Improper Enrollments at Rocketship Nashville?

Nashville parents report questionable recruitment practices by Rocketship

The blog from the pro-public education website, Tennessee Parents, reports that Rocketship in Nashville improperly enrolled parents who had come to an informational meeting to learn more about the schools.

***EDITORS NOTE*** We have not independently verified this story, however, we did hear it from a few different sources.  If anyone has any more information, please let us know, editor@stoprocketship.com

It would not be the first case of parents being enrolled without their permission.  We do have first hand reports of parents in San Jose being enrolled at Rocketship without their permission.  If these reports from Nashville turn out to be true, it would be improper enrollment on a much larger scale than we’ve seen before.

Unlike California’s Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding model, Tennessee does a September 19th/20th student count.  One Nashville charter schools, Urban Day School, is paying families $100 each to show up at their school on that date, a fact that has outraged many in the community.

Rocketship has faced rocky starts in new regions as it attempts to expand.  A new Milwaukee Rocketship school recently faced a $1.4 million deficit after it missed enrollment goals.

From:  http://www.tnparents.com/

 From a parent in Nashville:TennParentsApparently ANY family that went to an info session about the new Rocketship Charter Schools had their records pulled without permission. So students and parents showed up the first day of school only to find out that they were not registered at their zoned school. Their children were registered at Rocketship without their permission.

So they went to Rocketship to get their children switched back to their zoned school, and it was like walking into a high-pressure timeshare sales job. Rocketship pressured them to stick around and try it. It was a nightmare to get Rocketship to release their child’s records to re-enroll in their zoned school.  This happened to over 100 families.  A bait-and-switch nightmare with their children’s school placement.

Rocketship also confused ELL and immigrant families by misleading them to believe that they were supposed to go to charters.  It is a mess.  Strangely, the media isn’t picking up on it.  There is a lot of hush-hush.  Some are wondering if they are trying to keep students there past the 20th day to get the ADA funding and to boost their enrollment numbers.

Parents fight back:
www.stoprocketship.com is a website created by parents and community members to expose the money, politics, inconsistencies, broken promises, and real stories about the Rocketship charter school scheme happening in their communities.  These advocates contributed to StopRocketShip.com, with data, graphs, letters, videos and information.  They have no political or outside ties.  They are fighting for what they think is right and for what is best for their community.

Tennessee parents want fully funded public schools that benefit all students, not greedy, manipulative investors.

Rocketship’s VP of Policy convicted of felony embezzlement at prior nonprofit

Katy Venskus is Rocketship’s Venskus Vice President of Policy, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Venskus plead guilty to a class C felony charge in 2002 for stealing money from the nonprofit that employed her.  In 2010, Venskus was charged again with theft and identity theft from the lobbying firm she worked for, charges that were later dropped by the prosecution.  Venskus and her husband are now facing additional charges over delinquent taxes. Venskus is listed as the official lobbyist for Rocketship in the state of Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Dept of Education lists Venskus as the primary contact for Rocketship’s Southside Community Prep in Milwaukee.  According to Rocketship board documents, Venskus was hired in 2013, “to lead our national strategy on moving legislation/policy in order to operate as a national school system.”

Venskus recently lobbied the Wisconsin State Legislature to loosen chartering laws to make Rocketship’s expansion easier.  According to Progressive Magazine, Wisconsin Education “Committee chairman Luther Olsen, Republican of Ripon, told colleagues during a break in the hearing, ‘We’re just doing this for Rocketship,’” when speaking about the bill (SB76) that Venskus lobbied for.

Rocketship indicates in their national 501C3 tax filings that they do not engage in any kind of lobbying (see page 3 question 4 in their FY 2012-13, or FY2011-12 tax filings).  Rocketship has also lobbied heavily in California.

Below is information on Venskus’ record according to public sources, including the Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access.  Please refer to each source for verification of accuracy.

In June 2001 Venskus, then known by her married name, Katherine Heringlake, became the board president of NARAL-Wisconsin, which was seeking to ramp up its political work in the state and hire paid staff.

Using her NARAL checkbook, Venskus siphoned off $12,939 from the organization over the next several months, according to the criminal complaint. She was charged with felony theft and forgery in April 2002 in Dane County Circuit Court and pleaded no contest to the theft charge in August of that year, with prosecutors dropping the forgery charge.

In the meantime, Venskus began working for the state office and attorney general campaign of then-Sen. Brian Burke, a Democrat from Milwaukee. She quickly started illegally doing campaign work and fund raising on state time along with other aides in Burke’s office, according to a criminal complaint filed against Burke. Burke was convicted in the state caucus scandal, but Venskus was not charged.

On Feb. 8 of this year, she was charged with felony theft and felony identity theft on suspicion of making $11,451 in improper purchases with her Public Affairs credit card, including a freezer full of steaks, according to the criminal complaint filed in Dane County court. She repaid the charges.

The complaint said that Public Affairs Co. was not aware of Venskus’ felony record when she was hired. She left the firm in July 2009, about seven months before the charges were filed.

Venskus declined an interview request but her lawyer, Stephen Meyer, said she will fight and be cleared of the latest charges, which he said came down to a business dispute between Venskus and Public Affairs. At a preliminary hearing in April, Meyer said the firm hadn’t made clear what were legitimate business charges for the credit card and was trying to change the rules after the fact.

Venskus’ boss at Public Affairs, Stacy Thompson, also declined to comment on the case, which is scheduled for trial in August. But at the April hearing, Thompson said she had warned Venskus about proper use of the card when she was hired in January 2008 and again in June 2008, when Venskus was almost fired for misusing the card and had to pay back the company for “several hundreds of dollars in unauthorized charges.”

By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel

From The Progressive Magazine

Convicted felon Katy Venskus is the Vice President of Policy for Rocketship Education, and the former chief of staff to ex-Wisconsin state Senator Jeff Plale. She was also accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a lobbying firm she was working for, but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of school privatizers, who use the connections she has built up in Wisconsin state government to push their agenda. Venskus was also employed as a lobbyist by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce until August 2013, helping raise $2.5 million in local start-up funds for Rocketship’s Southside Community Prep school in Milwaukee.

In her testimony before the Senate Education Committee earlier this year, Venskus spoke to lawmakers about SB 76 as if they existed to serve her personal business interests. “It’s difficult to recruit great people to come to Milwaukee to teach,” she said, pushing the bill’s licensing changes. “There’s a huge disincentive for me to bring great people here.”.   By Rebecca Kemble for the Progressive Magazine.

 Venskus Record, according to the Wisconsin Court System Circuit Court Access

Case Number
Filing Date
Case Status
Parties
2014TW0003854/14/2014$ 16,995.11 Delinquent tax warrantDept. of Revenue vs. WILLIAM KEETON et al
2011TR0029239/30/2011Motor vehicle operation after Revocation/Suspension of RegistrationState of Wisconsin vs. Katherine M Venskus
2010CF0002192/8/2010Felony Theft-Business Setting >$10,000 & Felony Identity Theft - Obtain Money or Credit. Dismissed by prosecutorState of Wisconsin vs. Katherine M Venskus
2009SC0011492/26/2009Midland Funding LLC in Small Claims court. Judgement amount: $ 2,601.39 (wages garnished)Midland Funding LLC vs. Katherine M. Venskus
2006SC00536010/24/2006Allco Credit Union. Judgement Amount: $ 4,966.33 (wages garnished)Allco Credit Union vs. Katherine Venskus et al
2002CF0008304/3/2002Plead guilty to business theft > 2,500State vs Katherine M Heringlake

Rocketship and Bullying: Is Anything Being Done?

One mother’s testimony:  Rocketship ignores bullying in their schools, instead focusing only on test scores

The public testimony of Liliana Casillas raises some serious questions about Rocketship’s role in preventing bullying.  In both a letter and public testimony, Ms. Casillas documents that regular bullying and abuse of her 3rd grade son was tolerated by Rocketship officials.  Sadly, I have spoken to many other families who have experienced similar difficulties at Rocketship.  In most cases, inexperienced administrators and teachers are unable to handle problematic behaviors on campuses packed with student densities nearly ten times that of normal public schools.  Last year, we documented that principals lack proper credentials, experience and training at Rocketship.  Many principals have only 2 years of teaching experience before rising to school leadership.  Experienced school leaders are critical to maintaining a safe, positive school climate.  Could school bullying be a direct result of Rocketship’s policy of promoting two year Teach For America teachers directly to become principals?

Ms. Casillas’ public letter was written after the June 4th, 2014 public hearing at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, where the Rocketship Fuerza school was approved 7-0 on appeal after being denied by Alum Rock Union School District.

 

June 16, 2014
Dear Santa Clara County Board Members,

I recently dis-enrolled my 3rd grade son from Rocketship Si Se Puede. Many other parents have done the same and I want you to know more about what the school is like and how parents and students are treated. Here some examples. I have many more and know parents who would also come forward but are too afraid to speak out.

It’s been two years my son started getting bullied in the classroom and during their breaks. I met with the principal of Si Se Puede regarding the bullying that has occurred over the years. The most recent a bully pushed my son almost to the ground and held up another child by his t-shirt just to get the teacher’s attention. The principal said he  doesn’t care what the bullies do inside or outside the classroom all he cares about is their test scores. He said, “Got it that’s my main focus. Move your child to another classroom for all I care but I will not make any changes. I will allow him to do as he pleases. If you don’t like it then go to my boss Preston Smith.” The following week the boy grabbed the phone cord and started to strangle a classmate inside the classroom. It was a scary moment because the teacher was not aware of what was going on busy in a group setting. Had it not been classmates telling the bully to let him go he could’ve died. I warned the principal you let bullies do as they please with no discipline or consequences taking place, it will only get worse and it did. To this day, the boy continues bullying other children in the school. Teachers are not allowed to say anything to him but ignore the child acting up in class. He continues disrupting by shouting out bad words to students and teachers throwing items at them.

No Bathroom Breaks during class – Children Urinating – Children are not allowed to use the bathroom during long class periods. My child developed a urinary tract infection (I can provide doctor’s verification) and it could’ve been avoided. MANY CHILDREN are urinating on their pants because they’re taught not to go during the duration of that class time. I went to the school several times and many times saw children in the office waiting for their parent to show up due to the child urinating unable to hold it in any longer and other times parents were not notified until their child spoke up. This does not just happen in Kindergarten. It happens in the other grades too.

Learning Lab — for 100 minutes at a time. My child would say to me “Mom I felt dizzy” he would get headaches and get tired focusing too long looking at the screen. My child would say, “I wish there was a teacher instead of looking directly at the computer.”

Rocketship emphasizes community but towards last ones I attended very few parents showed up. Couple of parents brought to my attention they were discouraged at how the school is being run and that’s why they’re no longer attending. Last mandatory meeting parents were told voicemail left on their phones if you don’t come to our June 9 th Exhibition night your child will not get to go Wednesday’s Field trip. Parents coming to the school Si Se Puede during class time are left not wanting to come back again. The staff looks at you but does not acknowledge or greet. Yard Duty staff use excessive authority and are constantly yelling, scolding, and taking lunch recess away for no reason. The PE Coach is unprofessional, rude, does not greet parents and talks back to children when they have not done anything. He sends some to the principals’ office for no reason. At the last minute the coach would think of an activity to do but the children were getting hurt and when children complained to the instructor he lashed out at them. The principal says he didn’t know. I addressed the matter to them. Unfortunately, he didn’t do anything about it because the abuse from the yard duties still continues to this day.

