Rocketship’s expansion plans to capture minority student market share

Despite widespread criticism, Rocketship hopes to grow by 330% in the next 5 years, as they move to take market share from district schools

Rocketship is planning to open 27 schools in the next five years, more than tripling their student population from 6,000 students to 20,000 students.   By 2019, Rocketship hopes to have 20 schools in the Bay Area, 13 schools in Tennessee, 4 schools in Washington DC and continue with their solo school in Milwaukee.

In the 2015-16 school year, Rocketship will open schools in Redwood City, CA and Nashville, TN, adding a total of about 1,000 students.

Rocketship hopes to grow more quickly in the 2016-17 school year, as they open 2 new schools in the Bay Area.  Rockethip applied for two brand new schools and one conversion school with the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) on February 1, 2015 (Rocketship Tennesse #3#4, and Rocketship Conversion).  Those three schools would add 7,281 students to Rocketship’s roles in Tennessee.   One of the three schools to open in 2016 is to slated to be a highly controversial “conversion” school, where Rocketship would takeover and privatize a formerly public school.  Rocketship applied to the ASD for the conversion school, even as Tenessee saw large protests against ASD conversions.

Rocketship had planned to open a new school in Washington DC in 2015, but was forced to delay the school until 2016 when Rocketship learned that Andre Agassi’s for-profit facility hedge fund selected a site directly adjacent to a half way house.

Rocketship’s future growth plans in the Bay Area are unclear, although board documents indicate that Rocketship will target the Contra Costa County in the East San Francisco Bay Area region.  Sources have indicated that Rocketship approached Antioch Unified School District, but they have not yet formally applied there.

Rocketship schools by region
Total Schools
Bay Area91223320
Washington DC11114

Rocketship moves to increase their market share of children

Overall, California’s charter school market share is about 9%, just above the national average of 7%.  Billionaire and former California school board president, Reed Hastings, laid out  plans last March to the California Charter School Association to essentially end public education by 2030 in California.  He indicated a strategy of slowly growing charter school market share over the next 20-30 years until essentially all public education would have been replaced by privately held corporations.  If the exponential growth of charter schools over the past 14 years continues unabated, 90% of students would be in charter schools by 2034 (see graph below).  Hastings is a Rocketship founding supporter, and previously sat on their advisory board.  Hastings also owns a significant share of Dreambox, a software company that sells products to Rocketship.

Rocketship’s board documents indicate that the company is hoping to gain significant student market share in the downtown San Jose Franklin McKinley School District (FMSD).  FMSD has seen their market share erode from 96% in 2010 to 79% in 2013, a dramatic change in only 4 years.  Rocketship’s plans to open an additional school could reduce FMSD market share to nearly 70%.

Traditional public schools will need to adapt to the competition and begin to shift resources towards recruitment and advertising.  Rocketship spends considerable sums on marketing their “brand” and growing their “share”; both words appear frequently in board documents.  Although school boards are reticent to shift funds away from the classroom, there is little question that the future of public education lies in public school’s advertising their product, and preventing further market share erosion.  While it is uncomfortable and perhaps even inappropriate to cast minority children into the position of being a commodity market share, the large scale Charter Management Organizations like Rocketship leave little choice.  If the public would like to see public education survive for the next 20 years, we have no choice but enter into the competitive education market.

FMSD MarketShare

Rocketship board documents discuss market share growth in the San Jose Franklin McKinley School district


California Market Share, according to NAPCS


If the exponential growth of charter schools continues unabated for another 20 years, Hastings vision of the end of public schools would be achieved.

Charter School Facility Issues Inflame San Jose

Hundreds turn out at San Jose Unified Board meeting to protest Charter School Facility Moves, replicating similar protests one year ago.


Bachrodt parents at the SJUSD board meeting protesting the proposed ACE middle school on their campus, with signs reading “Bachrodt deserves a voice too” and “DCP is not the only voice”

In February of 2013, the San Jose Unified School board quietly approved a charter petition for ACE middle school, on a 5-0 vote.  In September of 2013, the board repeated, approving another middle school charter petition for Downtown College Prep on a vote of 4-0-1.  Facilities were not decided upon during those discussions.  That fact came into clear focus for the families of San Jose’s Bachrodt Elementary school last Thursday.

