve had highest scores and lowest scores in one grade in the same year. BUT the students had growth in their test scores, and portfolios. Many of them improved by several grade levels on objective testing for reading. I was most proud of moving kids from well BB to B and Proficient. I would have felt a real failure to have failed them, to be honest. It’s tough to move high schoolers at the BB level.
    I grew up in high poverty, high immigration schools with emergency trained teachers – after WWII – with more languages and scripts than any school I’ve worked in here. So, poverty per se, and 2nd language (try 3rd or 4th) don’t work for me. However, there is poverty and poverty. The same for language issues. My point is that there has to be a much more specific research focus, and we need to look at each kid in each system. There is brilliant cultural anthropology and cultural psychology work on this subject, but it’s not incorporated as it needs to be. We are lacking an infrastructure that takes most recent research (especially cog psy and cog neuro – my interest areas) and transforms it into user friendly information for the classroom. Not sure how to get that going.
    I would love more open discussion – with more stakeholders (including children) – but then the issue is, how do we effect change in the classroom? It always goes back to the interaction between teacher and pupil – at least for me. That’s my bias from my UK days (Peters, Elliot, Bridges, Bonnett, etc.),  I am dating myself, I know.)
    I agree with Beatrice that some charters seem to have fewer than their fair share of more costly students, but our charter has rural busing (just lot the funds for that), and around 8-10% LD students, at least. In fact, without the blog comments I read here I wouldn’t have been paying attention to that issue for sure. But, then again we hit  a huge snag – should parents not try to do the best for their children? (I’ve home -schooled mine – one twice because of bullying in school.) We want parent involvement – but what when schools fail the children and parents want involvement? There is not a single easy answer. Sometimes  because  one child is protected in a school, others have to suffer or leave. Education is tough. 
    Sadly I am deeply pessimistic about public education now – in UK and US. 
    Thank you for the feedback navigio.
    Thank you John for hosting this site – - I honestly learn a lot, obtain links to docs., etc., that I wouldn’t otherwise. And with Emily Alpert laid off at VOSD … what will I do without her?
     

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  16. Chris Stampolis

    California’s “Charter Schools Act of 1992″ approaches its 20th anniversary.  Below is the enabling language in the Education Code.  It is not the task of charter school operators to improve the public schools.  It is their task to improve pupil learning, to increase learning opportunities for pupils, to create new professional opportunities for teachers, to provide parents and pupils with expanded choices, to meet measurable pupil outcomes and to provide vigorous competition within the public school system.

    As with neighborhood public schools, publicly-funded charter schools receive taxpayer money only because the Education Code says they may be funded.  Underlying the Charter Schools Act is a presumption that California does not have a perfect system of public education.

    What have we learned in 20 years? 

    * Longer school days matter as does after-school access to academic coaching.
    * We need high expectations for all students.
    * Hard work contributes to great achievement.
    * Students’ home environments and parent commitments affect academic diligence, English fluency and STEM readiness.
    * Some parents want their students’ public education experience to feel structured, inspirational and achievement-focused.
    * Students themselves have to do the work to soar to and above the achievement levels of the adults in their lives.
    * The future US middle class must be enormously better-educated than what was needed in past generations because US manufacturing sectors have disappeared and other countries have prioritized academic achievement.
    * Some teachers exude joy, health, energy, competence and positive coaching; some teachers convey exhaustion, frustration and negativity.
    * Kids perform better when their home adults prioritize kids’ needs and do not impede a structure for learning.
    * Our state’s educational leaders are uncertain how and/or whether to nurture extraordinary-potential students to learn at a faster pace than the majority.

    47601.  It is the intent of the Legislature, in enacting this part, to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure, as a method to accomplish all of the following:
       (a) Improve pupil learning.
       (b) Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
       (c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
       (d) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the schoolsite.
       (e) Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
       (f) Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
       (g) Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.

