The superintendent of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District has recommended denial of an application by a high-performing charter school operator to open a campus in East Palo Alto.
Superintendent Maria De La Vega said the application, by Rocketship Education, presents an "unsound educational program," which is poorly described in its 368-page charter petition, and that Rocketship is "demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement" the program it proposes.
Ravenswood trustees are scheduled to vote on Rocketship's petition in a meeting Thursday night (March 24) at 7:30 p.m. in the Costano School gymnasium, 2695 Fordham St., East Palo Alto.
Rocketship, a four-year-old nonprofit led by tech-entrepreneur-turned-teacher John Danner of Palo Alto, operates three charter schools in low-income areas of San Jose.
The schools are relatively new -- having opened in 2007, 2009 and 2010 -- but students there earned 2010 Growth Academic Performance Index scores of 886 and 925, compared with Ravenswood's district-wide score of 688.
The group proposes to open an elementary school in East Palo Alto in the fall of 2012, but, under California law, needs a charter contract with Ravenswood or another public school entity to do so.
Rocketship uses what it calls a "hybrid model" -- combining classroom teaching with one-on-one computer work, which allows students to master basic skills at their own pace, according to the company.
In a 44-page denial recommendation, De La Vega said Rocketship's "theory of action is neither new or innovative in its theoretical design."
The measures it proposes -- such as a longer school day and professional training of staff -- are already in effect on Ravenswood's regular campuses, she said.
"The purported 'hybrid' model of instruction is a simplistic and scaled down program design that does not bring East Palo Alto a new program option for families of this community," De La Vega said.
"The model is a business design, not an educational program design that is constructed to promote literacy and academics while respecting the community's wishes for cultural and social skills development."
De La Vega argues that Ravenswood's use of technology is "more robust" than the Rocketship model, that Rocketship relies too heavily on young, less-experienced teachers without "clear" credentials and that the schools' short track record means it is "in reality an untested model."
The superintendent also said Rocketship lacks the ability to offer adequate special education services. Ravenswood operates under a longstanding federal court order related to special ed, with regular check-ins with a federal district judge and a court-appointed special master.
If Rocketship's petition is denied, the group is prepared to appeal for a charter with the San Mateo County Office of Education, the group's co-founder and Chief Achievement Officer Preston Smith said Wednesday.
Rocketship's three existing campuses all operate under charter agreements with the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
Smith disputed De La Vega's arguments, saying, "I think we've demonstrated otherwise -- our model is quite innovative and powerful.
"What we propose is a pretty transformational change for the art of teaching, and change never comes easily."
After years among California's worst-performing school districts, Ravenswood's standardized test scores have inched up in the past several years, led by the K-8 East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS), a 13-year-old charter operated by Aspire Public Schools.
Students at EPACS -- whose lottery admission system has a long waiting list -- earned an 882 on California's 2010 Growth Academic Performance Index.