2014 Surprise facility announcement roils Washington Community

One year ago, in February of 2014, district officials made a surprise board meeting announcement that the new DCP middle school would be placed at Washington Elementary.  Parents and school staff testified at that board meeting that the district had never informed them that they planned to place DCP at Washington Elementary.  Teachers expressed anger and frustration at the district’s lWashingtonProtestack of communication.  The district had held a prior community meeting on the subject of the need for a middle school option at Washington, but failed to mention that an independent charter school, like DCP, was in the plans.  After the outrage expressed at the February board meeting, the district held another community meeting at Washington Elementary in March of 2014


Washington Elementary parents protest a proposed DCP at their school at a community meeting in March of 2014

moderated by trustee Teresa Castellanos.  An overwhelming five out of six community members at the meeting rejected the idea of a DCP at Washington Elementary.  District staff then rescinded their plan to place a DCP at Washington at the March 20th, 2014 board meeting, much to the pleasure of the Washington Community who had come out in large numbers wearing their signature green shirts.

2015 Repeat performance


Washington Elementary parents at the March 20th, 2014 board, where district staff announced that Washington Elementary would not be considered as a site for the DCP middle school.

Last week, a near exact replica of that story unfolded, as the district made a surprise announcement that ACE middle school would be placed on the downtown San Jose Bachrodt Elementary School campus.  Pro-charter mayor Sam Liccardo brokered a closed door deal with no Bachrodt community member present.  Liccardo’s wife was a charter school executive before he launched his mayoral campaign.  Just after launching his campaign, Liccardo set education as a priority in a Mercury News op-ed piece, referencing charter school’s learning lab model, and advocating for easier city permits for new charter schools.  Bachrodt parents criticized DCP and ACE for using its powerful political connections to the mayor’s office to broker a deal unsuitable for Bachrodt, a statement that DCP’s Jennifer Andaluz disagreed with.  While it’s unclear why Liccardo failed to include Bachrodt in the conversation, the mayor’s strong pro-charter stance probably guided the conversation in the direction of a plan primarily structured for the charters, at the expense of an established and successful dependent charter at Bachrodt.

Should an independent charter share a campus with an elementary school?

For some time, Washington area families have been advocating for a K-8 elementary school.  So one may fairly ask, “why would an independent middle school charter on the same campus be any different?”  The answer lies in the student body and continuity.  Independent charters pull students from all over the city; K-8 schools pull immediate neighbors and kids tend stay in the schools from kinder through the eight grade.  It is a difficult situation when a struggling child from an enemy territory gang enters a middle school in a classroom next to a kindergartner.  It’s an entirely different situation when an 8th grade student who has attended his or her neighborhood school for the past 9 years enters a classroom next to a kindergartner.

The suspension rate of the Alum Rock ACE middle school is higher than any San Jose Unified middle school, with 15% of students being suspended yearly.  According to data provided by the California Department of Education, the 460 student Alum Rock ACE Empower Academy middle school experienced 14 suspensions for weapons possession, and 37 violence related suspensions.  The school reported 56 cases of caused, attempted, or threatened physical injury, two sexual assaults, two possession of firearms and one possession of an explosive.  It is no wonder that Bachrodt parents of 5 and 6 year old children objected to the placement of an ACE middle school on their campus.

The real fight?  Measure H bond dollars

The San Jose Unified facility musical chairs drill is likely motivated by Measure H money.  Measure H was approved by voters in November of 2012.  The $290 million bond seems sizable, except that the majority of the bonds were used to refinance older bonds due to the historically low interest rates, creating sizable savings that went back to the general fund.  The remaining $100 million dollars is to be spread out amongst San Jose Unified’s 33,000 students and nearly 50 schools.  San Jose Unified district officials told the Mercury News that “they may be liable if they don’t provide DCP with a campus comparable to other high schools”.  That liability is related to proposition 39, which requires that districts provide charters space that is equivalent to standard district schools.  DCP’s Hester campus lacks amenities like a pool and track that are available at San Jose High School.  Insiders have been speculating that DCP was positioning to demand measure H money through litigation in order to build athletic facilities on the Hester campus.  San Jose Unified officials preempted that move by requiring that DCP’s high school campus move to San Jose High School next year, where they would be able to share a pool, gym and track.  That move required that DCP’s middle school, currently at San Jose High, move across the street to take over Sunrise Middle’s campus, a Santa Clara County charter school.  Sunrise would move to Allen at Steinbeck, and ACE was to go to Burnett or Bachrodt.  It’s quite possible that similar Measure H and proposition 39 litigation contingencies were in play for the ACE and DCP middle school facilities as well.

San Jose School Choice Week: Why I Chose Public Education

San Jose School Choice Week:  Choosing public education
by Brett Bymaster

Common Knowledge:  Step 1:  Get married.  Step 2:  House shop by picking a place you can’t really afford next to a “high performing school”.  Step 3:  Live happily ever after.

For each individual such common knowledge might make some sense.  But each of those individual decisions summed to a whole society has some profound consequences.  Step 3, by the way, might not work.