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  17. Navigio

    @chris, I think Beatrice was saying if that is not the case then she believes its a flaw in the system, not necessarily that it is the case.
    Thanks for your response Sue. Just quickly, I tried to qualify the term ‘poverty’.  I very much realize it means something quite different now than it has in the past, however, it is the most accurate correlator at the moment. I believe the forces that I mentioned having a symbiotic relationship with poverty did not exist in previous generations, and least not to the same extent. So my intent was not to imply that the mere lack of money or material possessions is the cause.
    In addition, your point about focusing on the classroom environment directly is an interesting one. If in fact poverty can turn out to be the best correlator for educational achievement (for whatever reason), the implication is of course that teachers are doing something explicit in the classroom environment to ‘hold back’ children in poverty. To be clear, that does not have to mean intentional. So the question should then be how exactly that might manifest.
    To be sure, some will argue that the change in teacher demographics since segregation has had a negative impact on relevant role models, with an associated impact on student performance. I can understand that argument, however, recent studies have shown that the ethnic achievement gap is falling while the socioeconomic one is rising. This implies that there is more to the issue than teacher ethnicity. I guess it would be possible to argue a similar dynamic might exist with the economic disparity between teachers and students, but we generally consider that kind of ‘role model’ a positive one in our society.
    It should also be clear that there are all sorts of ways that teacher quality might be different for schools of poverty than others. However, if that’s true as a generalization, then  i believe it is a function of systemic forces rather than ‘teacher quality’ per se. In other words, if we can assume there is any discrepancy in teacher quality (duh) and there is any disincentive for quality teachers to teach at poverty schools (double duh) then it seems clear how that quality will be distributed. Diane Ravitch makes a great analogy in one of her books about trying to field a major league baseball team where every player hits over .300. Ideal? Of course. Possible? Improbable.
    So setting aside the systemic aspect, what is it that happens in the classroom directly that causes kids in poverty to languish while those who are not to succeed? Note that often they have the very same teachers.
    To me it seems there are two possible answers. Either teachers actively discriminate based on socioeconomic status (that seems difficult to even do) or they are ‘equal opportunity discriminators’ (ie simply bad teachers) and it simply makes more of a difference for poverty kids.
    The problem with the latter is that it does not explains why the gap continues to exist in ‘good’ environments. And the disparity in gaps between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ environments being much smaller than the gaps themselves seems to imply that there is some much greater factor in the equation than the impact of teacher behavior.
    The former is a much subtler question. I find it difficult to envision how that could happen within a single classroom environment, while it seems quite obvious how it might happen at a systemic level. But then again that would be a different problem.
    Personally I’m not so pessimistic if only because we don’t have much choice but to figure this out.

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  18. Ze'ev Wurman

    Irrespective of what Beatrice thinks or what she calls BS, it is not the role of charter to export  their methods to regular public schools. Nor would any rational person expect it. Beatrice is  probably upset that neither Apple nor Sun Microsystems went back to improve Xerox and DEC after finding a better way to design computers.
     
    Further, simply saying that charter revenues are comparable to regular public schools, and that public schools have additional higher costs, doesn’t make it so. Even NEPC, the advocacy research arm of teacher unions, quotes (nationally) charter revenues only at about 75% of regular public schools. And even when NEPC throws in the additional costs of special education, transportation, and food services, they come to additional 6.3% for public schools, leaving the charters at best at ~80% of public school funding.
     
    For California specific numbers, one can look up this report from PRI. PRI tries to account for revenues typically not reported in state averages and it comes with California charters funded at 60% on average. Throw in those 6.3% of extra cost to public schools for additional services (food, transportation, special ed) and one ends up with less than 70% funding for California charters on the average.
     
    Beatrice provides different numbers from her local charter. We have no idea how reliable those numbers are as we don’t know which school it is but, even if they were accurate for that schools, we should not confuse a single instance with representative data. Underfunding of charters is not an “old canard” but a well supported fact, acknowledged by both union-sponsored research and by charter advocates.
     
    Finally, Beatrice feels that “sacrificing children” concept has also grown old and attempts to deflect it by arguing that philanthropists ought to feel guilty that they save “only few” at the “sacrifice of the many.” Strange logic. So now it is the philanthropist’s fault that they don’t spend enough to fix what the nation spends over half a trillion every year to mess up. And, incidentally, she also tacitly acknowledges that the public system harms children — how would philanthropists otherwise harm the many by inaction? Wow!
     
    navigio attempts to compare beliefs of those believing in charters with those who don’t, arguing that both may believe that other’s path “harms children.” Yet Navigio’s is a false equivalence. Nobody forces a child to go to a charter — it is a choice of his or her parents. The same is not true for a regular public school, where the state forces the child to attend it (in the absence of a charter), whether that school is good or terrible. In other words, let’s not confuse the morality of choices made by the parents for their own children with choices made by the state (and their agencies, the public school system) for other people’s children.