Because I dis-enrolled my son from Rocketship, I received direct retaliation saying they’re unable to provide my child’s academic records and lost a recent 504 plan with everyone’s signatures on it asking me to come back and re-sign due to the staff no longer being there. The Assistant Principal mentioned if need be they will create a report card based on the teacher’s input. It is unacceptable that they would lose my son’s records.

UNFORTUNATELY MANY PARENTS ARE NOT SPEAKING UP IN FEAR OF RETALIATION AND NOT KNOWING THEIR RIGHTS, UNABLE TO SPEAK ENGLISH, BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE PAPERS TO LIVE IN THIS COUNTRY. THEY LIVE IN FEAR AND SADNESS UNABLE TO HELP, SUPPORT, ADVOCATE FOR THEIR CHILDREN. AND ROCKETSHIP TAKES ADVANTAGE BECAUSE THEY KNOW THE MAJORITY OF PARENTS WILL NOT SPEAK UP.

My child had endured bullying and I emailed the staff, had meetings with the principal, and other upper Rocketship employees including Preston and was not able to get support from them until I told the Principal if my child gets hurt again by the same bullies, I will contact the police. My son is smart, friendly, honest, and unfortunately kept quiet of everything that happened to him at school until he felt safe at home to talk about it. There would be days he would come crying, scared, stressed, frustrated not wanting to go back to that school because the same bullies wouldn’t leave him alone mentally, physically bullying him. Principal and staff would tell him you are not to defend yourself, talk to a staff member. There should be alternative ways to help a child face bullies. Instead they don’t provide any support. I feel staff at this school is not doing their job as they are supposed to and amongst them they cover up all the corruptions and violations that are constantly going on at that school. Children are truly suffering with so much pressure. Especially during test times, my child would be stressed to the point he wanted to throw up. He said he was afraid he wouldn’t finish the test in time and would have nightmares before.

When I spoke at the board meeting against Rocketship, for the first time I felt relief to finally let out what has happened as I remained silent for too long. Please do not let this school expand.

 Sincerely,

Lily Casillas

Public testimony of Liliana Casillas on June 4th, 2014 to the Santa Clara County Board of Education

Note:
Rocketship’s student handbook states that bullying is not tolerated (page 22).  However, it appears that a robust investigation and reporting process is only available for Rocketship schools in Wisconsin.

Forbes: The Teacher-Less Classroom Is Not As Close As You Think

Forbes’ Nick Morrison on Rocketship’s technology over-dependence.

Rocketship students spend up to two hours a day on computers.  During that time, the students are supervised by uncredentialed teacher aids (euphemistically coined Indpendent Learning Specialists).  Nick Morrison, in this Forbes post, cites a recent research review study which questions the effectiveness of student driven technology learning.  The study questions three “urban legends”:  1)  Kids are digital natives, 2) Kids are good at technology driven multitasking, 3)  Kids know their own learning style, and can use technology to self educate.  Each of these urban legends are dissected, and refuted with a research basis.  Technology in the classroom can be a great aid to a good teacher, but the inverse may well be misguided.

From: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2014/08/21/the-teacher-less-classroom-is-not-as-close-as-you-think/

Nick Morrison

Nick Morrison is a free-lance writer for Forbes, The Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. This article appeared in Forbes.

…Pupils at the nine schools run by the U.S. charter school operator Rocketship Education spend a quarter of their lesson time online, an approach that has provided inspiration for a proposed new academy run by Ark Schools, one of England’s largest school chains….

The authors also dismantle the idea of the self-regulated learner directing their own education. Left to themselves, students do not always know how to determine what they do not know and assess what they need to do to make up that gap.

Experiments that show students prefer to practice tasks they are already familiar with show that they do not always choose what is best for them or their learning, while choice without parameters can lead to frustration.

The authors conclude: “…students are really not the best managers of their own learning with respect to navigating through and learning in the digital world, choosing the best way in which to study and learn or gathering useful information from the internet.”

The San Jose Mercury News: Journalism or right-wing political activism?

Longtime Merc columnist Scott Herhold finally admits in writing:  He’s just about the only republican in Santa Clara County

Herhold

Mercury News Columnist Scott Herhold

I rarely find myself in agreement with Bob Brownstein, the policy and research director of the labor-oriented Working Partnerships USA. Brownstein is well on the left, while a long journalistic career has made me more skeptical about government.
Scott Herhold, August 11, 2014

The Mercury News:  Once a bastion of Journalism

The San Jose Mercury news was once a great bastion of journalism.  Described in the 90′s as “a middle-of-the-road political cast slightly tilted to the Democratic side”, the paper more recently leans decidedly right.  Throughout the 80′s, 90′s and early 2000′s, the paper reigned as one of the best in the country.  It won two Pulitzers, first in 1986, again in 1995, and then it scored three Pulitzer finalists between 2001 and 2005.  But the awards stop there, as the paper slid from balanced journalism to become the de facto Chuck Reed / Sam Liccardo political campaigning vehicle.  Reed took office in 2006, the year after the newspaper’s accolades took a decade recess.

As evidence of the downhill spiral, the daily got scooped on the biggest San Jose story in recent times.  San Jose’s tiny weekly paper, The Metro, broke the George Shirakawa scandal, a story which culminated in the influential county supervisor spending time in the slammer for gambling and corruption.  Scrappy journalist Josh Koehn sniffed out the story that everyone in the Merc’s sprawling newsroom seems to have missed.

Editorial:  My take on where the Merc went wrong

Here’s my theory.  The Merc fell in love in with Mayor Chuck Reed, lost its way in a lovesick daze, and slowly but surely got sucked into the Right Wing Democrats’ anti-union, anti-government crusade.   The newspaper writers became close friends with one faction of the city government.  Sal Pizarro’s daughter was a flower girl in Sam Liccardo’s wedding.  Scott Herhold was observed advising Liccardo on how to run his mayoral campaign over a personal lunch.  It all happened under the guise of being liberal, after all Santa Clara County leans democrat with a margin of 2:1.  The Merc let their ethnic minority opinion writers slip away.  Over time, because of attrition or hiring practices or something, everyone began having the same point of view.  On the important local issues they – staff journalists to columnists to editors – now speak with a unified voice: anti-union, pro-charter, small government, balanced budget.  Let’s be honest, everyone in journalism has a bias.  That’s not the problem, the problem is that everyone at the Merc leans the same way.  They are racially homogenous, ideologically identical.  The lack of diversity is appalling, and let’s face it, boring.

Herhold’s admission above is a small statement in a much bigger sea of editorials and news pieces.  One Merc reporter told me that the editorial staff used to be housed in a separate building to maintain “the firewall ” between the journalists and opinion writers.  Budget cuts later pushed them all in the same room, a more than ceremonial breakdown in journalistic ideals.

Herhold’s confession of being a Right Wing Democrat is a small example.  There are so many more examples, but here’s my favorite.  The Mercury News actually made a small campaign contribution to the right leaning anti-union Don Gagliardi in the San Jose District 3 race.  The Merc later castigated itself for the contribution, admitting that it’s “improper for a newspaper to contribute to a political action committee.”

By now, you may be wondering why a blog laser focused on charters would be criticizing the local daily.  I’m a blogger.  I don’t get paid to do this, I stay up late at night on my own time doing the research.  There’s a lot I can’t do.  Paid journalism is so important.  The more time I spend blogging, the more I realize the importance of a local daily newspaper that walks the tenuous line down the center.  We need the Merc.  We need its paid staff to dig up dirt, and expose the truth.  We need a strong editorial board that makes solid recommendations that represent the community.  Let’s be honest, I shouldn’t be writing this blog.  If the Merc did its job, I wouldn’t have to.  They should be writing about Rocketship, they should be writing about the dangers and benefits of the education privatization movement.  Unfortunately, their support of Reed & Liccardo’s anti-union campaign led them to blindly support Rocketship rather than to look at the truth.

To the Mercury News:  Time to change!  Add some minorities!

I want to go on the record publicly.  The Merc has to change.  The all white editorial board is a dinosaur.  They need new blood, they need to add Spanish speaking Latinos, they need Asians, they need a young member and an old member.  Everyone is beginning to notice.  Even when they called me a “conspiracy theorist,” most of my friends hadn’t read about it; they stopped reading the daily long ago.  I hear the same story so often, “I let my subscription lapse, The Merc’s a joke these days.”  Here’s an idea to bolster their falling subscriptions:  get some diversity, let diverse columnists duel it out on important issues.  Imagine a pro-charter and a pro-public school advocate hammering out the issues in parallel dueling columns.  People would love it!

Some might argue that I have an axe to grind.  Herhold named me the “Nimby of the Year” in 2013 for representing the desires of the Spanish speaking Latinos in our community.  The editorial board added criticized our group in 2013, saying that we were “A small group [that] opposes the plan, citing sometimes contradictory concerns about air quality, parking and draining students from a nearby school, as well as a preference for a middle school.” The editorial board declared in 2014 that I was a “conspiracy theorist”.  If I weren’t thick skinned, I wouldn’t be writing a blog.  While these off color statements are annoying, they don’t represent the core of my concern.

Write about education …. and can we get back to the days of Daniel Vasquez?

Education is going through the biggest change in the history of America’s experiment in democracy.  Reed Hastings’ suggestion that we replace elected school boards with private corporations is the biggest story since Daniel Vasquez (a Latino) became the Merc’s last Pulitzer prize finalists in 2005.  I can only wish that an education story in 2015 would break the decade slide into oblivion.  I’ll even suggest where to start:  The Detroit Free Press did some hard journalism on charter schools.  The Merc should follow suit.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Good Editorials

SanJoseDemographics_MercEditorialBoard2

Time for a change!  2014 San Jose Mercury News Editorial Board
Name
Position
Photo
Ed ClendanielMercury News Editorial Writer
Barbara J MarshmanEditorial Page Editor
Sharon RyanPresident & Publisher
David J ButlerBANG Editor in Chief

 

Bonanza! Silicon Valley Sees Gold in Corporate-Driven School Reforms

Pulitzer Prize Winner Gary Cohn links Silicon Valley, Vergara tenure suit & Rocketship with corporate education profiteering

Snippets from Cohn’s article are below, read the full article at Capital & Main:  http://capitalandmain.com/bonanza-silicon-valley-sees-gold-in-corporate-driven-school-reforms/

GaryCohn

Gary Cohn is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to Bymaster, the big secret to making charters profitable is reducing teacher costs. “If you’re going to break that market open,” he says, “you have to run a high student-teacher ratio. And so if you look at the Rocketship model, it’s completely built around this 40-to-one student-teacher ratio. And they want to increase it. They wanted to take it to 50-to-one. The ugly side of that is that it’s really clear that these high student-teacher ratio models are not good for kids.”

….