I did the opposite, and step 3 worked out surprisingly well.  When my wife, a family physician, and I decided to lay down roots in San Jose eight years ago, we pulled out a demographic income map.  Just south of Downtown San Jose, we saw a low income community with a “failing school”.  So that’s where we moved.

As practicing Christians, living in a community of diversity was (and still is) a high priority for us.  We adopted three Sudanese refugees, one of which attended our local school, labeled failing by No Child Left Behind.  But Washington Elementary was anything but failing, it was thriving.  Under the leadership of Maria Evans, Washington went from a school where almost none of the kids could read, to a school where the library is packed every Saturday morning with hundreds of reading families.  Most families at Washington lack a high school diploma.  I’m an engineer, my wife is a physician, a rarity at this school.

Our white four year bio baby will attend Washington, six years after his Sudanese brother graduated from the same school.  The test scores at Washington are considerably lower than the white affluent Willow Glen schools nearby, and a lot lower than the ultra affluent Cupertino and Sunnyvale schools, and lower still than the high end charters that cream for the best students.  We could afford to live in those places; we have well paying demand jobs.  We have the finances and expertise to chose a high performing private school or a charter school.  So why in the world we would chose to live in a poor Latino neighborhood with a “low performing” school?

Public education is a beautiful thing.  It’s what our democracy was founded on, and the juice that keeps it running (particularly since Brown vs Board of Education).  It’s just about the only place left where everyone comes together, black, brown, white, those with disabilities, those without, those who are blessed with extraordinary intelligence, and those without, those who are artistic, those who are athletic, and those who are not.  More than anything else, I want my sons and daughters to experience that special thing — diversity.  The bubbles they fill in on a worthless scan sheet at the end of year will have no impact on their futures — the scientific data is clear that one time tests have little to no bearing on one’s long term success (read more here and here).  The tests that we famously use to rank ourselves miss the point, as creativity and grit matter far more in the end. But the cross-cultural/cross-socioeconomic relationships and the resulting perseverance and grit built in public schools will have a profound effect on our kids.

The truth is that the best education in the world is still in America.  A new study just came out showing that America’s public schools have the highest reading test scores in the world, if you only included affluent families.  Even including America’s impoverished families, we still ranked number 6 out of 53 countries.

I succeeded and thrived on a midwestern public education, all the way through K-12 and onto a public University (Purdue University).  I want my kids to experience the same.  I won’t chose a private school, or a charter school, or an affluent school; all three of which I believe will tend us towards re-segregation.  I’m choosing diversity, I’m choosing to invest in my community, I’m choosing to give my kids the American Dream.

ACE and DCP register highest suspension rate in Santa Clara County

ACE & DCP Charter schools registered the highest suspension rates of mainstream high schools in Santa Clara County, with 1 in 5 students suspended in the 13-14 school year.

ACE and Downtown College Prep (DCP) charter schools registered the highest mainstream high school suspension rates in Santa Clara County, according to numbers just released by the California Department of Education.  ACE suspended 21.3% its students, while DCP suspended 16.7% of its students; the county wide suspension rate is about 4.5%.  Those numbers rise to 25% and 17.5% respectively when you exclude mid-year transfers.


ACE & DCP register highest suspension rates in Santa Clara County. Click to enlarge.

75% of DCP’s suspensions were for minor offenses

ACE suspended 39 of its 157 students, with a total of 48 suspension in 2013-14, meaning that most students were only suspended once.  DCP, on the other hand, suspended 75 of its 430 students, with a total of 143 suspensions.  DCP apparently suspended many of its students multiple times.  What’s particularly worrisome is that the vast majority of DCP’s suspensions were for minor offenses.  The CDE separates suspension offenses into five categories:  1) weapons, 2) illicit drugs, 3) violence with Injury, 4) violence without injury, and 5) other.  75% of DCP’s suspensions fell into the “other” category, while 15% of the suspensions fell into the “violence without injury” category, leaving only 10% in the category of serious offenses.  Of DCP’s 143 suspensions, only about 15 of those were warranted by a serious offense.  The other 128 offenses were minor offenses without injury.  The “other” category is linked to California Education Code 48900 (k), which allows for suspensions for “disrupting school activities” or “willfully defying” school authorities, a practice which has been widely criticized.

DCP suspends Latinos at a higher rate than any other school in the district


DCP’s Latino suspension rate is 18% — suspending 1 in 5 Latinos in their school. Many of those suspended students were suspended more than once for minor offenses


DCP has a very high rate of suspensions for Defiance, as described in section 48900 (k) of the California Education Code.  Note that the overall rate here is higher since many DCP students were suspended multiple times.