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  19. navigio

    your point only matters if in fact public schools are worse. otherwise you are not being ‘forced’ to attend a worse environment. that was my point. if you have a problem with the concept of mandatory education, then thats a completely different issue.
    Anyway, one of the first things your PRI report points out is that it uses numbers that included funding for things that are not related directly to education. So the $11,600 they use as the state ‘average’ should in fact be about $8,195. Thats almost your 30% right there.
    Furthermore, that $8,195 includes all the costs of running a full-blown district, something charter schools claim isnt needed. And even then, if you want to compare what charters ‘need’ to what public schools ‘need’, you should really be comparing what the schools actually get, not what the district gets. The difference is significant. (this is why I mentioned looking at SARCs).
    Another irony is that charters actually benefit from some of this other money. For example, charters are allowed by prop 39 to have access to facilities at severely discounted rates (in our district it appears to be about 10% of market value, though I dont know whether that is per state schedule). Note that this prohibits a district from leasing out the same space at market rates. In our district, local bond money is also being used to improve schools where charters are housed. And of course, they also get extra facilities grants if they have a certain demographic.
    Instead of simply playing dueling numbers, maybe you can clarify whether you think charters should simply get all the same funding that public districts get, including to fund all the things charters believe are a waste, or that they dont provide services for. That might help to streamline the discussion.
     

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  20. Ze'ev Wurman

    Navigio is pondering what could be the reasons for poverty being so strongly correlated with achievement. He considers ethnicity, subtle (and possibly involuntary) discrimination by teachers, and teacher quality distribution in different schools where better teacher self-select out of high poverty schools. Eventually Navigio narrows it down to either discrimination based on socio-economics or, perhaps, that bad teachers leave more impact in weak students. He is uncomfortable with either as he cannot see how they account for such large gaps when teacher quality not so widely skewed, or when socioeconomic correlation exists even in cases of “good” schools (presumably with good teachers) and within the same classroom.
     
    I agree with much of his analysis why the reason for the gap is probably not discrimination, and why it is not a matter of skewed teacher distribution. I think he is a bit closer to the truth when he considers disparate impact of what he calls “bad” teachers. But I don’t think it happens because the distribution of such teachers is uneven (it is, but to a rather minor degree). In my mind the real reason for “poverty-based achievement gap” is a combination of poor curriculum and ineffective teaching methods, and the disparate effect THAT has on students from low SES.
     
    This is a blog comment so I can’t write a long essay. Briefly put, most schools (elementary in particular) use poor and unfocused curricula, classroom teaching methods that focus on group work, a lot of barely-guided discovery-based learning, and little student accountability. This is in contrast with content-rich curriculum, focused and explicit instruction, and individual student accountability, that we used to have and high achieving countries still do.
     
    What happens is that very few children exhibit strong academic growth in such classroom environment, independent of their socio-economic status. But what happens then makes all the difference and it IS strongly dependent on socio-economic status. Higher SES parents recognize at some point that their child is not learning and take care of it on their own — home help, external tutoring, Kumon, etc. So those kids catch up and many teachers are led to believe that their methods work. After all, most of the “good” kids, eventually, “get it.” Low SES kids rarely get this kind of help and even when they start getting in-school extra help, it is less intensive, and typically late, as compared with richer kids.
     
    I will finish with a story of my own highly praised school district of Palo Alto. It adopted a terrible elementary math curriculum, it had terrible district math specialists (there are new ones now, whom I don’t know), and it has most elementary teachers indoctrinated in group projects and unguided inquiry-based learning. Yet Palo Alto results are quite excellent, you’ll say. Well, they are. But the tutoring in elementary(!) grades in our town is flourishing, over 50% of elementary kids get paid tutoring and about as many get regular home assistance by parents or siblings. These are our survey results. So small wonder that most kids are doing well, even though probably not thanks to our schools but thanks to their parents. Yet that is not the end of the story. Palo Alto also has a small group of disadvantaged kids, on the order of 7-10%, which are doing terribly. In fact, Palo Alto has been scrambling for years how to fix the achievement gap of these kids and it’s getting nowhere. If you are a low-SES kid, you would be better off if you were going to a school like Bennett-Kew in Inglewood, with its 87% low SES kids (and over 30% ELLs to boot) than to the rich Palo Alto schools. Not coincidentally, Bennett-Kew never caved in to the Whole Language and Fuzzy Math idiocies.
     
