News

Stanford loses bid to renew EPA charter schools

Ravenswood trustees cite poor academic performance, but leave room for reprieve

Stanford University was rebuffed Wednesday in its bid to renew the charter of a struggling East Palo Alto elementary school it oversees.

Citing poor academic performance and ineffective behavior management in the classroom, trustees of the Ravenswood City School District voted 3-2 to deny a new five-year charter to Stanford New Schools. The Stanford-affiliated nonprofit operates an elementary school and a separate high school, which together serve about 550 students from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park.

"Whether your name is Stanford or something else, it's all about the data," trustee Larry Moody told a standing-room-only audience of parents, teachers, students and Stanford professors who had come out to support the schools.

"Certain levels of performance had to be adhered to."

Trustees left open a chance that the two Stanford schools could survive for at least two more years, but only under strict supervision. They asked Ravenswood Superintendent Maria De La Vega to work out terms of such a deal with Stanford, and bring it back to them for a final decision.

Wednesday's vote came after passionate, sometimes tearful, pleas from parents, students and Stanford professors to save the school community they have taken years to build.

"Our babies can't be reflected in a spreadsheet. Our spirit is way too big for a list," said Lola Rockwell, whose granddaughter, Najwa, is a third grader at the school, East Palo Alto Academy.

"We've poured our hearts, sweat and spirit into this school. Where will my child go if you close our academic world down?"

The vote also followed conflicting interpretation of reams of often-contradictory state data.

Stanford argued that its state Academic Performance Index "similar school ranking" scores of six in 2006-2007 and seven in 2007-2008 technically qualified it for automatic renewal under state criteria. A drop in that score to three in 2008-2009 was attributable to "a significant change in the group of state-identified similar schools," Stanford said.

In recommending against charter renewal, Ravenswood Superintendent De La Vega viewed the same data differently.

Saying the 2006 to 2008 scores represented only the better-performing Stanford high school, she argued that the drop in the 2009 score reflected a serious "downward drag" of including the poor-performing elementary school in the score.

"In a technical sense I suppose we could say they have met the criteria," said San Mateo County counsel Tim Fox, summarizing De La Vega's analysis.

"However, the overarching question for charter renewal is whether the charter petition represents a sound educational program and whether the charter petitioners are likely to succeed in implementing the program it describes.

"So when the data show there's a problem -- even if they technically meet the metrics -- it's a matter of consideration for the board."

Trustees expressed frustration that the K-12 charter renewal came as an all-or-nothing package, failing to distinguish between the higher performing Stanford high school and the struggling elementary school, which has operated for a shorter time.

Stanford officials insisted that, if given a few more years to succeed, their recently implemented reforms would put the elementary school on a sound footing and provide community benefits for years to come.

"We understand our elementary school has not performed as well as it should, and we know we have work to do," Stanford School of Education Dean Deborah Stipek said.

"We've dedicated ourselves to that in very serious ways this year with excellent support from the district. If you look at how well the high school was doing in its first three years of existence -- if it had been reviewed at that moment -- you probably would have denied it.

"Its API (Academic Performance Index) scores were actually lower than our elementary school is. It takes a few years to get going in the right direction."

Stipek noted the Stanford high school has a 96 percent college acceptance rate, that 53 percent of its graduates are admitted to four-year colleges and that Stanford raises several hundred thousand dollars a year to provide college scholarships for its high school graduates.

When parents pleaded they would have few alternatives if the charter schools are shut down, Ravenswood officials seemed annoyed that the improving quality of the district's own neighborhood schools are frequently overlooked.

"All the right things are in place in the Ravenswood district," said Aaron Williamson, a Stanford graduate and president of the Ravenswood Teachers Association.

"In fact, all the other schools in the Ravenswood district have higher scores than the charter does.

"You have seven other schools to choose from in this district. We'd welcome you with open arms, and the parents would welcome you."

Trustee Saree Mading, herself an administrator at another charter school, East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS), said, "I'm a big charter fan, but I'm so tired of hearing that what you've accomplished at Stanford New Schools, EPACS or Edison (charter school) is not able to be accomplished right here within the Ravenswood City School District.

"That is why I ran (for school board). Because I know it can be accomplished right here in our own schools.

"When I see how parents have run from one school to the next, not staying to build a community, it frustrates me."

School board chairwoman Sharifa Wilson said the district was embarassed recently when the state's list of "worst-performing schools" contained three schools from Ravenswood -- two of them charters. One was the Stanford elementary charter (Stanford has appealed, according to the Stanford Daily) and the other was a charter shuttered in 2008 for poor performance.

"We have a responsibility to see that the children from this community are receiving a good quality education and, it frustrates me also, we are measured by these scores and are held accountable for your failure," Wilson said.