Research suggests that high suspension rates lead to poor outcomes:  Dropouts, delinquency and incarceration

DCP’s high rate of suspension for minor offenses seems highly questionable in light of recent research findings on suspending minorities.  Research has shown that high rates of suspension among minorities leads to higher rates of incarceration and high drop out rates.  High suspension rates, on the other hand, do not lead to better school safety, but may paradoxically make schools more unsafe.  Researchers suggest that suspensions for minor offenses should be reduced, saving suspensions for only the most severe infractions.

While the school to prison pipeline is facilitated by a number of trends in education, it is most directly attributable to the expansion of zero tolerance policies. These policies have no measurable impact on school safety, but are associated with a number of negative effects: racially disproportionality, increased suspensions and expulsions, elevated drop-out rates, and multiple legal issues related to due process. A growing critique of these policies has lead to calls for reform and alternatives.  Education researcher Nancy A Heitzeg in the Forum on Public Policy

More than half of DCP students leave before graduating

DCP advertised their Latino college placement rate at an impressive 85% in 2014.  It sounds like a miracle story when Santa Clara County schools place, on average, only 34% of their Latino students in college.  However, DCP has neglected to publicize a key metric:  retention rate.  According to CDE data, DCP’s class of 2014 started with 139 freshman, but only 58 students graduated in 2014.  Between 2011 and and 2014, 57% of DCP’s students left the school.  The college placement rate may have been 85% for graduating seniors, but it would come in right at the Santa Clara County wide average of 35% if one were to include the starting freshman.

To be clear, it is a wonderful story that so many of DCP’s seniors go to college.  They also report a very impressive 90% college retention rate.  If a student graduates from DCP, data would suggest that the student would have an excellent shot at a good education.  The underlying question is then two fold.  First, what happened to the majority of students who had left DCP between their freshman and senior years?  Did they fare well or would they have been better off not starting at DCP?  Second, how does DCP’s lack of transparency in reporting their retention problems effect the parent choice process?  Would parents still choose DCP if they knew that the majority of freshman would not finish as seniors?

It should also be noted that DCP began a retention program last year.  The class of 2016 saw high retention rates between their freshman and sophomore years.  The outcome of that program won’t be clear until those students graduate in 2016.  It’s also interesting to note that after implementing the retention program in 2013-14, DCP’s suspension rate doubled, from 8% 2012-13 to 17% in 2013-14.


DCP’s class size in each grade, showing that most students who start as Freshman leave the school by the time they reach their senior year.


Diane Ravitch: Rocketship’s Rocky Expansion

Diane Ravitch:  Rocketship’s Rocky Expansion

Reposted From

Brett Bymaster, a community activist in San Jose, California, here describes the chain’s current plans to increase the number of its charter schools. Rocketship withdrew its applications for 8 schools each in Dallas and San Antonio. But it is moving forward in Nashville and D.C.

Bymaster writes:

Recently released board material from Rocketship Education indicates that the charter school corporation intends to grow significantly, tripling in size over the next 5 years. Rocketship is known for its high stakes test prep K-5 schools that minimize arts and extracurriculars, packing 650 kids on a 1.25 acre campus, running 41:1 student to teacher ratios, and elementary aged children receiving > 90 minutes of computer time in massive labs staffed by uncredentialed aids. Local and national pushback earlier this year led to Rocketship delaying school openings and committing to less aggressive growth. But board documents released last month indicate that Rocketship is ramping up growth plans again, hoping to triple in size nationwide by 2019. In the next 5 years, Rocketship hopes to double San Francisco Bay Area schools, opening 5,000 new seats, while opening 4,000 new seats in Tennessee, and around 3,500 new seats in Washington DC.

Rocketship recently announced plans for school takeovers in Tennesse through the statewide Achievement School District, with takeovers slated for August 2015. Rocketship’s executives worried that the Nashville and Memphis “community may be resistant and potentially obstructive” to school takeovers, and then stated that they intended to “aggressively build relationships and identify parent ambassadors” to mitigate the obstructive community in Tennessee. Labeling the low income minority communities that Rocketship targets as “obstructive” seems worrisome, even more so when one considers that Rockteship intends to take over the community’s local public school and replace it with a high stakes corporate charter school that is run from distant offices in Silicon Valley’s ultra-wealthy Redwood City. Rocketship’s aggressive stance in minority communities in San Jose has led, sadly, to division and rancor in communities that should be working together.