“Preston or the principals,” says Serrano, “would stop kids randomly [and ask] ‘What’s your test score? What did you get on test? What did you get on your benchmark test?’ Instead of connecting with the child in terms of, ‘What did you do yesterday when you got home from school?” or ‘What sports do you like to play?’ or ‘What do you do with your family on Sunday afternoon?’ or any other question to get to know kids. It was all about the number. It was all about the test score.”

The pressure to produce scores was felt by both students and teachers, whose salaries are directly tied to test scores. “I would see so many young teachers,” Serrano remembers, “even some that were TFA [Teach for America] teachers — and this was their second year — that were just crying in their classrooms. It wasn’t a happy place.”

http://capitalandmain.com/bonanza-silicon-valley-sees-gold-in-corporate-driven-school-reforms/

Does Teacher Experience Matter?

StopRocketship.com Investigative Analysis:
San Jose’s charter schools miss the mark on teacher experience.

San Jose’s Charter schools that serve predominantly low income students have surprisingly low experience levels as compared with the public schools serving the same children.  San Jose Unified teachers, for example, have more than 10 years of in-district service, while Rocketship teachers come in at less than 2 years by the same measure.  A recent study funded by the pro-charter Bill and Melinda Gates foundation shows that teachers reach maximum effectiveness after five years of service.  Of course test scores capture little of a teacher’s true capability.  There is good reason to believe that a teacher’s knowledge of the community and students grows with time, making experienced teachers better educators in the greater civic sense.

Are students getting the education they deserve at charter schools lacking experienced teachers?  Are charter schools communicating lack of teacher experience when they recruit students to their schools?  Should privately held charter schools serving low income students with very high percentages of brand new teachers receive public money with little or no accountability?

Does the high teacher burnout rate at charter schools serve teachers or students well?  Or does it create churn that hurts students and communities, while minimizing teacher salaries?

Teacher Experience-1
Teacher Experience2_edited-1

The Impact of Teacher Experience
Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research TeacherExperienceCurve-2

Slate: Sweden’s School Choice Disaster

Slate magazine on Sweden’s privatization Disaster.  Is there something to be learned?

Slate magazine wrote this week about the failure of the privatization movement in Sweden. Officials in Sweden, where a tenth to a quarter of the students attend privatized government funded schools, have recently publicly apologized for privatizing their education system with charter/voucher schools.  Tomas Tobé, head of the parliament’s education committee said, “I think we have had too much blind faith in that more private schools would guarantee greater educational quality,”  The Swedish Green Party last year said about the privatization mistake, “Forgive us, our policy led our schools astray”.

And yet, here in America, many suggest that we should fully privatize our education system.   Billionaire Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently declared that charter schools, like Rocketship, should fully replace public schools by 2040.  The consequences in the strongly socialized country of Sweden have been dire, while public education systems in neighboring Finland have performed quite well.

Sweden’s School Choice Disaster

Advocates for school choice might be shocked to see how badly the country’s experiment with vouchers failed.

Fisman ¥ Harvard ¥ OMM

Columbia Professor, Raymond Fisman, writes in Slate magazine about the demise of Sweden’s education system after privatization took hold

Every three years, Americans wring their hands over the state of our schools compared with those in other countries. The occasion is the triennial release of global scholastic achievement rankings based on exams administered by the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests students in 65 countries in math, science, and languages. Across all subjects, America ranked squarely in the middle of the pack when the tests were first given in 2000, and its position hardly budged over the next dozen years.

The angst over U.S. student performance—and its implications for the American workforce of the near future—is inevitably accompanied by calls for education reform: greater accountability, more innovation. Just as inevitable are the suggestions for how more accountability and innovation could be realized: more charter schools, more choice, less bureaucratic oversight.

Advocates for choice-based solutions should take a look at what’s happened to schools in Sweden, where parents and educators would be thrilled to trade their country’s steep drop in PISA scores over the past 10 years for America’s middling but consistent results. What’s caused the recent crisis in Swedish education? Researchers and policy analysts are increasingly pointing the finger at many of the choice-oriented reforms that are being championed as the way forward for American schools. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that adding more accountability and discipline to American schools would be a bad thing, it does hint at the many headaches that can come from trying to do so by aggressively introducing marketlike competition to education.

Read the full article on slate.com!

Rocketship Texas suddenly withdraws

Past the deadline, Rocketship withdraws their application to open 16 charters in Texas, ruffling feathers in Texas Education Agency

For the second time in the past year, Rocketship has withdrawn a charter application at the last second.  Rocketship withdrew an application in January of 2014 to open a charter in Morgan Hill just days before the scheduled vote.  On Wednesday, Rocketship withdrew their application to open charters in Dallas and San Antonio just a few days before board members were scheduled to hold interviews in Texas.

Rocketship’s March 2014 application was one of the longest submitted to the Texan Education Agency (TEA), coming in at well over 800 pages.  The application proposed opening 16 schools in Dallas and San Antonio over the next 5 years, a plan similar to the highly controversial plan to open 20 schools in Santa Clara County; a plan that is currently tied up in litigation.  The application also disclosed detailed litigation launched by the parents of San Jose’s Washington Elementary over the Rocketship Tamien site.

TEA board members were scheduled to complete three days of interviews for all applicants, starting on Monday.  The meeting schedule was already posted, as Texan open meeting laws require posting one week in advance.  Rocketship’s late withdrawal meant that interviews couldn’t be rescheduled, causing headaches for the board members.  It’s an emerging pattern of operation for Rocketship that some consider arrogant.  It’s not clear why Rocketship chose to withdraw so late in the process.  One possibility is that recently passed legislation (Senate Bill 2) raised performance requirements for out of state charters in Texas.  Rocketship’s falling performance numbers, first reported by this website, may have put their application at a disadvantage.

Rockethip’s withdrawal comes at a delicate time for the Texan charter school movement.  The Texas State School Board denied additional campuses to Arizona based charter operator Great Hearts over concerns about performance and outreach to low income students.   In early July, it became public that appointed Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams had unilaterally overruled the board of education, ruling that Great Hearts could indeed expand.  It’s another example of charter schools attacking the authority of democratically elected bodies.  Republican  board member, Thomas Ratliff, told the Texas Tribune, ”I certainly think it flies in the face of legislative intent. Republicans are critical of this president for doing executive orders around an elected Congress, and it looks like Michael Williams decided that playbook looks OK.”

KatyVenskus

Katy Venskus, Rocketship VP of Policy.

Rocketship will continue to open schools in the regions where we currently have schools: Northern California, Milwaukee, Nashville, and D.C.,” she said. “We have been in the growth phase for the last three years — growing from opening schools in one region to schools in four regions in just three years. While we will continue to expand our impact (the network will double in size over the next few years) we have decided not to pursue growth outside our four existing regions.  Rocketship’s VP of policy, Katy Venskus, quoted in Politico.

knight

Mavis Knight, Texas State Board of Education

Rocketship, once considered a rock star in national charter circles for its bolduse of technology, has seen scores dip in the last couple of years. An onslaught of critical assessmentsin Nashville and an active campaign against the chain in California has laid the once-ambitious charter chain low.
Director Heather Mauzeinformed the State Board of Education’s Initiatives Committee Rocketship had withdrawn from consideration today.
“Probably a wise move considering what I read about their expansion issues,” Knight countered tartly, “and I’ll leave it at that.”
San Antonio’s Choose to Succeed, with the backing of the Brackenridge Foundation, had launched a full-scale recruitment campaign for out-of-state charters. The non-profit group’s goal is to put 80,000 San Antonio students into charter schools by 2026. Initial partners on the list included Rocketship, along with high-profile charter chains such as BASIS, KIPP, Carpe Diemand Great Hearts.Such a forthright strategy, with backing from non-profit foundation money, has left board members such as Knight both suspicious and skeptical. Knight made her preference for local charter providers, and particularly providers aimed at low-income minority students, known at the SBOE meeting this week when members questioned Commissioner Michael Williams’choice to expand Great Hearts.  Texas Quorum Report

Mercury News: Rocketship Education changes course, slows expansion

Mercury News, champion of Charters, criticizes Rocketship

The Mercury News, which has written nearly 10 editorials in favor of Rocketship, has just joined a growing media chorus discussing some of the downsides of Rocketship Education.  It’s a milestone event that this anti-labor news source would be willing to openly criticize the charter school which it had heretofore enshrined.  It’s even more surprising given the Merc’s overt support of San Jose Mayoral candidate, Sam Liccardo, who has been one of Rocketship’s biggest supporters.

http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_26055309/rocketship-education-sputters-expansion-classroom
http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_26055737/rocketship-teachers-fuel-cells-charter-network

The privatization of education is by the far the most radical change to education since the beginning of the American education system.  It is imperative that we openly debate the merits of having private corporations with unelected school boards control education (and its accompanying public tax dollars).  Other news sources have run multiple full length articles debating the merits and pitfalls of charter schools.  The Detroit Free Press, for example, is currently running a slew of stories on the successes, failures, and conflicts of interests inherent in the Michigan charter school system.

We’re happy to see the Merc step into the fray, even if it is a tentative step.  We give author Sharon Noguchi a thumbs up for pushing these stories through the editorial process.  The accompanying story on Rocketship teachers was weak, given the strongly negative views expressed by former teachers, but it was nonetheless a step in the direction of opening a public debate.

Smith_PrestonPerhaps 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, about disappointing results that led Rocketship to slow its growth. “That’s in response to our own expectations.”

Rocketship, Smith said, has been targeted partly because it challenges the status quo.
Not so, said the network’s leading nemesis. Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, whose successful lawsuit led Rocketship to abandon plans for an already-approved school in Tamien, southwest of downtown. He said he’s most concerned about governance.
“What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?” asked Bymaster, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a “Stop Rocketship” website that has attracted a local and national following.
He noted that Rocketship reneged on a promise to maintain local school boards and instead consolidated them with the national board. “How do we as a community hold them accountable?”

More details on Rocketship’s failure of accountability, referenced in the Mercury News Article

Broken Promise #1: All Rocketship Schools will have local control
Rocketship-Broken-Promises“Our local school boards have full legal authority, so they’re not giving up any legal authority to the national board, There’s just a relationship between that board and the national board around the management contract etc. You could split off a Rocketship school and it could stand on its own with its own local school board, it just happens to have a relationship with Rocketship national for the services provided.” Rocketship Founder, John Danner, Dec 14, 2011

It was a promise that lasted less than 2 years. On May 15, 2013, Rocketship quietly slipped a small provision into their material charter revision that stripped all local control, consolidating local school boards into the national board. The parent boards were downgraded to SELAC advisory committees, with no formal oversight power. All seven independent Rocketship school boards were dissolved on February 27th, 2013, by the same two majority votes: Alicia Gallegos, head of the San Jose Charter Consortium, and Barbara Hansen, a PACT board member (People Acting in Community Together); neither are parents of Rocketship students (as was promised in the public meeting). We think there’s considerable irony in the fact that a PACT official voted to dismiss all local control for a parental oversight board.

