Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Back to Earth for One Charter School


By Mary Thompson, 3D Research Group

Below is an excerpt from an article from the San Jose Mercury News, 06/29/2014, Page A01, A15, "‘WE DIDN’T DELIVER’ Back to Earth for charter: Rocketship is scaling back amid plummeting test scores, criticism of ambitious plans," By Sharon Noguchi.

Rocketship Education shot to national prominence by operating charter schools that produced stellar test scores from poor and immigrant students with a model focused on high-energy teaching, computerized learning and frequent test-taking.

But eight years after its first school opened in a downtown San Jose church, Rocketship has scaled back its ambitious goal of enrolling 1 million students in 50 cities — which would have put it on the same scale as New York City’s school district, the nation’s largest.

Its ambitions have drawn fire from neighbors, parents, teachers unions and school districts, who charge that adding campuses will hurt traditional public schools and who have bested Rocketship in court.

Perhaps even more devastating for this darling of charter school boosters is that its vaunted test scores have plummeted.

“We didn’t deliver,” said CEO and  co-founder Preston Smith....

Placing children on computers and with noncredentialed tutors for more than an hour a day has saved on teacher salaries.....

Teachers... also criticized Rocketship’s intolerance for dissent, saying it contributed to the disastrous redesign that placed 100 students in a classroom....

Rocketship was seeking in part to save money with the large classrooms, overseen by two teachers and an aide....

Rocketship relies primarily on state money for its $52.6million annual budget — which doesn’t include a separate entity, Launchpad, that builds its schools — and California has relatively low per-student allocations. So even after test scores fell at all schools — including a precipitous 73 points at Mateo Sheedy — in the pilot year, Rocketship went ahead and knocked down classroom walls and created more super- large classes. [emphasis added]

Below is my Letter to the Editor that was published on July 2, 2014, in the San Jose Mercury News, concerning this charter school article cited above.

Pay attention to charter governance

Regarding the article about Rocketship charter schools “scaling back amid  plummeting test scores, criticism of ambitious plans” (Page A1, July 29): Rocketship is only a poster charter whose current local situation is  symptomatic of the entire charter school agenda across the nation and  elsewhere. Brett Bymaster’s concern about “governance” is exactly the  concern that should be primary regarding all charter schools. His  question in regard to Rocketship is the question crying out to be
exposed as some voices around the country have been warning of charter schools: “How do we as a community hold them accountable?”

We can’t. Once local elected school boards forfeit or are forced to  diminish their mandate as elected representatives, they can no longer be accountable to the voters who elect them.

All charters are an affront to the concept of elected representation and  taxation with representation. Rocketship just happens to be the one in  headlines at the moment.

Mary Thompson