Rocketship’s newest school in Washington D.C. provides a good example of what to expect. Rocketship let Andre Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund corporation pick the site of the proposed D.C. school in the Anacostia community. Agassi chose a site adjacent to a halfway house. Rocketship’s V.P. of growth, Katy Venskus (who was convicted for felony embezzlement in 2002 working for a different non-profit) said that Rocketship did not participate in the process of selecting a school site, abdicating their responsibility to Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund. Rocketship attempted to hire a local D.C. outreach coordinator, who quit shortly after taking the job. Rocketship was unable to replace him and seems to have lost track of the project. Rocketship’s CEO Preston Smith recently told the Washington D.C. school board, “We’re really proud of our community outreach and partnership that we’ve done in other communities and it’s very clear that in D.C. we’ve still got some work to do” and then told Rocketship’s board that “during the process of approving this charter however, it became more apparent that we could do a stronger job in engaging the Washington D.C. community, especially the Anacostia neighborhood.” Agassi also just acquired another site for Rocketship in Tennessee. I have to ask the question, is Rocketship leading Agassi, or are the for-profit hedge fund managers really in charge?

The Progressive Magazine just did a special issue on Rocketsihp, with a satire video called “Profitship Learning” by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore

For more information on Rocketship’s growth plans, see:

Rocketship’s Aggressive New Growth Plans: Triple in 5 Years

Rocketship begins gearing up for major growth in the next 5 years.  Growth attempts in Washington D.C. face community backlash

Rocketship’s board documents indicate they, again, plan to grow very aggressively in the next 5 years.  Rocketship has touted aggressive growth plans in the past, but they’ve always faced delays as communities resist the model.  The Mercury News discussed some of their difficulties in a June of 2014 Sunday morning front page article, “Rocketship Education changes course, slows expansion”.  It appears that Rocketship’s growth plans are gaining steam again.

Rocketship is hoping to open a school in Washington DC, but faced a community backlash when Andre Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund corporation scouted a school site next to a half way house in the Anacostia community.  Rocketship did not participate in the school siting process, abdicating their responsibility to Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund.  Rocketship attempted to hire a local D.C. outreach coordinator, who quit shortly after taking the job.  Rocketship was unable to replace him and seems to have lost track of the project.  Preston Smith admitted to the Rocketship board that “during the process of approving this charter however, it became more apparent that we could do a stronger job in engaging the Washington D.C. community, especially the Anacostia neighborhood”.

Rocketship’s handling of growth in Washington D.C. may hint at future priorities.  The fact that Rocketship had no boots on the ground during site selection is very surprising.  It appears that Agassi’s corporation may be steering Rocketship’s growth.  While placing a school next to a halfway house for returning felons might be a good deal for Agassi’s wealthy investors, it’s hard to imagine it making good education sense.


Growth Plans

Rocketship’s Growth Plans from the August 2014 Board Meeting

Rocketship’s growth phases, from the November 2014 Board Meeting Notes.

Progressive Magazine: ProfitShip Learning

The Progressive Magazine confronts the Privatization of Education:  “ProfitShip Learning”.

Below we’re re-printing articles from this month’s copy of Progressive Magazine.  There’s lots more on their website; this month’s special edition focuses in on problems with the privatization of public education.

ProfitShip Learning

By Ruth Conniff on December 08, 2014.  Re-Published with permission.


** EDITOR’s NOTE:  Below a link to Mark Fiore’s video entitled ProfitShip.  This video is certainly funny, and raises some legitimate concerns.  But it is also deeply sarcastic, and many may find it offensive.  We worry that in particular, it may offend families that have chosen to attend Rocketship.  We’d like to advocate for a lively debate on the facts.  Given that editorial note, we’d encourage readers to watch the video and make respectful and factual comments on the YouTube.

This animated video by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore looks at school privatization through the eyes of little Timmy, a kindergartener who likes his public school.

Timmy gets a confusing lesson in corporate education reform, starting with the rightwing mantra: “Public schools have failed.”

“But I like my public school,” Timmy protests.

A top rightwing think tank has devoted more than $30 million to spread the message that public education is failing. According to a report by One Wisconsin Now, the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation is a major underwriter of this propaganda effort. Bradley spent millions on shoddy research, media punditry, and a lobbying campaign to promote the idea that public schools have failed and to push school vouchers and other privatization schemes as the “solution”.

Large, national charter-school chains have been major of the beneficiaries of the campaign to fix “failing” public schools. Among them, Rocketship––“a low-budget operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty,” according to a report by economist Gordon Lafer for the Economic Policy Institute.

Not all charter schools are bad. Some offer high-quality, alternative models classrooms that are enriching for kids. But over the last decade, the charter school movement has morphed from a small, community-based effort to foster alternative education into a vehicle for privatizing public education, pushed by free-market foundations, big education-management companies, and profit-seekers looking for a way to cash in on public-education funds.