    So here is your reason. Teachers are not discriminating; most teachers do what they were taught they ought to do and are probably quite good at doing it; resources are reasonably equalized — not perfect but not terribly out of whack. It is the constructivist “feel-good” ed-school philosophy and fuzzy content-less curricula that permeate the education system that cause overall mediocre achievement, and with terrible SES gaps to boot. The public education system, instead of being the great equalizer it used to be, devolved to being a social center where one interacts with one’s peers and one has fun activities, while much of the learning — if it occurs — happens actually outside it.

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  21. Ze'ev Wurman

    I agree with Caroline Grannan that charters’ role was to experiment and innovate so that public schools could emulate their successes. But it is the role of the public schools to emulate, not the role of the charters to start a campaign to change the pubilc schools.
     
    Navigio — the PRI report includes a lot of local revenue that is often not captured by state databases — special parcel taxes, gifts, etc., and it gives a more accurate picture for both charters AND public schools. It is unfair to reduce the revenues only of the public schools but not of the charters, as you did. In any case, I showed that even using union advocacy research, charter revenues are at 80% at best.

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  22. E. O. Eastland

    Well, well. The Rocketship will scale up and be tested. Based on my own visit of two Rocketship locations I would be willing to say that not a single person commenting here would have their children attend a school’using the practices I saw. The site was on such a small’postage stamp of land that the principal/yard supervisor/disciplinarian made the children walk with their hands clasped behind their backs. It was very grim and oppressive. The daily instruction had been narrowed to test prep reading and math. When I asked, I got some talking points about curriculum being integrated but I did not see a single shred of evidence of any such integration. The teachers had access to a sort of data cruncher/coach but not to build the skills that Ze’ev desires, more to see who was predicted to win on the test and how to drill the students more. Poor and minority students can learn well enough to do well on state tests AND MUCH MORE, but the Rocketships I saw weren’t bothering with that. Careful what you wish for.

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  23. CarolineSF

    Yes. @E.O. Eastland — a Rocketship booster (wordplay unintended) recently asked me what type of pilot program I think would be reasonable, given that I think it’s reckless to open 20 schools. My answer: The backers, supporters, funders and operators of these school models should be testing them on their own kids. Invariably, their own kids are educated in entirely different environments bearing no resemblance to the harsh, regimented programs they espouse for disadvantaged children of color.

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  24. Beatrice

    Charters and community schools don’t exist entirely independent of one another. There is an authorizing agency for every charter school. Whether its the district, the county or the state, the agency that grants the charter should be asking for documentation of innovations and practices that make a real difference in student learning to facilitate the propagation of things that work.
     
    In our district, we have a charter granted by the district. There is very much a collaborative relationship between the charter and the rest of the district; innovations flow in both directions much to the benefit of the students.
     
    Another charter, approved by the county after rejection from the district, is not interested in any form of collaboration and continues to skim high achieving students from affluent and well-educated families. It may be that there is no “what” there, that results are simply due to the “who”. Taxpayers are funding this grand experiment – there should be some expectation that if the benefits granted to a charter school is yielding results, then those results that are replicable should be fostered.
     
    And Ze’ev — comparing Apple, Sun, Xerox and DEC to taxpayer funded public education? ‘Nuff said. You’ve made your perspective clear.

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    1. John Fensterwald - Educated Guess Post author

      I’m off this week with my family and, for the most part, out of touch, but did want to thank readers – many of them our regulars – for their in-depth discussion of Rocketship.

      Charters have been criticized for their lack of innovation, their failure to share the innovations that they do create with other surrounding public schools and their inability to bring models to scale.

      Rocketship bears watching over the next five years in all three of those areas. Its hybrid model may provide a creative, effective and affordable use technology to teach basic skills in conjunction with classroom instruction by skilled teachers. Rocketship has expressed a willingness to share its practices and its hybrid model with district schools; certainly, nothing, other than contractual restrictions, would appear to prevent district schools from at least exploring possibilities. The learning lab software that Rocketship is developing, in part with outside grants, remains a very much a work in progress, with constant iterations, which may determine what and when it will share with the outside world.