Broken Promise #2: API Performance Contract
Rocketship-Broken-Promises“We proposed at Rocketship that our first year schools would realize a 775 API. Year two schools, so in their second year, an 825 and Year 3 plus 875 API. And I think those are very serious metrics. So all of our schools currently meet those metrics. Si Se Puede has to make some gains to realize those metrics in the third year and we’re confident they’re going to do that. If an existing school fails to meet those standards then a future charter that has not been opened yet would be lost, we would not be able to open those schools so it would actually slow down our growth and it would be a 1 to 1 comparison point…. We would actually not just push out, we wouldn’t open those schools, so we wouldn’t open those schools.” Rocketship CEO Preston Smith, Dec 14, 2011

Sadly, Rocketship has failed to meet their performance contracts. However, they haven’t kept up their end of the deal — they should be removing 4 charters at this point, however, they’ve made no attempt to do so.

We continue to wish that Rocketship would focus on meeting the performance of their current schools instead of growing.

2013 Rocketship charters meeting their performance contract

Name
Year of Operation
API
Pass or Fail
Rocketship Los Suenos Academy3790FAIL
Rocketship Discovery Prep2791FAIL
Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy4837FAIL
Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary6851FAIL
Rocketship Alma Academy1809PASS
Rocketship Mosaic Elementary2836PASS
Rocketship Academy Brilliant Minds1893PASS
Total Number of FAILS4

County Approves Rocketship Fuerza in Alum Rock 7-0

Santa Clara County Board of Education Unanimously approves Rocketship Jackson, snubbing Alum Rock’s School Board

speechRocketship’s Jackson St school, now named Rocketship Fuerza, won a unanimous victory at the County Office of Education last Wednesday.  The road to opening Rocketship Fuerza has been a rocky one filled with community and regional opposition.  In December 2011, Rocketship won approval to open 20 new schools in Santa Clara County, including the Jackson St site.  The downtown San Jose Tamien site should have been the first of the 20 to open, however, strong community opposition led to a number of defeats culminating in Rocketship withdrawing their Tamien application.  Rocketship was denied permission to open a school in Morgan Hill and withdrew their appeal to the county when it became clear they did not have sufficient votes.  Rocketship lost a lawsuit contesting the County’s zoning exemption of the Tamien site, and to make matters worse, four local school districts (including Alum Rock) filed suit against Rocketship’s petition to open 20 new schools.  That suit, for the time being, invalidates the Alum Rock Jackson Street charter petition.  Rocketship responded by requesting a new petition from Alum Rock, a request that was denied by a vote of 3-2 by the Alum Rock School Board.

Rocketship’s Fuerza facility is already partially built.  Strangely, building started after the lawsuit was filed.  Rocketship had hoped to finance the building using public bonds, however, pending litigation made selling those bonds impossible.  Instead, Rocketship secured a $7 million loan from the Charter Growth Fund.

Charter Growth Fund makes sizable loan, with questionable conflicts of interest, and purged board documents.

The Charter Growth Fund has a sizable interest in Rocketship.  The fund acquired the for-profit Dreambox software corporation, a company that provides adaptive mathematics software to Rocketship.  Rocketship’s former national board adviser, Reed Hasting, invested $11 million into the for-profit enterprise, and Rocketship’s founder, John Danner sits on Dreambox’s board.

The Charter Growth Fund’s investment in Rocketship Fuerza ensures continued growth of Dreambox, as Rocketship is no doubt a major customer.  The financial details of Rocketship’s contract with Dreambox have not been disclosed.

Alex_Hernandez

Alex Hernandez, sits on Rocketship’s board and leads the Charter School Growth Fund investment division

RichBillings

Rich Billings, former Rocketship CFO & Current Charter School Growth Fund CFO

The term sheet for the Charter Growth Fund loan was written by no other than Richard Billings, former Rocketship CFO.  Rocketship’s board member, Alex Hernandez leads the Charter Growth Fund investment division, and was forced to recuse himself from the approval vote. The final term sheet, approved by Rockethip’s board on April 24th, has been purged from their website, raising serious transparency questions.  The terms of the loan require repayment in 18months, a term far too short for the loan to repaid using per student state funding.  Apparently, the loan is a bridge loan until Rocketship can secure more long term financing.  The risk in such a bridge loan, laden with conflicts of interest, is extraordinary.

Interim County Supt ignores Alum Rock, delivers an empty staff report

Interim County Supt, Dewan, dismisses Alum Rock’s 32 page Rocketship analysis with one & only one sentence: “Staff found no indicators of an unsound educational program”.
Staff Recommendation:  Approve Rocketship Jackson St.

Vote scheduled for a Wed June 18th all-night Mega meeting covering Rocketship, LCAP/LCFF, & Annual budget

Native Hoosier, MaryAnnDewanMary Ann Dewan, moved from Indiana to California in October of 2013 to take the number 2 spot at the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  Her move to California coincided, almost to the week, with Morgan Hill’s bruising staff analysis of Rocketship’s unsound educational program.  Dewan, hired by then Superintendent De La Torre, contributed to the staff denial recommendation that led Rocketship to hastily withdraw their Morgan Hill application in January 2014 just before a scheduled vote.

Dewan’s prior boss clearly understood the importance of listening to school districts.  In fact, on his way out the door, De La Torre indicated that he was leaving the SCCOE largely because his board had alienated the school districts they’re supposed to be serving by “demonstrating an absence of thoughtful and deliberate process.”

supt_img

Former County Supt, Xavier De La Torre

Earlier this month, De La Torre seemed to blame his board for the difficulty in establishing rapport with the superintendents of Santa Clara County’s 31 school districts: It was because they were so angry about his bosses’ 2011 approval (before his tenure) of 20 Rocketship charter schools. “Oftentimes it would come up in conversations — that decision demonstrated an absence of thoughtful and deliberate process,” he said. “I wasn’t part of it, but I was certainly aware of the aftermath and impact it had on the relationship with some superintendents.” De La Torre’s comments in the Mercury News, Feb 2014

Dewan’s staff recommendation surprisingly empty

Given the history of Rocketship and the local school boards, many observers found the lack of analysis in the staff report surprising.  The complete staff analysis spans only two pages.  The Alum Rock analysis spanned 32 pages, the majority of which centered on whether or not Rocketship had demonstrated a sound educational program.  Dewan’s analysis was distilled to one and only one unsubstantiated sentence:  “Staff found no indicators of an unsound educational program”.  The clear message to Alum Rock’s school board:  We don’t care.

Dewan’s in the running for the next Supt

SCCOE board members report that Dewan is the leading candidate for the next county superintendent.  No doubt county board members are using this report as a litmus test for her potential reign as permanent Supt, if so her pH paper got dipped in acid and incredulously came out blank.  We are a county in desperate need of a leader who can navigate the acid that Rocketship has dropped into the education waters.  Dewan’s empty staff report is most certainly not a positive step in that regard.  We need a superintendent who can step up to the plate, delivering a detailed, thoughtful, impartial analysis.  We may not always like the outcome, but we should surely respect a careful, pensive analysis.  In this case, we disagree with the outcome, but are shocked and worried by the absence of a thoughtful and deliberate process.

Rocketship Alum Rock Hearing on Wednesay June 4th

Rocketship Alum Rock petition scheduled for an initial hearing on June 4th at the Santa Clara County Office of Education

Come to support public education, 5:00pm
1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose

JacksonStCome support public education by making your voice heard at the June 4th hearing on Rocketship’ Alum Rock Jackson St Facility.  The charter was sent to the SCCOE on appeal after being denied by the Alum Rock School District.  Consider writing an email to board members, email address below.

It’s important to respectfully debate the advantages and disadvantages of Rocketship in Alum Rock.  It’s imperative that we engage in a civil debate on the merits of the petition.

Make your voice heard!  Email SCCOE Board Members today!

Broken Promises

It’s important that we continue to hold Rocketship accountable to the promises they’ve made in the past.  Below you can find a summary of a few key promises they made, and then broke:

Broken Promise #1:  All Rocketship Schools will have local control
Rocketship-Broken-Promises“Our local school boards have full legal authority, so they’re not giving up any legal authority to the national board, There’s just a relationship between that board and the national board around the management contract etc. You could split off a Rocketship school and it could stand on its own with its own local school board, it just happens to have a relationship with Rocketship national for the services provided.” Rocketship Founder, John Danner, Dec 14, 2011

It was a promise that lasted less than 2 years. On May 15, 2013, Rocketship quietly slipped a small provision into their material charter revision that stripped all local control, consolidating local school boards into the national board. The parent boards were downgraded to SELAC advisory committees, with no formal oversight power.  All seven independent Rocketship school boards were dissolved on February 27th, 2013, by the same two majority votes:  Alicia Gallegos, head of the San Jose Charter Consortium, and Barbara Hansen, a PACT board member (People Acting in Community Together); neither are parents of Rocketship students (as was promised in the public meeting).  We think there’s considerable irony in the fact that a PACT official voted to dismiss all local control for a parental oversight board.

Broken Promise #2:  API Performance Contract
Rocketship-Broken-Promises“We proposed at Rocketship that our first year schools would realize a 775 API. Year two schools, so in their second year, an 825 and Year 3 plus 875 API. And I think those are very serious metrics. So all of our schools currently meet those metrics. Si Se Puede has to make some gains to realize those metrics in the third year and we’re confident they’re going to do that. If an existing school fails to meet those standards then a future charter that has not been opened yet would be lost, we would not be able to open those schools so it would actually slow down our growth and it would be a 1 to 1 comparison point…. We would actually not just push out, we wouldn’t open those schools, so we wouldn’t open those schools.”  Rocketship CEO Preston Smith, Dec 14, 2011

Sadly, Rocketship has failed to meet their performance contracts.  However, they haven’t kept up their end of the deal — they should be removing 4 charters at this point, however, they’ve made no attempt to do so.

We continue to wish that Rocketship would focus on meeting the performance of their current schools instead of growing.

2013 Rocketship charters meeting their performance contract

Name
Year of Operation
API
Pass or Fail
Rocketship Los Suenos Academy3790FAIL
Rocketship Discovery Prep2791FAIL
Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy4837FAIL
Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary6851FAIL
Rocketship Alma Academy1809PASS
Rocketship Mosaic Elementary2836PASS
Rocketship Academy Brilliant Minds1893PASS
Total Number of FAILS4

Getting rich off of poor colored kids will solve society’s problems. Really?