Philanthropist, volunteer and former teacher Tashia Morgridge, who has been active in the district since the 1980s, urged the board to renew Stanford's charter.

"We're all here with the same goal -- the education of the children of Ravenswood," Morgridge said.

"This is humbling, challenging work. Success does not come easily or quickly. The district knows this. Stanford knows this. That means we work harder."

With changes now in place, Morgridge expressed confidence the Stanford elementary school would substantially improve.

In the final 3-2 tally, trustees Wilson, Moody and Mading voted to deny Stanford's petition for renewal. Trustees John Bostic and Marcelino Lopez supported Stanford.

A subsequent motion, asking the superintendent to return with a plan for a possible two-year extension under heavy supervision, passed 4-1, with the support of all trustees except Wilson.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 15, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Diane Ravitch has a new book out "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education". She believes that most charter schools are no better than the public schools they replace. Apparently she has the evidence to support it. This is a long interview with her:

Web Link

She was also on KQED forum and you could listen to that interview on their website - or I suppose just buy the book.

Of note when she was asked how to fix our schools she said make everyone rich - parents income level is the best demographic to predicting the quality of the school. (I'm paraphrasing).


Like this comment
Posted by Looking closer
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Apr 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Actually, parents' income predicts the quality of the test scores of the students, which is very different from the quality of the schools.

A school that takes kids from destitute, broken homes and teaches them to the point where they can score in the 40'th percentile is a higher quality school than one who takes rich, well educated professionals' and educators' kids and allows them to stay in the 90'th percentile.


Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm

I've worked in Ravenswood Schools since about 1997, and the improvements since the change in leadership in 2003 are dramatic. And what makes it even more impressive is that we are doing it with about 1/2 of the families opting to go to private schools, charter schools, and other public schools through the Tinsley Voluntary transfer program. These are the parents who are most interested in their children's education. If they all came back to Ravenswood it could rival Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Parental support -- not necesarily income level--- makes a huge difference.


Like this comment
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 16, 2010 at 4:28 am

"No child left behind" you say?

What has allowed Cuba's education system to perform so well, even under the severe resource constraints of the past decade, is the continuity in its education strategies, sustained high levels of
investments in education, and a comprehensive and carefully structured system, characterized by:

* Quality basic education and universal access to primary and secondary school;
* Comprehensive early childhood education and student health programs (established aspart of the commitment to basic education);
- Complementary educational programs for those outside school-literacy, adult and nonformal education (again as part of the basic education commitment);
* Mechanisms to foster community participation in management of schools;
* Great attention to teachers (extensive pre- and in-service training, high status and morale, incentives, transparent system of accountability, strategies for developing a culture of
professionalism, rewards for innovation);
* Low-cost instructional materials of high quality;
* Teacher and student initiative in adapting the national curriculum and developing instructional materials locally;
* Carefully structured competition that enhances the system rather than the individual;
* Explicit strategies to reach rural students and students with special needs;


Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 16, 2010 at 4:28 am

"No child left behind" you say?

What has allowed Cuba's education system to perform so well, even under the severe resource constraints of the past decade, is the continuity in its education strategies, sustained high levels of
investments in education, and a comprehensive and carefully structured system, characterized by:

* Quality basic education and universal access to primary and secondary school;
* Comprehensive early childhood education and student health programs (established aspart of the commitment to basic education);
- Complementary educational programs for those outside school-literacy, adult and nonformal education (again as part of the basic education commitment);
* Mechanisms to foster community participation in management of schools;
* Great attention to teachers (extensive pre- and in-service training, high status and morale, incentives, transparent system of accountability, strategies for developing a culture of
professionalism, rewards for innovation);
* Low-cost instructional materials of high quality;
* Teacher and student initiative in adapting the national curriculum and developing instructional materials locally;
* Carefully structured competition that enhances the system rather than the individual;
* Explicit strategies to reach rural students and students with special needs;


Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Short-sighted decision
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 16, 2010 at 9:00 am

I'm really very sorry to read about this because it seems such a short-sighted decision. When one reads about all the things that Stanford has done for its school community, and reflects on the student achievement numbers they started with, a logical person is forced to conclude that equating progress and learning simply with test scores is insane.

Our new focus on teaching to the test is preparing a whole generation of non-innovative, non-creative thinkers. How will these specialists in rote memorization face the challenges that we are leaving them in this world? The whole education system's "back to basics" approach minimizes true learning in favor of simple a recitation of known facts.

The New York Times article about this situation points out that Stanford has generously been spending $3000 per student more than the state per student allocation. But even that isn't enough to overcome the underlying socio-economic and cultural factors that impact student outcomes for this population.

Focusing only on test scores along with the lack of funds for education overall is crippling the brain trust in our students--and hamstringing this country's ability to compete and thrive.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve C.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 16, 2010 at 11:29 am

The reason why the Bush administration was such a big advocate of "No Child Left Behind" is because you don't have to learn to think, rather you only have to learn how to pass the tests. It's a monolithic strategy that will continue to backfire for generations.
Steve C.


