Superintendent urges denial of charter school bid

Proposed East Palo Alto school would not measure up, De La Vega says

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by Real American
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:14 am

In other words, she is standing up for the powerful teacher unions and education establishment that have routinely failed to get results. They don't want competition that WILL make them look bad. And the kids suffer. Give them a real chance!

Like this comment
Posted by Natasha Jackson- Devereaux
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:24 am

This is just another way to hold their kids back from further educating themselves. Rocketship is a great schoool. I grew up in East Palo Alto and attended Ravenswood School District up until I entered High School. I must say the school system then was a JOKE. The only reason why they are fighting so hard for this school not to come into East Palo Alto is because they will prove that Ravenswood is a JOKE, also another reason they will lose a lot of students to Rocketship. You ask me it's about money.

I currently live in San Jose and my youngest attends the very FIRST Rocketship and she started in Kinder my dayghter is only in the 3rd grade and is almost at a 5th grade level. My oldest attended Ravenswood School District his first two years of school and then I had concerns after removing him from that District my son has excelled very well in school, due to me relocating.Ravenswood it is time for you to step down and let someone else help the students of East Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:44 am

Preservation before education coming from someone who these kids/families have to rely on for education. Shame on you Maria De La Vega. Go Rocketship!

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Predictable. When the Ravenswood Rocketship school was first proposed, I made the following, prescient post:

Posted by Dan, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Dec 17, 2010 at 1:08 pm

"I'd advise Rocketship to get some kind of binding commitment from the Ravenswood School Board. Earlier this year, Stanford's Ravenswood K-5 charter school was shut down by the board. The article below seems to infer that it was done mostly to recapture the State funds that had been flowing to the Charter School so that the Board could avoid teacher layoffs in the rest of their District due to declining enrollment. At some point, the Board must choose a side: teachers or students."

Today's heavy-handed rebuke of Rocketship from the superintendent is a dead giveaway that her mind was made up before she even opened the proposal.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by parent/volunteer
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 24, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I agree with Dan's comment about the superintendent's heavy-handed rebuke of Rocketship being a dead giveaway that her mind was made up before she even opened the proposal! Summit/Everest Prep. experienced this with the Sequoia School District for years.

Here is another powerful statement from the article that indicates that Ravenswood is failing its students:
"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."

I think Ravenswood SD is a delayed drop-out factory: how many kids that come out of Ravenswood end up dropping out of high school?

I tutor students at an EPA school because they're below grade level in reading and I also tutor students at Menlo-Atherton school that "graduated" from Belle Haven yet can not write a complete paragraph with correct spelling and grammar. Socially passing students is not doing these students any favors. Their elementary education HAS to be better than it is currently!

Like this comment
Posted by Monica
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm

7:30 P.M. – public session
Costano School
2695 Fordham Street
East Palo Alto, CA

Tonight’s board meeting.
Charter vs. Public Schools – The fight for this era . . . .

Aren’t charter schools and public schools the same?
-Is it really public if the entrance is based on lottery?
-Is it really public if they don’t have the same guarantee of services for all students who enter e.g., students with IEPs?
-Is it o.k. to open one school to serve the "cream" if it means closing 1-3 others?

RCSD has a history of approving charters, why not this one?
-5 charters in the last 5 years have been closed. They were unable to meet goals or state mandates. Stanford New School had abysmal scores.
-They are applying for a different district to represent the LEA for special education. Why don’t they think they can meet the rigorous requirements that we have as public schools in RCSD?
-Would it be cynical to wonder why someone would buy land in EPA to build a school, rather than lease land? If the school fails and they close it down, do they get to sell the land for profit?

What’s so attractive about this prospective charter school?
-900 API – that’s impressive!
-How many students represent this data? Less than 100.
-How long has the school been around? Less than 5 years.

If I had a small school in which I could only accept the students whose parents went the extra mile to sign them up, I too could have an API of 900. Is a quality education for all students our goal, or do we believe that we should have special schools for special children? Should we begin sorting kids and perhaps create a school that is geared towards students who will never be academically inclined?

These are tough questions. There is no easy answer. It will be interesting to see what happens tonight.

Like this comment
Posted by its all about the $$
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I don't see how a company that currently runs school that have API's similar to PAUSD can have an "unsound educational program," or be "demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement" the program. Rocketship obviously has a sound program and has already successfully implemented it at other schools.

Ravenswood does not want to lose the funding. They already loose hundreds of kids to the Tinsley program, about 600 in Palo Alto alone. They loose a number of students to other Charter schools, the ones that BTW are bringing up Ravenswood's API scores.

Ravenswood is a magnet for charter schools for a reason. They need the help. They also need their own high school, or at least the ability to all attend MA, the closest school. It is ridiculous that the high school students of EPA are bused to schools all over the Sequoia district.

Like this comment
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Academically rigorous charters may attract "academically inclined" students, but if those "academically inclined" students would perform better at a charter than in Ravenswood, why deny that child that chance? If we can't save all, so we save none or few? How is that better? An API of 688 is saving very few.

I can't believe any education professional could call a program serving at risk students that gets 925 on the API "unsound." Anyone who has worked with at risk students know how exceedingly hard it is for any program to achieve that mark. Rocketship students typically start one grade level or more behind. People should really at least visit Rocketship's website before passing judgment: Web Link (or visit their campus)

Like this comment
Posted by fornoone
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Now I can understand why some unions are bad for the society.

Like this comment
Posted by puckman979
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Let's see:

This is the same Rocketship who packed the Ravenswood chambers with those it had picked up by bus on street corners, fed at McDonalds and Pizza Hut and outfitted with shirts and foam fingers. Many of those admitted that they had no idea who Rocketship was or why they were at the meeting. They took a ride and got fed.

Rocketship has not one student who has completed their full program. They have an LLC that's a Real Estate Company to whom their schools pay a hefty rent; they funnel tremendous amounts of money to administrators who work for another company. They have an interesting business model but a suspect educational model.

What they do best is market their concept. Ravenswood and other districts should pay close attention and address this weakness inherent in all traditional school districts.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Sounds like a great idea if you get picked in the lottery. My son has been denied twice due to their lottery. I guess we're not lucky enough to be admitted to the far superior charter school. Why not put more money into the public schools. My son goes to Willow and the classrooms and playgrounds look the same as they did in the mid 80's when I was a 2nd grader there. There is barely enough money to fund the after school program which is a god send to working parents such as myself. They had to have a church donate new playground equipment due to the lack of money. Where is the district support?

Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Watch "Waiting on Superman" It's on DVD and explains everything about the big teacher unions.

Like this comment
Posted by EPA Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:44 am

East Palo Alto kids deserve quality education systems. Why not give them another option?? Sending your child to Rocketship, EPA Charter or the Tinsley Program is a choice. Parents who care want the best for their child. Why are parents fighting to support a broken school system that has failed our precious youth. Let's stop putting teacher jobs first! Students are #1!

Like this comment
Posted by its all about the $$
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

Some additional info on Rocketship's schools in San Jose:

"Two of its three schools are old enough to have test scores; they rank among the 15 top-performing high-poverty schools statewide, and the site that opened last year was the number-one first-year school in the state"

Doesn't sound "unsound" to me or unlikely to succeed.

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

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