Big News:  Ultra rich investors announce THE CURE for society’s problems:  “Making Money”

Andre Agassi and his new partner, Robert Turner have announced THE solution to cure (no, “really cure”) the problems of society, by (drum roll please) — “Making Money”.  Social inequity, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, social mobility, immigration reform, the achievement gap, gang violence, family breakdown, and addictions apparently all have a simple solution according to the tennis star:  Getting rich (no pronoun involved, we’ll assume it’s first person).  If we were better “conspiracy theorists” we would have just made this up, but we’re lazy slackers, so we’re just going to print it directly from Bloomberg’s Business Week:

TurnerAgassi

Robert Turner and tennis great Andre Agassi look to cash in on poor children of color

“If you want to cure — really cure — a problem in society, you need to come up with a sustainable solution, and that means making money

 

 

Agassi teamed up with Robert Turner to form a for-profit firm that’s looking to raise $1 billion to build 60 charter schools with 30,000 seats.  That’s not a $1B gift, that’s a for-profit loan.  And who, you ask, would pay back that loan?  Look no further than last April’s tax return — indeed YOU will pay back that loan and ensure a hefty profit for Agassi and his sidekick Turner.  Agassi recently left his prior firm, Canyon Agassi, after a nasty breakup.  The millions he’s made building Rocketship schools in San Jose, Milwaukee, and Tennessee through Canyon Agassi apparently haven’t satisfied him.  Rocketship’s private sister facility company, Launchpad LLC, shields the details of the Agassi deals.  We know that Rocketship pays a hefty 20% facility fee to Launchpad, more than twice what a normal district schools pays.  Tracing the public tax funded money through Launchpad isn’t possible.  So we don’t know how sweet of a deal Agassi is getting.  But given that hedge fund investors are lining up, we’re pretty sure that Agassi’s not going to experience the poverty that his profitable subjects struggle with every day.

Turner goes on to say the following, which is totally meaningless business babble.  We couldn’t make this stuff up, but then again, I guess we don’t have to!

“Social-impact investing can generate better risk-adjusted returns than traditional opportunistic funds because of the following reason: we’re not trying to create demand.”

 

Rocketship program is a model for inequality in education opportunity

University of Oregon professor, Dr. Gordon Lafer, questions Rocketship’s education model

“Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin”

EPI

Economic Policy Institute brief on Rocketship’s educational model.

University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer has released a 50 page academic brief through the Economic Policy Institute that asks some serious questions about Rocketship’s education model.  The report outlines many of the issues raised by StopRocketShip.com, including questions about profit motives, student teacher ratio, dropping scores and underlying educational models.

Rocketship responded to the report with a list of objections.  The Economic Policy Institute refuted each of Rocketship’s objections in a follow up posting.

 Wisconsin Journal Sentinal:  Rocketship program is a model for inequality in education opportunity, by Gordon Lafer

GordonLafer

Gordon Lafer, Economic Policy Institute

Sixty years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. The ruling rejected the concept of separate schools for students of different races and demanded true equal opportunity in education for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or income.

Since then, Milwaukee and many other cities have searched for ways to achieve that goal. Along the way, we have learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t.

Twenty-five years ago, for example, Milwaukee was told that education vouchers — public funds that could be used for students to attend private schools — would close the gaps in education achievement. Last year, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a corporate-funded think tank that had promoted vouchers, issued a report admitting that they didn’t work. Then the report insisted that we should trust the newest idea on the corporate agenda: privately run charter schools that replace teachers with computers.

This model is embodied in Milwaukee by the Rocketship chain of schools, and it is part of a corporate education agenda that is being pushed across the country. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is promoting Rocketship schools here, and MMAC President Tim Sheehy sits on the Rocketship board of directors.

Rocketship relies on inexperienced teachers, almost one-third of whom quit last year. It saves money by having students as young as kindergarten spend one-quarter of their day in front of a computer screen with no licensed teacher present. It offers no library or librarians, no music classes, no guidance counselors and no foreign languages.

In short, it’s a model that no suburban parents would accept for their own children — and indeed Rocketship is only being promoted as an option for children who live in poor cities. Hardly what the Supreme Court had in mind.

After 25 years of so-called reform efforts, Milwaukeeans have seen through the smoke and mirrors: The WPRI report on vouchers acknowledged that the public doesn’t support the Rocketship model.

Parents know that smaller classes mean more individual attention for every student, which is why Wisconsin created the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program in 1995. SAGE provides funding for low-income schools to limit class sizes in the early grades, but the funding hasn’t kept pace with inflation or need. Instead of looking to replace teachers with computers, lawmakers should adjust SAGE funding so every eligible school could limit class sizes.

Students need more personal attention from experienced teachers. They also need the kind of opportunities that are found at Wisconsin’s 10 highest-rated elementary schools: a broad curriculum including music classes, libraries and librarians, foreign languages, experienced teaching staff, small student-teacher ratios and support services such as guidance counselors or school psychologists. Good luck finding these things at a Rocketship school.

Milwaukee parents don’t just deserve a choice; they deserve high-quality choices. If the model being proposed for poor kids in Milwaukee is considered unacceptable by privileged parents in the suburbs, it can’t be the solution.

Gordon Lafer is an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center and a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He formerly served as senior policy adviser for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor.

Alum Rock denies Rocketship Education: Unsound Education Model

Alum Rock Board of Education Denies Rocketship Jackson on a 2-3 vote.  Rocketship education model declared “unsound”

Alum Rock Board MEetingAlum Rock’s board of education voted to deny Rocketship in a packed standing room only board meeting that lasted until late Thursday night.  The board was in the tenuous position of considering Rocketship’s charter petition, while simultaneously pursuing a lawsuit against the education company.  Supertindent Fiss issued a strongly written staff recommendation critical of Rocketship’s unsound education model, but stopped short of recommending denial.  The board deliberated on the possibility of creating an MOU to resolve the issues in Fiss’s report, however, in the end the board decided that the gap in education philosophy was too large to bridge.

In a rally after the meeting, Preston Smith stated that the appeal would be submitted to the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  Mr. Smith, Rocketship’s CEO, is slated to receive a $50,000 raise later this month, bringing his total salary to $225,000.  During the public hearing, Rocketship was pummeled for low test scores, high student teacher ratio, and the use of uncredentialed teacher aids who lack any formal training (called Independent Learning Specialists).

The vote went 2-3, with former Rocketship employee Karen Martinez and trustee Frank Martinez voting in favor of the petition, while Dolores Marquez, Andres Quintero, and Andrea Flores Shelton registered votes against the petition.  Trustee Shelton cast the swing vote against the petition, eventually deciding that Alum Rock needed to innovate from within after deliberating on the possibility of an MOU with Rocketship.  Dolores Marquez issued the strongest comments against the plan, stating that Rocketship was more focused on business than education.  Trustee Quintero worried that Rocketship’s lagging performance couldn’t be fixed with an MOU, preferring that Alum Rock partner with successful organizations that had a track record of improving test scores.  Rocketship countered that while their test scores were falling, they were still a high performing school.

The issue now goes to the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  A decision is expected sometime in the summer.  The Jackson St school is already under construction and hopes to open in the fall.

Andres_Quintero

Andreas Quintero

Rocketship scores are going this way [down].  Our scores are going this way [up].  I want to partner with an organization that has schools on the rise instead of trying to plug holes with an MOU in a falling school

 

dolores_marquez

Dolores Marquez

Rocketship is a business model.  We are not in the business of business.  We are in the business of Education.

 

Andrea_Flores_Shelton

Andrea Flores Shelton

I want to innovate Alum Rock from the inside.

Rocketship CEO gets $75,000 raise amid falling test scores

Rocketship’s CEO to get gigantic 50% raise, to $225k.  Other executives receive handsome $30k raise.  Rocketship’s total executive compensation nearly $1 million!!

Rocketship’s CEO, Preston Smith, is cashing in on a huge $75,000 pay raise .  Board documents suggest that as Rocketship posts falling test scores their CEO and Vice President of Growth are set to receive huge salaries increases.  Rocketship’s 2012 tax filings indicated that Mr. Smith was compensated at $150,000 plus benefits of $13,000.  As Rockethip’s API fell from 925 to 817, it’s CEO salary increased by a whopping 200%!  It should be noted that Rocketship compensates teachers based on their students’ test scores.  Apparently the same scheme is not used for their executives.

CEO Pay

Rocketship Executive Pay

Name
Title
Pay
Photo
Preston SmithCEO$225,000
Aylon SamouhaChief Schools Officer$204,000
Maricela GuerreroPrincipal$115,000
Carolyn DaviesDirector of Operations$102,000
Kristoffer HainesSr. Vice President Growth$190,000

 

Alum Rock Supt: Rocketship has an “unsound educational program”

May 8th — Alum Rock Elementary School District will decide the fate of Rocketship Jackson St

Please come and support the great public education at Alum Rock School District!
May 8th at 5:30pm at the ARUESD district office, 2930 Gay Ave, San Jose 95127.  

In a surprise move, Alum Rock Superintendent Stephen Fiss provided no clear staff recommendation to approve or deny Rocketship’s petition.  Instead, the Supt directed the board to consider a long and detailed set of problematic issues with the corporation’s petition that are, according to Fiss, paramount to an “unsound educational program”.  The staff report directed the board to either deny the petition as unsound, or approve the petition and direct staff to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would provide a mechanism by which the unsound portions of the program could be rectified.

Summary of Alum Rock Staff Findings:

  • Not a single Rocketship school has met the required federal benchmarks under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in English, and only 2 out of 7 schools meet the requirements for math.

    RocketshipAYP2

    Rocketship’s Adequate Yearly Progress, according to Launchpad’s CMFA Bond Term Sheet, page B-31

  • Rocketship’s test scores have shown significant declines over timeCST English Over Time_Updated
  • The Student to Teacher Ratio Stated in the Petition Is Misleading.
    Rocketship uses strange math and hand waiving to claim a student to teacher ratio of 28:1.  The simple fact is that their schools have 630 students, and 16 teachers.  No amount of rotation or teacher aids can cover the fact that 630 divided by 16 is a ratio of 40:1.California Dept of Education Data on Student to Teacher ratio (click to see CDE report).
    School
    Enrollment
    FTE Teachers
    Percent English Proficient
    Pupil Teacher Ratio
    Rocketship Discovery Prep6381643.3%39.9:1
    Rocketship Los Suenos Academy6261544.6%41.7:1
    Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary5891656.5%36.8:1
    Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy65816.251.2%40.6:1
    Rocketship Mosaic Elementary6351657.4%39.7:1
    Alum Rock Elementary School District12,659656.855.8%19.3:1
  • Rocketship’s teacher aids (euphemistically called Individual Learning Specialists) are not qualified or credentialed.
  • Rocketship’s 4 & 5th grade students do not receive sufficient teaching time under state credentialing law.
  • Rocketship’s governance model is not compliant with the Brown Act, since Rocketship’s board
    silicon-valley-san-jose-CA-the-orchard-room-meetings-560x310_singleImage

    Silicon Valley Capital Club at the top floor of the Knight Ridder Building

    meetings are held outside of Alum Rock’s district.This is more than a simple question of meeting location.  Meetings are held in distant locations that make attendance by local community members difficult.  For example, Rocketship has held board meetings in the exclusive members only Silicon Valley Capital Club, where their low income constituents couldn’t possibly meet even the dress code, not only the exorbitant membership fees.

  • Employee Qualifications:
    Two of the Rocketship teachers listed in the petition did not have valid credentials.  This raises serious questions about the validity of the credentialing program at Rocketship, and additional concerns about the oversight of the Rocketship credentialing program by the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
  • Principals have inadequate training.
    StopRocketShip.com raised this issue with an exclusive investigated report in December of 2013 showing that Rocketship principals lacked experience and proper teaching credentials.