      Rocketship’s financial model, based in large part on savings generated from the learning lab, would appear to be scalable. It will be a daunting challenge to grow from five to 28 schools in six years, and its mistakes and successes will be instructive. I failed to mention in the latest post that its academic success will govern its rate of growth. Rocketship has made the commitment – and the Santa Clara County School Board plans to incorporate that commitment in a contract – that its existing schools must achieve an API of 875 within three years of opening for Rocketship to open additional schools. I know of no other charter organization to offer such a condition. A score of 875 API means that students on average have achieved proficiency.

      EO Eastland criticizes the Rocketship for regimented drill and kill culture. My observation, after visiting several Rocketship schools for short periods, is that the Rocketship culture is serious and disciplined but not martinet or joyless. The focus is on achieving proficiency, as measured by the Californian standards tests, with Learning Lab playing a key role in moving students who are behind toward that that standard. I didn’t find that the atmosphere oppressive.

      One of John Danner’s concerns is that students from nearby middle class neighborhoods such as Willow Glen in San Jose, will begin to apply to Rocketship. They are welcome to, under the state charter law, but they are not the low-income, minority students that Rocketship aims to serve. I haven’t seen the numbers to prove a trend but if true, it would provide evidence that indeed families of diverse backgrounds (ie children matching those of “reformers”) are willing to try Rocketship for themselves.

      Your comments have provided me with further lines of inquiry. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday.

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  25. CarolineSF

    Happy holidays, John and everybody!
     
    Well, it remains to be seen whether New Schools Venture Fund types, newspaper editorial writers, reform-promoting bloggers and other charter boosters flock to Rocketship and sign up. I can’t predict the future either. I wonder if even one person from that category has enrolled their kid so far, though. There should have been a loud, incessant demand from the beginning of the reform debates that those people walk the walk.
     
     

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  26. Paul Muench

    Is the Rocketship leadership saying that it’s schools are the ultimate when it comes to eduction, or are they saying Rocketship is just a better alternative than some public schools?  I can’t recall hearing any statement one way or the other.  But I do know what you mean Caroline, I remember the twinge of betrayal I felt when I found out how many public school teachers send their children to private school.

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  27. CarolineSF

    @Paul, there are a number of retorts to that.
    First, even if it were true that some massive number of public school teachers sent their kids private (it’s something the public-school-bashing forces hype loudly and dishonestly), that’s still not the same as promoting a “miracle” reform for other people’s kids — poor kids of color — that focuses on harsh,  “no excuses” regimentation, while sending your own kids to schools that treat kids with respect and nurture their creativity.
     
    No. The reformers need to send their kids to the schools they are pushing for the poor. Do the Kopp-Barth kids (4, I believe) go to KIPP schools where all the teachers are bright-eyed TFA newbies? Rhetorical question. And I’m so sorry I wasn’t screaming about this when all the editorial writers were hyping Edison Schools as the “miracle” for poor kids.
     
    As for public school teachers sending kids private, I call BS on a lot of that too. The “reform” and anti-public-school forces naturally hype up claims that huge numbers of public-school teachers do private, and they use phony ways to exaggerate it. (I’m sure a lot of them just plain make **** up, too.)
     
    One example: comparing the percentage (even if accurate, which is dubious) of public-school teachers sending kids to private vs. the overall population. That’s a false and dishonest comparison, because you’d need to separate it out by socioeconomic subgroup to make an honest comparison. (Families in the same economic bracket as teachers/families likely to be focused on education/kids likely to be accepted if they do apply to private school … and so on.)
     
    And humans’ lives are complicated. For example: I have a teacher friend whose child went through urban public K-8. Parents are happy with the public high school options. But then the kid’s best friend, a Catholic, plans to go to a Catholic high school that emphasizes football heavily. Teacher’s kid loves football, desperately wants to go where friend is going, parents really want kid to be onboard with high school choice. Aha! Gotcha! A public school teacher sending her kids private! See what I mean? I know, only one anecdotal example, but multiply that by untold numbers of complex human families.

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  28. Chris Stampolis

    As a Community College Trustee, I am most concerned that the high school classes of 2015, 2020 and 2025 are ready for college work the day after they pick up their high school diplomas.

    If that level of college readiness can be met via neighborhood public schools, fine.  If it takes charter public schools to get students to those levels of proficiency, fine also.

    Too often our public college leaders face debate from K-12 leaders over whether students should be ready for college upon high school graduation – as opposed to “well-rounded” high school grads being normally expected to take a year or two of extra catch up at community college before they can accrue the two years of UC/CSU transferable credits they need to earn an AA.