Rocketship (see Barbara Miner’s report from our new Save Our Schools issue) uses computer programs to teach children for a significant portion of the day, and eschews “extras” like school librarians, art, gym, and social studies, which further reduce staff costs. This combination of real teachers and online programs, dubbed “blended learning,” is the fastest-growing sector of the burgeoning charter school industry.

“The call for public schools to be replaced by such tech-heavy, teacher-light operations comes from some of the most powerful actors in local and national politics,” Lafer wrote in his report.

While privatizers and their advocates claim that charters and schemes like blended learning will increase students’ test scores, national research shows that charter schools, on average, perform no better than public schools.

Voucher school results are even worse. School vouchers where first launched in Milwaukee 25 years ago, allowing poor kids to use public education funds to cover tuition at private schools. Proponents imagined vouchers as a ticket out of poverty, and into mainline Catholic and Lutheran schools that would offer a better education and a safe environment. Instead, fly-by-night voucher academies have popped up in strip malls, corner stores, even an old car dealership.

Rocketship experienced high test-scores when it opened its first school in California in 2009. But those scores have rapidly declined, calling into question the lasting value of the schools’ test-prep focus, and prompting a painful self-examination chronicled in the Education Week article “Growing Pains for Rocketship’s Blended-Learning Juggernaut.”

Two of Rocketship’s five schools have fallen below state test-score goals. “Ironically, by Rocketship’s own standards, they would need to build another school nearby to compete with and replace their own failing schools,” the website Stop Rocketship notes.

More findings about Rocketship from the Economic Policy Institute:

• The “blended learning” model of education exemplified by the Rocketship chain of charter schools—often promoted by charter boosters—is predicated on paying minimal attention to anything but math and literacy, and even those subjects are taught by inexperienced teachers carrying out data-driven lesson plans relentlessly focused on test preparation. But evidence from Wisconsin, the country, and the world shows that students receive a better education from experienced teachers offering a broad curriculum that emphasizes curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as getting the right answers on standardized tests.

•  Blended-learning schools such as Rocketship are supported by investment banks, hedge funds, and venture capital firms that, in turn, aim to profit from both the construction and, especially, the digital software assigned to students. The very curricular model that Rocketship employs is shaped not simply by what is good for kids but also, in part, by what will generate profits for investors and fuel the company’s ambitious growth plans.

For more on the state of public education in America and what activists are doing to save our schools, subscribe to The Progressive and get the digital version of our special issue on education–available immediately on our publication day, December 8.

Progressive Magazine: Rocketship Lands in Milwaukee

Progressive Magainze:  “Rocketship Lands in Milwaukee”

By Barbara Miner on December 08, 2014.  Re-printed with permission


Like most principals, Brittany Kinser is a cheerleader for her school. “I just want to make sure you’ll be positive,” she says when I visit the Rocketship charter school in Milwaukee.

Looking younger than her thirty-seven years and with the physique of a long-distance runner, Kinser has a seemingly endless supply of energy and enthusiasm. It’s hard not to like her. Following one of the school’s axioms—Dress for Success—she is wearing a magenta pencil-skirt that nicely sets off her black sweater, tights, and four-inch stiletto heels. Her Dress for Success message is clear: I am competent and I am in charge.

At the same time, Kinser is nervous about my visit. It’s understandable.

For almost a quarter century, I have criticized using public tax dollars to fund private voucher schools and privately run charter schools. Rocketship, an entrepreneurial network of charter schools based in the Silicon Valley, has become a national poster child for the privatization of public education. It is particularly known for its bare-bones curricular focus on standardized test scores in reading and math, its use of computer-based “learning labs” that cut down costs, and its promotion of the Rocketship brand—including a daily pep rally where students chant that they are “Rocketship Rocketeers.”

After visiting Rocketship Southside Community Prep, as Milwaukee’s K4 through fifth-grade school is formally known, I could see why some people might react positively. Students were well behaved. Parents were welcome. The young teachers were energetic.

But as I left the school, I couldn’t help thinking: Can young students dress their way to success? Or chant their way to academic achievement? Are computerized worksheets the answer to reducing the achievement gap?

Continue reading

Rocketship considers forced takeover “conversions” in Nashville

Rocketship’s board considers Nashville school takeovers through controversial Tennessee Achievement District.