    The Petition states: “We believe that it will be possible for Teachers to be

    StephenFiss

    ARUESD Superintendent Stephen Fiss

    promoted to Assistant Principal positions within two to three years of becoming Teachers.” (Petition at 137.)
    Staff believes most site administrators in public schools, as a matter of best practices, are required to have 3-5 years of successful teaching experience and often have many more years of teaching and other leadership experiences prior to beginning their administrative careers as principals or assistant principals.

History of Alum Rock Jackson St Site

In spite of fierce community opposition, the Jackson St Rocketship sited gained City Council approval in December of 2013.  The site would have the been the second of 20 Rocketship schools to use a county wide charter that was approved by the Santa Clara Office of Education on Dec 14th, 2011.  Rocketship recently withdrew their application for the Tamien site, the first of the 20 Rocketship schools to be approved.  Rocketship was forced to forgo the county wide charter for Jackson St due to a lawsuit filed by 4 districts, including Alum Rock.

Responding to the loss of the Countywide charter, Rocketship petitioned Alum Rock Elementary School District in March of 2014 for a charter to operate the Jackson St facility.  A packed house hearing was held on April 10th, 2014, a meeting that was so contentious that some worried it might come to blows.

The final decision will be made on May 8th at 5:30pm at the ARUESD district office, 2930 Gay Ave, San Jose 95127.  Please come and support the great public education at Alum Rock School District!

 

Rocketship Reliquinshes Tamien Site

After years of pressure from community activists, Rocketship Education formally withdrew their application to build a charter school on the San Jose Tamien site

In separate letters sent to San Jose Unified (SJUSD), the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE), and the City of San Jose, Rocketship has officially withdrawn their application to build a 700 student charter school on a 1 acre site near the downtown San Jose Tamien train station.  The withdrawal came as a surprise, after Rocketship applied for a zoning exemption from San Jose Unified in March of 2014.  Rocketship’s letter was obtained by StopRocketShip.com through the Freedom of Information Act.

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Washington parents march to protest the proposed Rocketship Tamien school.

This marks the end of a long journey, a journey in which the community and region rallied to stop a plan to put three Rocketship schools in a tiny 8 block community.  It’s the journey that birthed this website, and empowered a large group of Latino activists who’ve graced public meetings, numbering in the hundreds.  We can’t help but stop and look back at what’s happened in the past two and a half years.  In the process of advocating for the community and for public education, the parents of Washington Elementary have become a San Jose force.  Immediately recognizable in their green shirts, and respected for their polite and articulate comments in Spanish, the Washington parent community has gained regional notoriety.  They’ve learned to give 2 minute speeches at board meetings, they’ve written hundreds of letters, and they have learned to tell their stories on a public stage.  It’s a beautiful story of public engagement.   And in the end, the Washington parents were heard — both by the courts, and by elected officials.

The Santa Clara County Board of Education started the process in August of 2012 by attempting to grant a zoning exemption to Rocketship without providing the community or school districts sufficient time to review the plan.  The community rallied against the plan, and the board delayed the vote for several months.  In January of 2013, the SCCOE and the City of San Jose approved the project, even though hundreds came out against the school at public meetings, with the community turning in nearly 500 signatures in protest.

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Washington Parents celebrate a late night City Hall victory in November 2013.

A community member filed a lawsuit on behalf of the community in conjunction with San Jose Unified shortly after the January 2013 vote.  In March of 2014, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled on the side of the community, finding that the SCCOE overstepped its legal authority to grant a zoning exemption to a charter school.  In November of 2013, the City of San Jose denied Rocketship a general plan amendment for the Tamien site in a 5-5-1 vote.  While the deadlocked vote prevented Rocketship from building, it didn’t stop the plan from being heard again at a future date.  Rocketship approached SJUSD in April 2014, with a request to gain a zoning exemption from the local district.  It would have been unprecedented for a local school district to provide a zoning exemption to a charter it didn’t authorize.  A month later, Rocketship formally dropped plans to build on the Tamien site.  Finally after two and half years of struggle, Rocketship has dropped its plan to build a third charter in our community.

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Preston Smith, Rocketship CEO in a letter to SJUSD

I am writing to inform you that Rocketship Education has decided not to pursue a public charter elementary school at the Tamien site. We have notified the City of San Jose that we are withdrawing all land use applications related to this property. We look forward to partnering with you and the San Jose Unified School District Governing Board to serve every student and their families in the Washington neighborhood. These families deserve schools that provide every student with an opportunity to pursue their dreams. They also deserve schools that will help build community. At Rocketship, we believe that we can better partner with parents and community leaders towards that end. We are hopeful that our decision demonstrates that commitment.

Mercury News attacks Bymaster for supporting his community’s Latinos

Mercury News Editorial staff goes after San Jose Community member Brett Bymaster, with inappropriate name calling and false claims

Please support Latino public education in the Washington community by doing one (or all) of the following:

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A Latina parent protests a plan to put a DCP charter school on the Washington Elementary Campus

The Mercury News went on the attack today in a staff editorial.  The editorial attacked Brett Bymaster for his role in supporting his Latino community members and neighbors.  Bymaster lives in the downtown San Jose Washington community, a low income community comprised primarily of Spanish speaking Latinos.  Bymaster and his wife Angela are two of a small number of English speaking college educated parents at Washington Elementary, a school that is 97% Latino and 95% socioeconomically disadvantaged.  Their adopted son attended Washington and is currently a successful student at Willow Glen High School.  Their 3 year old son hopes to attend Washington in the coming years.

Washington Elementary has a fantastic leadership program that has home-grown Spanish speaking leaders.  Those leaders have proven to be eloquent speakers in community meetings, expressing their independent views.   The Mercury News attack on Bymaster discounts the strong voice and independent leadership at Washington (it should be noted that Bymaster has never served in a leadership position at Washington).

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Washington parents request a dependent school on the Washington Elementary campus, not an independent charter

We are deeply worried about the editorial board’s attack on Bymaster.  The San Jose Mercury News operates in a city that demographically splits roughly in thirds evenly between Latinos, Asians, and Whites.  You can see the Mercury News Editorial staff’s pictures below.  We question their commitment to meaningful grassroots educational change, when they appear unwilling to interview and include the views of the majority of the Latino parents at Washington who were against the DCP plan.

Bymaster’s wife, a local family medicine physician, had the following to say in a posting responding to the editorial:

More than simply defaming Brett Bymaster, both this article and the recent Sharon Noguchi article regarding the Washington neighborhood’s opposition to hosting DCP on their campus grossly disrespect our Latino Washington community. It is appalling to me that in America in 2014, Mercury News writers assume that the one white man in a sea of Mexican voices opposing a charter school must be their leader. Washington has an extensive, organized parent leadership structure which meets regularly to make plans and discuss issues. This assertion that the white man must be in charge of them is degrading to the intelligent, thoughtful Mexican parents who met repeatedly over months with multiple parties and came to their own decisions. Their subtle, complex decisions were expressed in eloquent Spanish at public meetings. They discussed their valid concerns about creating a unified culture with two schools with separate administrations on the same campus. They discussed the fact that the cafeteria and library are already at capacity with the current students, and that it would be difficult to add a large number of students to the campus. They asked DCP leadership how many students they would be adding, and that is where they got the 420 number. They considered all types of middle schools, thought about advantages and disadvantages of each type, and decided to ask San Jose Unified School District for a dependent district charter middle school. The overwhelming majority of Washington parents at community and board meetings politely but firmly asked the leadership for this. It is clear that no one at the Mercury News thought it would be beneficial to talk to any of them.

It is lazy journalism, even juvenile, to call a person an insulting name because one disagrees with his point of view. It would be convenient for the writers of the Mercury News if Brett Bymaster were simply a crazy conspiracy theorist who riles up a bunch of thoughtless Latinos. But unfortunately he is perfectly sane and our Mexican neighbors are wise and conscientious individuals who make their own decisions.

 

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San Jose Mercury News Editorial Board
Name
Position
Photo
Ed ClendanielMercury News Editorial Writer
Barbara J MarshmanEditorial Page Editor
Sharon RyanPresident & Publisher
David J ButlerBANG Editor in Chief

 

Bymaster’s reply to the claims in the editorial

  • Bymaster is a conspiracy Theorist
    Before Reed Hastings’ call to end school boards, this might have been justified.  But the fact is that very rich people like Hastings are overtly trying to end democratically controlled education. They’ve made the claim publicly and privately, and have put huge sums into political action committees.  It’s not a conspiracy theory.  It’s just a fact.  We have to be honest with ourselves.
  • Bymaster misled the community into believing the DCP school would have 420 students.
    Direct quote from the SJUSD DCP charter petition, page 16,
    “Over the term of the charter, the [DCP] School will enroll approximately 420 students in grades 6-8. Students will come from all neighborhoods within the geographic boundaries of San Jose Unified School.”  Note that the intent to enroll 420 students was confirmed by DCP officials.  Changing the figure would require a material charter revision, such a revision was never proposed to the Washington community.  DCP and SJUSD officials had the opportunity to present a plan for a material charter revision at public meetings, but never did so.
  • Bymaster’s biggest complaint is they skim the best students
    Simply not true.  Bymaster’s biggest complaint is bad governance and lack of oversight that comes along with the privatization of education.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Mercury News were looking into that?
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Washington Elementary parents gather at a San Jose Unified School board meeting to request that the Downtown College Prep charter school be placed elsewhere

 

Nashville Ledger: Is Nashville Rocketship’s Nonprofit status a myth?

Rocketship responds to our criticisms, scrapping online learning labs and plans to send CA tax funds out of state.  But can they be trusted?

 

Are nonprofit charter schools a myth? Big tax breaks, revenue shifting fuel growing charter school industry

“There’s not much difference in profit and nonprofits,” says Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University.  Funds also can be moved or paid into a web of for-profit sister companies that have contracts with the nonprofit charter school.  “It’s really a scam,” Miron says of the many different scenarios that can be used. “To really follow the money, you would have to really understand the facilities companies.”

Rocketship alters course as scores drop

Rocketship Education, a charter school company known for pioneering the use of computers to boost the academic achievement of low income students, is dumping a controversial online teaching program before it opens a school in Nashville, company officials say.

Charter company dumps plan to redirect funds

The Rocketship plan to fuel growth through local schools called for cutting staff to save money, and taking an additional $200,000 per year from each of the company’s existing schools to use as seed money. “It’s called ‘cross subsidization,’ and whether it is legal or not is very questionable,” says Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University whose research includes the monitoring of more than 300 charter schools around the United States. “Why would taxpayers in Tennessee want to pay for schools in another state,” he asks. The plan was first found on the company’s website, but was removed when it became ammunition in a California neighborhood fight over whether Rocketship would be allowed to open a second school in the community.

While we’re happy to hear that Rocketship is dumping online learning, and abandoning plans to siphon California tax payer money out of the state, we also know that Rocketship has a bad habit of making promises it doesn’t intend to keep.  With Rocketship’s rich patron, Reed Hastings, fighting to eliminate local school board accountability, we worry that our ability to hold Rocketship accountable will only get worse.