Like this comment
Posted by Ndeya
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2010 at 12:32 pm

This article is incorrect. EPAA was the only charter school on the list of low performing schools. McNair is NOT a charter school! They used to be Edison-McNair until 2008/09 school year.

I truly believe the ONLY reason EPAA made the list is because they did not prepare the children for the standardized test! That is all! Most of the kids had no idea how to fill out the bubbles in the test...they never took that kind of test. Stanford New Schoolsshould have taken a different approach rather than ignoring the tests, and they are paying for it now. They are trying to address the issues and have a new principal who is focused on accountability. But the school needs more time to correct its own mistakes!

The Ravenswood District School Board seems to have a different agenda....


Like this comment
Posted by Parent One
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I'm a long time resident of East Palo Alto. I have a child in the Palo Alto school district thankfully in the Tinsely program. There are tons of problems being of color in PAUSD, but it beats leaving my child in the Ravenswood school district to be part of the bad parents who could care less about their children, who ruin the district for everyone. Not all parents, but enough who have no education themselves, do little to be successful and think the school should do it all.

Until Ravenswood is able to change the entire community, hire exceptionally qualified teachers and develop a wrap around social service program, there is no saving the district.

The parents are the root problem. I have seen instances where the parents are ignorant so the kids are igrnorant. The parents are working 2-3 jobs or just don't care, so the kids are raised without supervision. They watch too much bad TV, listen to bad music and don't have the intelligence to combat the negative affects. The kids have no boundries, no rules, no morals, no direction and no plans for the future. Their parents are doing little to raise the expectation to do more.

Teachers do what they can do, but often aren't trained to do what we need. Social services is not involved effectively to step in before behaviors attribute to lack of learning performace, dismissal or worse. Social services often act like community policing which is based on the "be nice and friendly" theory.

That just doesn't work in communities like East Palo Alto. Not for schools or the community. The "kick some ass" expection method (cause and affect) is the only thing that will work. Linking parents, neighborhoods, teachers, police and social services. Demanding parents be accountable, involved and engaged themselves in learning. Parents need to be educated, required to volunteer in their child's school, required to attend parent-teacher conferences, required to participate in learning and behavior plans.

Many parents are home doing nothing good and doing nothing to help their children become good productive citizens of the community, contributing in a positive way.

I am not afraid to say it as I see it, this politically correct way of being worried about what others think is crap. Hey if you are not part of the solution (getting your child together and ready for the world) then you are part of the problem and using most of the resources and tax-payers dollars going to jail. Sometimes people need to be exposed to the expectation and if that doesn't work they need to have their noses rubbed in it. Our community is out of control and not able to turn out the kind of sucessful children other community's can because of the parents not the district.


Like this comment
Posted by parent too
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2010 at 3:12 pm

parent one: right on! You are right to get your child into a good school. It's time to ignore political correctness and speak out about the real reasons and issues for continued failure of some children.


I teach in an urban school district (hence the pen name). It doesn't matter how much I give or how hard I try, it is never enough and never will be enough until parents start working with their kids and with, not against, the teachers and the schools.

The hostility toward teachers and education stems from the home. I do not understand why some parents want their kids to follow their footsteps into self-imposed degradation. Living off welfare and /or being in and out of prison should not be a parent's goal for a child.


Like this comment
Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 17, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Educating the children of the uneducated is a touchy problem. Parents often feel a great deal of anger and humiliation regarding their own lack of discipline and education, and have probably been "abused and humiliated" in their dealings with institutions that represent wealthy, educated people. (That is, their deficiencies become problems for themselves, when they fail at dealing with education, employment, or commerce, and when they do not have the money required to "belong," whatever that may mean in the context.)

We all try to stand up for whatever we are when we are criticized. All this is often hidden under a thick veneer of "I don't care" and "just go to hell." Just try to get such a fortified person to decide to get the kid to school, dressed, fed and on time every day. Real violence can come out when a child asks to be helped with homework or getting supplies and permissions his parent can't cope with. Poverty is a culture, not the state of a bank account. It takes a skillful kind of toughness to get through to such parents, aunts, cousins, or whoever the child lives with.


Like this comment
Posted by Max
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2010 at 4:33 pm

This decision to not renew the charter might be based on something other than what is being said publicly. We all know that school districts are challenged financially right now and losing enrollment to charter schools can make those challenges more difficult. Based on the interpretation from the legal counsel, Stanford New Schools met the criteria to be renewed. Why not let the schools continue and let the parents make the decision to pull their children out if they are not satisfied? Competition and choice are some of the main reasons charter legislation was enacted. My guess is that this is more about protecting Ravenswood District jobs than it is about protecting children.