Board documents released in November indicate that Rocketship is considering using the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) to takeover public schools in Nashville Tennessee by August of 2015.  The ASD takes over “failing” schools from local school board control.  Schools that test in the bottom 5% of the state are labeled “failing”, and face the potential of being handed over to the ASD, abdicating local control.  Those “failing” schools tend to be predominately made up of low income minority students.  Most of the teachers and staff are fired in the takeover process, and often replaced with new teachers not reflective of the student population.  Board notes indicate that Rocketship is hoping to get local school board support, but it appears that they could move forward without community support through the ASD.  Rocketship’s leadership stated that their motivation to convert Nashville schools centers around accelerating growth by opening “big new schools … at 80% of full school capacity” and the fact that “conversions often come with a free or low-rent facility and are eligible for additional funding streams”.

Rocketship has never before attempted a conversion.  To date, all Rocketship schools are housed in newly built facilities, custom built by Rocketship from the ground up.  Conversions are significantly different; a student would be in their normal local public school in June of 2015, but return to a school in August of 2015 that had been converted into a Rocketship over the summer.  Conversions are not about school choice — the local school would be replaced by a Rocketship and students’ local district school would no longer exist.

Board documents state that Rocketship will work to “aggressively build relationships and identify parent ambassadors” to mitigate a “community [that] may be resistant and potentially obstructive”.  Rocketship has created division and animosity in the communities it serves; we’ve documented dozens of such stories.  In Nashville, Rocketship has been accused of signing up students against their wishes.  Rocketship’s board of directors, staff, and inexperienced  teachers are not representative of the minority communities they serve.  It seems very concerning that Rocketship’s non-representative leadership recognizes that the community will be “resistant” and “obstructive”, and hopes to mitigate with aggression.  Labeling communities of color as “resistant” and “obstructive” raises significant racial concerns. It is a pattern that we’ve observed over and over again in our primarily Latino San Jose community as Rocketship uses aggressive and divisive recruitment tactics in low income communities of color.  The possibility of the same techniques being used to accomplish forced minority school takeovers where parents have few options to opt out is extremely concerning.

San Jose Residents’ experiences on Rocketship’s recruitment.

Below are quotes from San Jose’s Washington Elementary parents regarding Rocketship’s aggressive recruitment.  Washington Elementary is 4 blocks from the first Rocketship, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, and 4 blocks from Rocketship’s Alma Academy.  Will Rocketship’s aggressive and divisive stance towards an “obstructive” minority community spread to Tennessee?

I feel very sad that many of the parents from Rocketship charter schools verbally abuse and harass the parents from Washington Elementary School, saying that Washington students are academically below Rocketship students when I believe this is not true.  Graciela
There are a lot of programs at Washington Elementary for the students and parents. I have two kids in Washington; they really like it here. I used to have them in Rocketship, and it was too much for them. I am not saying that it is not a good school for some kids but it is not for others because they give too much homework and pressure for my oldest daughter. She used to cry because she would stay after school in order to get help to catch up with reading. After which she would return home and still have homework assigned from the teacher each day. I asked about why Rocketship has so much more required in terms of homework then Washington. Many told me that it was because Washington was not a good school, but I could not keep my children at Rocketship because it was too much pressure for my kids.  Lenica
The people who recruit children from that school [Rocketship] are found every where and they insist and insist again to move our children to that school.  Elizabeth
In my opinion we all deserve respect. I do not appreciate that there are people at Rocketship who accused the principal here at Washington of threatening me to stay at this school. I am not, and do not feel threatened by anyone to continue to have my children well-educated here. Each person should be able to have their children wherever they feel is best.  Beatriz

Rocketship’s  November 2014 board meeting notes discussing their aggressive conversion takeover strategy


Public Advocates: Rocketship’s required volunteer hours are illegal

Public Advocates call for an end to Rocketship’s illegally required volunteer hours

For many years, the San Jose community has questioned Rocketship’s required volunteer hour program.  Rocketship requires 30 volunteer hours per year, a discriminatory policy which tends to drive away working class families who are unable to meet the requirements.  Rocketship is a private corporation that receives public funding through state and local tax dollars.  Many of those volunteer hours are used to benefit the Rocketship corporation, not the students.  For example, Rocketship offered parents a 10 hour bonus to come to a city council meeting that would have provided Rocketship a special zoning exemption to build a new school.  Rocketship also offers volunteer hour bonuses to families who recruit other families to their schools; each new student brings the Rocketship corporation another $7,000 in tax payer funded dollars.  Rocketship’s volunteer hour policies are viewed by many as coercive, forcing working families to advocate on behalf of Rocketship’s corporate needs, instead of volunteering on behalf of their children.