  1. Broken Promise #1:  Rocketship made big performance metric promises in order to get 20 Santa Clara County charters approved, promising to relinquish future charters if they didn’t meet their goals.  Not a single K-5 charter has made their goals, but Rocketship continues to grow without relinquishing charters.
  2. Broken Promise #2:  Rocketship promised to relinquish charters if districts approved local Rocketships.  San Jose Unified approved a local Rocketship, and Rocketship returned the favor by refusing to meet with San Jose Unified, and then letting the local charter lapse.
  3. Broken Promise #3:  Rocketship promised the community it would give each school ultimate local control with a stand alone local board.  But less than 2 years later, Rocketship quietly slipped a provision into a material charter revision that stripped all local control, and transferred the power to the national Rocketship board.

 

Reed’s World Part 1: Hastings, Mayor Reed & Sam Liccardo conspire against democracy

Multipart Series:  Silicon Valley’s power brokers conspire to hand the keys of education over to the One Percenters

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Reed Hastings speaking to the California Charter School Association

A group of powerful and wealthy Silicon Valley leaders are working to radically alter the education system across the nation.  They hope to eliminate local governing school boards, replacing those boards with privately held charter school corporations supported by government funds.  If successful on a grand scale, it would represent the biggest change in education since our founding fathers laid down the ideal of free public education as the cornerstone of strong democracies.  The mandate to eliminate school boards comes from wealthy and powerful leaders who have no experience or background in education. What would happen if Silicon Valley’s wealthy elites got their way, ending local school boards?   That’s a question that the editorial staff of StopRocketShip.com hopes to answer.  We’ll tackle the question, and illuminate the consequences over a series of ten posts.

The bigger story starts in the mid 90′s when education reformers started a campaign to create fear, uncertainty and doubt that America’s public education system was deteriorating; an argument that in retrospect was largely unfounded.  That campaign launched with a right wing thrust for a voucher system, but later morphed into a bi-partisan campaign for charter schools.

Our story starts with a 2008 San Jose City Hall meeting of millionaires, billionaires, and power brokers, notably lacking educators.

Billionaire Reed Hastings, Mayor Chuck Reed, and Mayoral hopeful Sam Liccardo collude to end school boards

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City Councilman & Mayoral Candidate Sam Liccardo pictured with his wife, Jessica Garcia Kohl, former Rocketship head of Community Relations

On February 7th, 2008, San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, now a Mayoral frontrunner, convened a meeting with the leaders in the education privatization movement.  The meeting roster reads like a who’s-who list of the Silicon Valley Bourgeoisie who’d like to end democracy in education.  The meeting launched an all out assault on public education in the South Bay, culminating in billionaire Netflix CEO Reed Hasting’s 2014 address to the California Charter School Association.  In that address Hastings outlines the road map:  Over the next 30 years, slowly replace public schools with charters.  The goal:  shut down school boards by the end of the century.  Hastings admitted that it would be too unpopular to accomplish all at once, so he suggested a favorite tactic of the One Percenters — quietly make slow and steady change until the public has forgotten why they had elected school boards to begin with.

2008:  Hastings, Liccardo, Mayor Reed and the dirty half-dozen

The City of San Jose’s sunshine calendars tell the story.  In 2008, Mayor “Chuckie-Baby” Reed’s sidekick Sam Liccardo and the dirty half-dozen sat in San Jose City Hall conference room 1854 to hash out their dirty little plan.  Little did the public know at that time that the goal of the meeting would be to setup the mechanisms required to transfer the power of education from school boards to private corporations.

Launching the Anti-Education Democracy Movement:  February 7th, 2008

Name
Title
Teaching Experience
Degree/Background
Notes
Photo
Chuck Rufus ReedMayor of San JoseNonePublic Affairs & AttorneyMayoral tenure characterized by anti-union campaign
Sam LiccardoSan Jose Mayoral candidate & City CouncilmanNoneHarvard Law SchoolRocketship supporter, wife was head of Rocketship's Public Relations
John DannerRocketship CEO2 years of teachingElectrical EngineeringFounded Netgravity, Sold in 1999 for $530 million
Jim BlewWalton FoundationNoneB.A. from Occidental College and an MBA from Yale UniversityConsultant to Walton Foundation -- Walmart's $1.5 Billion foundation.
Gary RummelhoffFormer Santa Clara County Office of Educaiton board memberrNoneSouthern Methodist University - Cox School of Business
MBA, Finance
Rocketship Audit Committee, ACE charter school board member
Reed HastingsCEO NetflixNoneMS. from Stanford University in Computer ScienceServed on California State School Boards, net worth of more than $1 billion
Matt HammerCEO of Pro-Charter Innovative SchoolsNoneStanford University Graduate School of BusinessSon of former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer. Former CEO of pro-charter PACT

2009:  Silicon Valley 2020 — Closing the achievement gap by 2020 or ending school boards by 2050?

sj2020San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Office of Education Superintendent Weis launched SV2020.  It was an audacious plan to end the achievement gap by 2020 through a collaborative process of engaging all 19 school districts in San Jose, or at least that’s what we were told.  Dr. Weis was eased out by the board of education in 2012, his replacement Xavier De La Torre quit just weeks ago.  De La Torre left his post as superintendent largely because of the County Board’s vote to approve 20 Rocketship schools, a vote which took place before his tenure.  That vote alienated local school boards, making Dr. De La Torre’s job nearly impossible.  But more importantly, the vote set up the mechanisms necessary to eliminate local school boards, as the County Office of Education started approving charter schools en mass.  The County Board approved 38 charter schools in a row, more than twice that of any other county school board in the state.  The real goal of SV2020 started to become clear as local districts were largely left out of the planning process.  What started in 2008 with Councilman Liccardo and Mayor Reed was laid bare in Hastings’ 2014 address to the CCSA.  SV2020 with all of its rhetoric on closing the achievement gap has become nothing more than a thinly veiled ruse to end public education as we know it.

2014: Now we’re paying attention

More than 6 years after Liccardo’s fateful meeting, we’re finally starting to pay attention.  San Jose’s Mayoral race will be the first political race featuring charter schools.  Sam Liccardo outlined his primary Mayoral goals in a recent Mercury News Op-Ed, “Expand innovative, high-performing public charter and other public schools, secure sites and permits for new campuses.”  It’s a statement written only 1 month before Hastings’ declaration of war on public education.  The implications are crystal clear, just as they were in the 2008 meeting Liccardo hosted at City Hall.  The solution to the public education problem is eliminating school boards.

Ten Part Series on the End of School Boards

The future of our children and our democracy is at stake.  We want to think clearly, ask good questions, and clearly articulate the consequences of bad decisions.  We hope to do that in a ten part series.  Our outline follows.

Part 1:  Hastings, Mayor Reed & Sam Liccardo conspire against Democracy

Part 2:  History of Democracy in Education

Part 3:  Extremism and privatization: Is our democracy safe without school boards?

Part 4: High Stakes Testing:  Education corporations will drop well rounded liberal arts education, focusing on drill & kill

Part 5:  Forcing Dropouts:  Corporations will drive out low performers, expanding the achievement gap

Part 6:  Special Education:  Ed reformers will have little tolerance for expensive and “inefficient” special education students

Part 7:  Money, Money, Money:  How the rich hope to suck the cash out of students

Part 8:  Corruption:  Private ed corporations will lie, steal, and corrupt our schools once publicly elected school boards are eliminated and there is no accountability

Part 9:  Walmartizing Education:  Do we really want the Walton Foundation deciding how to educate the next generation?

Part 10:  This is Still a Democracy and We Get to Decide:  Do we follow the lead of the 1% or should we keep democratic school boards around?

Morgan Hill Unified: Rocketship illegally segregates and required volunteer hours are illegal

California Dept of Ed & County Board of Ed side with Morgan Hill, denying Navigator & Rocketship.  Morgan Hill raises serious legal concerns with Rocketship.

Morgan Hill Unified School District’s incredibly detailed charter analysis led to a board vote of 6-1 to deny Navigator Charter School’s petition on October 8th, 2013.  The same vote to deny Rocketship followed a few weeks later.

Rocketship and Navigator both appealed to the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  Rocketship withdrew their appeal just days before the scheduled vote, presumably to prevent the county staff’s report from going public; a report which would have brought significant issues to light.

Navigator proceeded to the board on the appeal, which they lost on a vote of 4-3.  Navigator’s leader, James Dent, again appealed the decision to the State Board of Education.

StopRocketShip.com has just learned that the CDE staff has denied Navigator’s appeal on technical grounds.  Navigator changed their charter petition when submitting to the county and state on appeal, since they had failed to consider the new Local Control Funding Formula in their petition.  We have learned that the state staff rejected Navigator’s appeal last week on grounds that the appeal appeal cannot be altered after the local district’s vote.

StopRocketShip.com has obtained a letter from Morgan Hill’s attorney through a freedom of information request that outlines a litany of problems with Navigator and Rocketship’s petition.  The letter written by Morgan HIll attorney, Laura Schulkind, provides a legal justification for the county board to deny both charters.  The full letter is available here.

The letter to the county office of education outlines a few very significant points.

  • Both the Navigator and Rocketship Programs segregate Latino students, Offending Principles of Equal Protection, Equal Educational Opportunity and Nondiscrimination in Educational Programs, causing segregation of EL students in substandard facilities
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Morgan Hill’s attorney, Laura Schulkind, in a letter sent to the Santa Clara County Office of Education

The Rocketship petition is profoundly deficient in this regard. Not only does it fail to provide the required plan, it’s program would cause further, significant segregation of English Language learners. Even worse, it proposes isolating ELs in substandard facilities far below what student’s receive in the District.The District submits that the inevitable, segregative effect of Rocketship’s proposed education program is unlawful.  Apart from the legitimate educational concerns of this proposal, the discrepancies raise equal protection concerns. Here is a snapshot of the discrepancies that would exist:

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  • Rocketship and Navigator required volunteer hours are tantamount to a fee; violating the Education Code requirement to be tuition free.  This is particularly important in light of a recent ACLU lawsuit which brought illegal donation practices in California schools to light, and inspired additional legislation to ensure that public education is free of charge.
Applying the State Board’s own standard here: although each petition included the statement that it would not charge tuition, the statement is contradicted by the content of the petitions. Specifically, both Navigator and Rocketship require all parents to provide a minimum number of hours of service to the school Rocketship-30 hours, Navigator 20 hours). This time/labor requirement is essentially an in-kind fee and one that disproportionately and unfairly impacts poor working families with less flexibility and/or leisure time. Meeting this requirement would effectively require many working parents to forego work hours and wages as a condition for their children to attend. Morgan Hill asserts that mandated parent service constitutes in-kind
  •  Petitioners May Not Correct Deficiencies in the Petition on Appeal
Here, it is our understanding that the Navigator petitioners have attempted to make a material change to the petition on appeal. Specifically, we have been advised that it may have tried to address its failure to utilize the local control funding formula (“LCFF”) in its budget assumptions. This was improper and its attempt to fix on appeal a defect identified at the District level should be disallowed. Otherwise, the District will be deprived of its right to review a district charter petition in the first instance.

Rocketship applies to Alum Rock, in spite of falling test scores, legal problems and Morgan Hill rejection

Rocketship submits a charter petition to Alum Rock Union School District with fading hopes of opening Jackson St School for 2014/15 school year.