Like this comment
Posted by Allen
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2010 at 10:01 pm

There are grade level standards in California. Previous to NCLB we had just as tough or tougher testing. The standards were developed and adopted with professional and community input. It was decided what information children should know at what level. When children don't know it they score low. There are many reasons children score low, that is not the point. Schools test scores are then compared to the standards and then to similar schools to make them feel better.
The same with the exit exam. There is certain, agreed upon information students should know before they get a diploma, there are many reasons they don't know the information. But they don't know the information.
The state and federal government have been throwing money at special populations for years now with very little to show for it. For example I read an article a month or so ago that stated a bill had passed in North or South Carolina that specifically spent 3 million dollars to help improve test scores for african-american boys.
Whenever educators/media discuss per pupil spending they only give the state spending per pupil. Not the total amount. Which is usually several thousand more through title 1 and other programs aimed at lower performing schools.
As for the Cuba comparison, are you serious. How many languages and cultures are they dealing with down there. How about their special needs students? Do they get the first cut of the education resources? How about school disipline, I would love to see the consequenses for defiance/disobedience. I wonder what their time-outs look and sound like. You think their using Fred Jones' "positive classroom disipline"?
I'm sure the teachers do get extensive attention, training, and probably monitoring. I have a feeling their creativity may be a bit restrained though.
Its all about the parents people, they raise them and prepare them. We (teachers) are the ones that need to be creative in how we teach them when they come in messed up and unprepared. No amount of money is going to make up for the parenting.


Like this comment
Posted by opinionated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2010 at 11:23 am

We anticipate that Stanford will be smart enough and objective enough to combine educational strategies (direct instruction, discovery, group and individual work) so that kids can pass these tests because they know the material inside and out - or at least to the best of their ability. We anticipate that Stanford will be able to focus more on one strategy if need be, to make sure these kids can read and write to prepare them for realistic jobs they might be doing in their futures. We do not anticipate that Stanford will choose to prepare them socially, emotionally and creatively only, so they will all become good citizens and CEOs some day.


Like this comment
Posted by something smells fishy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm




It reeks of "fishy" to me.

A district renown for failure, kicks out Stanford outreach?

Everything is politics, but more so in California public schools, but this one is almost a joke. If nothing else it proves the entire system is a disaster.

I'm with you Parent One on enough political correctness, but you can't just blame the people, has Stanford said, it's a worthless cause to try to do better for these families?

if as Max says above

"Based on the interpretation from the legal counsel, Stanford New Schools met the criteria to be renewed."

I hope Stanford puts up a fight, if only to get some stuff out in the light of day.










Like this comment
Posted by Misla Barco
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I have been teaching at East Palo Alto Academy High school for 7 years, and I was a teacher for 7 years before that. Contrary to the inaccurate news reports, EPAA is a highly successful small school in a high-need community. Although our school has one of the highest poverty rates and lowest parent education levels in the state (2/3 of our parents have less than a high school education), we graduated 86% of our students last year -- well above the state average -- and we had 96% of our graduates admitted to college, most of them to 4-year universities. I teach Spanish at the school, and in our AP Spanish class, we have had 85-100% pass rates on the AP exam for the last six years.

This success is possible because of the more personalized attention we can give our students. Each one has an advisor who works with them for 4 years, and the advisor is available to students and parents all the time to support academic and personal needs. In bigger schools, I taught 150 students every day. It was impossible to establish strong relationships with all of them, even with enormous effort. By comparison, at EPAA, I have the opportunity to fully connect to each student and each family, and that relationship allows me to pinpoint the supports that students need. Even after the students graduate, we continue to support them, financially and emotionally. When they run into issues at college, they call their advisors. At EPAA HS, we no only want our students to be accepted and go to college; we want them to graduate from college! We keep the parents strongly involved, we run bilingual monthly parent meetings where we offer a myriad of classes for the parents such as nutrition, ESL, technology, legal rights and immigration to name a few. This involvement is much more difficult in big schools, which is why hundreds of parents and students turned out to support the school at the local board meeting a few weeks ago.

Fortunately, the Ravenswood board recognizes the strong value EPAA high school has brought to the community and voted last week 4-1 to seek a modification to the current charter to keep the school in operation. We look forward to continuing to serve these students and the community for many years to come.

Misla Barco
Spanish Teacher
Community Liaison


Like this comment
Posted by something smells fishy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2010 at 11:42 pm



according to a report in the Stanford Daily, there's a ravenswood school board meeting about this, tomorrow.

it mentions that keeping the HS in operation seems to be tied to the fate of the elementary, fair enough.

what I don't understand from the ny times article on this topic, is why the ravenswood superintendent, also on the stanford charter board, is opposed to renewing the charter?

time for a reality show










Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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