    There are some wonderful voices in this conversation: Caroline, John, el, Paul, Ze’ev, navigio, Beatrice, E.O., Sue, Karen.  I hope all of us conclude that regardless of the path a student takes to get to 12th grade, proficiency at the end of secondary school is a significant matter for students who receive high school diplomas.

    And, I believe it’s sad Rocketship chose to take the path of 20 county-benefit charters, rather than 20 district-benefit charters.  Had Rocketship applied district-by-district, there would have been more effort up front with more neighborhood-by-neighborhood buy-in, but less legal battles to follow.  I hope this approach doesn’t ultimately boil down to frustrated adults on both sides pouting “I dare you.”  Santa Clara County’s students need increased academic proficiencies that lead to obliterated achievement gaps at all schools.  It’s now likely the courts will determine who gets “Time Out.”

    - Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, West Valley-Mission Community College District
    408-390-4748

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  29. E O Eastland

    Agreed. Rocketship (and many other innovators/tions) bear watching in the next several years. Also agreed that a hybrid model might be a good solution to remediating learning needs in prerequisite skills while at the same time teaching the child grade level content. The concept is good, and having the learning lab with the 3 teacher rotation is also an innovation to watch. I am glad to read that your experience of the climate was different, maybe things have changed over time or were atypical on my visit. An 875 API is a totally honorable goal. However, if  that API were to be a product of a narrow focus, I’d choose a lower API with more depth and complexity of learning, especially if the children truly are reading and computing on grade level.

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  30. CarolineSF

    Huh?
     
    No, what boggles the mind is the arrogance and hypocrisy of so-called reformers who impose their “innovative” experiments — deliberately “disrupting” schools and communities, as they like to say — on others, while sending their kids to schools that treat students in a respectful and nurturing manner. It’s the fact that they push experiments on poor kids that morally obligates those individuals to send their own kids to the schools they promote  — regardless of whether their own kids would prefer to go with their friends to the Catholic school with the great football team or whatever.  If their kids refuse, or hate it, then those individuals should be repenting and renouncing further experimenting on other people’s kids.
    The so-called-reform-pushers’ situation is in no way parallel to a schoolteacher’s situation. (I can think of all kinds of situations that are, but that’s not one of them.)
    As I say, in hindsight this should have been something public-school supporters were demanding  all along, starting way back in the bad old Edison-hyping days.

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  31. Ze'ev Wurman

    Caroline,
     
    The mind isn’t boggled by the fact that teachers send their kids to private schools more than the overall population — that has been well documented. The mind is not boggled by the fact that unionistas are trying to undermine this finding and label people who mention it as “dishonest,” and the finding itself as “BS” — that is in line with the way unions and their supporters frequently tend to depict people and facts that threaten their hegemony.
     
    What boggles the mind is the ignorance reflected by someone who, while attempting to rebut the finding that teachers send their own children to private schools more on the average than the overall population, brings up a sob story about a teacher’s son who wanted to follow his Catholic friend to a private school. And then misunderstands the reason for the question whether only teachers have children with Catholic friends. That definitely is mind boggling.

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  32. Jeanie Wallace

    I am a public school teacher.  I have two school-aged kids.  They have both attended public schools, in the district in which I teach (not the one in which I live), since Kindergarten.  I do believe in buying in to the system in which I teach.  I have many other colleagues whose kids also attend the public schools in our district.  Those whose kids I know attend private schools do so because they want their kids to receive religious instruction during the school day.  I think this issue may be moot.
    And by the way, I do not know any teachers who do not wish to do a good job.  And I do not know of any who are hindered by their union.  And yes, there are some bad teachers out there, and some bad administrators, too.  Generally, what keeps both in their jobs is the difficulty of finding replacements.  The attrition rate for new teachers (who are generally highly idealistic) is very high.  I wonder what it is in the charter movement.  Perhaps something to be looked into, if we want to replicate the successes of some of those European models (Finland, for example, with the world’s highest performing schools) is what it would take to make teaching a profession that not only attracts but retains more of our highest performing college graduates.  As it is right now, for those who are truly high-peroforming, one’s passion for teaching must outweigh all of the pressures to leave.

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  33. Pingback: Rocketship Schools and The Future: Part 2 | Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

  34. Pingback: My Big Break to Become a CGO and Rocketeer! – @ THE CHALK FACE knows SCHOOLS MATTER

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