AlumRockIn February 2014, Alum Rock Union School District filed suit against Rocketship’s attempt to open 20 new charter schools in Santa Clara County.  Since then, the Santa Clara County Superior court ruled against Rocketship’s attempted zoning exemption in a separate suit filed by San Jose Unified and a community member.

Rocketship’s February board materials indicated that they would press forward in opening the Jackson St school approved by City Council in December of 2013 in spite of the pending litigation.  Rocketship CEO Preston Smith said that he would “definitely be opening Rocketship Jackson in August of 2014 as over 600+ parents have applied (400 have already been accepted) and moreover, the San Jose City Council approved the facility (it is going to be awesome!) on a 9-1 vote in December of 2013. I look forward to opening the school in August”.

However, it appears that Rocketship will be unable to use the County Office of Education charter approved in Dec of 2011 due to Alum Rock’s lawsuit.  Instead, the organization has presented a charter petition to Alum Rock.  An initial hearing on the Rocketship petition will be held on April 10th at 5:30pm.

Rocketship hopes to finance the Jackson St facility using a financial tool opposed by California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.  Pending litigation will presumably make the sale of Rocketship’s risky CMFA bonds nearly impossible, as Rocketship would risk default if the court upheld the challenge to their charter.

Rocketship’s petition will be heard in light of falling test scores, teacher discontent and a recently rejected charter petition to Morgan Hill Unified.  Rocketship appealed the Morgan Hill rejection, but suddenly withdrew the appeal after fierce community backlash.

Rocketship’s petition puts the Alum Rock school board in a difficult position.  They are suing Rocketship on grounds that they should have petitioned directly to the school district instead of going through the County Office of Education.  Now Rocketship is doing what they should have done in the first place.  Having said that, Alum Rock is saturated with 3 existing Rocketship schools within a mile radius.  It’s hard to imagine a school board approving the application given Rocketship’s lackluster performance with major structural and financial issues,

Matt Hammer’s extremely pro-charter “Innovative Schools” report had to give credence to Alum Rock Union’s skyrocketing performance, saying the following about the district.  Alum Rock student performance is rising as fast as Rocketship’s student performance is falling.

There are surprises at the top and the bottom. From the perspective of a low-income Latino family looking for good schools, one of the best places to live is now Alum Rock, where there are high-quality charter schools and several of the top district-run schools in the region. Innovative Schools Report

Watch the Mayfair community’s protest against Rocketship Jackson St.

Read Rocketship’s full Alum Rock petition here.

San Jose’s Washington Community wins major lawsuit against Rocketship

San Jose Unified and Washington community win lawsuit against Rocketship and the Santa Clara County Office of Education

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A local student’s depiction of the powerful and wealthy Rocketship organization uprooting the planned park at the Tamien site

Santa Clara County Superior court judge Franklin E. Bondonno has just issued a final ruling in favor of the Washington community, disallowing Rocketship to place a charter school on the Tamien site.  Rocketship had hoped to bypass the local community and gain zoning approval directly through the County Office of Education.  Community member Brett Bymaster and pro-bono attorney Christopher Schumb filed suit against Rocketship in February of 2013, along with San Jose Unified.  On October 7th, 2013, Judge Bondonno issued a preliminary ruling in favor of the Washington community.

The ruling is another in a series of setbacks for Rocketship’s Education company.  Rocketship lost a crucial vote at City Council in November 2013, when the company attempted to erase Tamien’s open space designation, changing the general plan from a park to a school.  Then in February of 2014, four other school districts filed suit against Rocketship.  All this comes on the heels of falling test scores and teacher discontent within the Rocketship system.

The ruling has significant implications since it ensures that charter school location decisions are made by the most local authority — either by the local city council or local school board.  This is especially important for distant rural communities in Santa Clara County, such as Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

SuperiorCourtSantaClaraResizedCounty boards of education generally do not fulfill the same unique mass educational functions which are the duty of school districts. In short, there is such sufficient difference between what a county board of education does and what a normal “school district” does that the Court believes that if the Legislature had intended to grant the power to override local zoning to county boards of education, the Legislature would have so stated. It has not done so….The Court will grant the requested writ of mandate. The Honorable Franklin E. Bondonno
TVincentMatthewshis lawsuit was intended to correct the County Board’s exercise of a power only granted to school boards. It was not intended to prevent the growth of charter schools within the county.  San Jose Unified Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews

 

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Washington community members celebrate their City Council Victory against a proposed 3rd Rocketship in the tiny Washington Community. November 22, 2013

You can read the entire ruling from The Honorable Judge Bondonno here.

Rocketship’s Rich Patron, Reed Hastings, Drops a Bombshell: “You should get rid of School Boards”

Billionaire Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, provides the Charter School Roadmap:  Replace elected school boards with large non-profits run by rich oligarch magnates

Reed Hasting

Reed Hastings, Credit: James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Reed Hastings has just over a billion dollars, riches built on software companies and the entertainment giant Netflix.  Mr. Hastings also sat on the California State Board of Education from 2000 to 2004, when he stepped down amid controversy.

Hastings, who sits on Rocketship’s national strategy advisory board, has invested millions in Rocketship.  He’s also made significant political action committee contributions on Rocketship’s behalf, most recently, he poured $50,000 into a PAC to support pro-charter Santa Clara County Office of Education members.

On March 4th, 2014, Mr. Hastings delivered the keynote speech to the California Charter School Association’s annual conference.  In that keynote speech, Mr. Hastings made a shocking statement:  Democratically elected school board members are the problem with education, and they must be replaced by privately held corporations in the next 20-30 years.

Mr. Hastings’s vision of the bourgeoisie controlling education is, frankly, frightening.  We fear a system controlled by out of touch billionaires who subordinate and subvert the masses through Hastings’s “large non-profits”.

As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms”. Note to Mr. Hastings: Aristocracy and Oligarchy have been tried plenty of times, our predecessors got on a boat to escape them.  We don’t want our progeny to have to do the same.

And so the fundamental problem with school districts is not their fault, the ReedHastings2fundamental problem is that they don’t get to control their boards and the importance of the charter school movement is to evolve America from a system where governance is constantly changing and you can’t do long term planning to a system of large non-profits…The most important thing is that they constantly get better every year they’re getting better because they have stable governance — they don’t have an elected school board.  And that’s a real tough issue.  Now if we go to the general public and we say, “Here’s an argument why you should get rid of school boards” of course no one’s going to go for that. School boards have been an iconic part of America for 200 years.  So what we have to do is to work with school districts to grow steadily, and the work ahead is really hard because we’re at 8% of students in California, whereas in New Orleans they’re at 90%, so we have a lot of catchup to do…So what we have to do is continue to grow and grow…  It’s going to take 20-30 years to get to 90% of charter kids….And if we succeed over the next 20 or 30 years, that will be one of the fastest rates of change ever seen around the world for a large system, it’s hard. [applause]

Reed Hastings Keynote speech to the CCSA, March 4, 2014

You can watch the full 17 minute keynote speech here.

 

This story, first broken by StopRocketShip.com, is trending in print, blogs, editorials, and throughout social media!

The Washington Post:  Netflix’s Reed Hastings has a big idea: Kill elected school boards

Esquire:  What Does The Netflix Guy Have To Say About Public Education?

San Jose Inside/San Jose Metro:  Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: Get Rid of School Boards

San Jose Mercury News: Reed Hastings is wrong: A school board member’s defense

San Jose Mercury News Internal Affairs

The Raw Story:  Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wants to ‘steadlily’ replace school boards with charter schools

Diane Ravitch: Charter School Magnate Wants to End Local School Boards: Democracy is the Problem — Diane Ravitch & many others cancel their Netflix Subscription!!

EduShyster:  Education Reform, Inc. vs. democracy—now playing on a screen near you

The Left Hook

Beyond Chron

The San Francisco Chronicle:  Keep the ‘public’ in public school boards

MLive:  School districts succeed when board members focus on academics, Fordham report says

EdWeek:  Living in Dialog — Why Do Corporate Reformers Hate Democracy?

Media contacts should email editor@stoprocketship.com

 

Rocketship flex model gets poor ratings by Teachers, Students & Parents

Parents, Students, and Teachers at Rocketship admit flex model is struggling.  Rocketship should be commended for publishing the results.

In a rare move, Rocketship Education recently admitted that the blended learning flex model is getting poor ratings.  Rocketship’s flex model puts 120 kids in a large classroom with 3 teachers; you can view an excellent EdWeek interactive description hereBoard materials indicate that less than half of Rocketship teachers think that the flex model is accelerating achievement.  Parents and students both rate the non-flex model better than the flex model.

We at StopRocketShip.com want to commend Rocketship for publishing the results in public board materials.  They could have hidden it or downplayed it, but they wisely chose to publish the results.  This builds trust within the community and provides a framework for working towards fixing the problems.  Our hope is that Rocketship would slow or stop its growth plans in order to focus its time, money, and energy and fixing the problems in the schools it already runs.

Across all summary measures and over 90% of individual questions, students in the flexible model provide less positive feedback than students in the non-flexible model.  Parents of non-flex model students tend to provide higher ratings than parents of flex model students.  Read the complete survey results in the 2/13/14 achievement committee board material, page 11.

TeacherSurvey

Board Materials from 2/13/14 showing teacher survey results.

Despite falling scores, Rocketship hopes to take over schools in D.C. and Nashville

We wish Rocketship would focus on fixing the schools it already operates in our communities instead of growing.

Rocketship announced plans this week that it intends to take over a failing school in Nashville Tennessee in addition to opening new schools in Washington D.C.  and San Jose CA in the 2015-16 school year.  Rocketship’s aggressive growth plan continues unabated, even as teachers within the chain express serious concerns with the viability of the model.  In 2013, only half of Rocketship students test proficient in English, bringing the chain down to the California state average for low income students.  Many observers are surprised that Rocketship continues to pursue exponential growth with the lagging performance of its existing schools.  We wish that Rocketship would focus on fixing the problems in its current model before growing.

Charter school network Rocketship Education will be opening five new schools in 2015-16, one of which will be located in the District of Columbia, the first time the network has expanded to that city. …The move comes amid criticism lobbed at the network for expanding too rapidly and a steady decline in students’ standardized test scores in recent years. Part of that downward trend correlates with the rollout of the network’s new flexible classrooms, in which more than 100 students may be broken into groups to work on different lessons in separate parts of the same classroom.    Read the story on EdWeek.
NashvilleRendering

Rendering of the Nashville Rocketship school with funding from Andre Agassi’s for-profit charter venture, which will generate millions in investor profits.

Yes Magazine: The Myth Behind Public School Failure

Yes Magazine exposes the Rocketship Style corporate reform movement:  profiteering instead of education

Yes Magazine’s February 2014 article exposes charter school operators like Rocketship and their underlying interests to privatize the education market.  Rocketship’s founder, John Danner, recently left Rocketship to found the for-profit Zeal Corporation in hopes of tapping into the $4 billion education market.  Billions of dollars are at stake, and we’re left to answer the question:  will corporations in search of profits best serve our children? Continue reading