Hilary Hammell of Public Advocates

Public Advocates is a non-profit law firm that “challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy”.  Public Advocates attorney Hilary Hammell released a report this week detailing a legal argument against required volunteer hours.  The full report can be found on the Public Advocates website.  Hammell found that one-third of all charter schools in California illegally require volunteer hours.  Hammell argues that requiring volunteer hours violates the California Constitution free school clause (Article 9, Section 5).  The required volunteer hours are effectively a charge that parents are required to pay in order for their children to attend the tax payer funded schools.  Hammell went on to argue that forced work hours discriminate against working parents who are unable to complete volunteer hours.  Hammell added that forced work hours violate the newly added Education Code clause which outlaws schools requiring student donations, a law written in response to a 2011 ACLU lawsuit (Education Code § 49011(b)(4)).

“Ultimately, if our demands aren’t met, we’ll have to consider every option including litigation,”  John Affeldt, managing attorney of Public Advocates, statement to Mercury News

Hammell is not the first to question the legality of forced work hours at Rocketship.  Last year, Morgan Hill Unified representing attorney, Laura Schulkind, wrote a letter to the County Office of Education stating that Navigator and Rocketship’s required volunteer hours would “effectively charge tuition”.  New County Office of Education superintendent Jon Gundry recently argued that Navigator charter school’s required volunteer hours (which include janitorial work hours), should be monetized in the charter’s financial statements.  Individuals have been questioning Rocketship’s required volunteer hours in public Santa Clara County Board of Education meetings for years.  Those warnings have been largely ignored, although Public Advocate’s threat of lawsuit may spur action at the board level.

Volunteer Hours for SCCOE

Rocketship regularly uses volunteer hours to benefit their corporation. In this Rocketship newsletter, the Rocketship Mateo Sheedy principal coerces parents to advocate for the Tamien Rocketship by giving out bonus volunteer hours and homework passes.  The Tamien school would have generated $4 million dollars per year in tax payer funded revenue for the Rocketship corporation, much of which flows to for-profit corporations and back to the national offices.

Public Advocates recommendations for Charter Schools

  • Stop requiring parents to work at the school or for the school.
  • Stop requiring parents to buy unworked hours with money or goods.
  • If parent service hours are not required but are only encouraged, make that clear to parents with language such as “no student will be denied enrollment, nor face penalties or dismissal, for failure of the parent to perform volunteer service.”
  • If a school wants to reward parent volunteerism, do so with awards or prizes for parents, not with educational activities or privileges for students.
  • Develop and scale best practices to facilitate truly voluntary parent involvement, and to overcome barriers to participation for high-need families. Ensure that parent service is not perceived as a requirement by any family.

Public Advocates recommendations for County Office Of Education and local district authorizers

  • Do not approve or renew any charter petition with a required parental work policy. Revoke charter schools’ charters if a school has a policy or practice of requiring parents to do work.
  • If charter authorizers approve, renew, or fail to revoke a charter school with an unconstitutional policy, the authorizer may be liable for the constitutional violation.
  • Investigate every charter school under your jurisdiction once a year to ensure that the charter school is not illegally requiring parents to do work at the school. If it is, begin the charter-revocation process if it refuses to correct its policy.

Charters in Santa Clara County which illegally require forced work hours (link to detailed report on each school)

  • ACE Alum Rock MS
  • ACE Charter Academy MS
  • ACE Charter High
  • ACE Franklin McKinley
  • Discovery Charter School I
  • Discovery Charter School II
  • Rocketship Academy
  • Brilliant Minds
  • Rocketship Alma Academy
  • Rocketship Discovery Prep
  • Rocketship Los
  • Suenos Academy
  • Rocketship Mateo
  • Sheedy Academy
  • Rocketship Mosaic Academy
  • Rocketship Si Se
  • Puede Academy
  • Rocketship Spark Academy
  • University Preparatory
  • Academy Charter
  • Village School
Required Volunteer Hour Schools

Map of Charter schools in California that illegally require volunteer hours

County Board of Ed denies Morgan Hill Charter School Navigator, approves Voices

The Santa Clara County Board of Education Splits their decision on Morgan Hill Charter Schools, denying Navigator and approving Voices

Late Wednesday night, the County Office of Education voted to approve the K-8 Voices charter school in Morgan Hill, and for a second time this year, deny a Navigator school in Morgan Hill.  Both charters were heard on appeal after having been denied by Morgan Hill Unified.  The board approved Voices on a 6-1 vote, but followed staff recommendations to deny Navigator’s petition on a 4-3 vote.


Morgan Hill Superintendent Steve Betando has led a popular effort to transform Morgan Hill schools into magnet K-8′s.

Morgan Hill has been under attack by charters for the past year, with the local district denying four charter petitions, two petitions by Navigator and one each from Rocketship and Voices.  The Voices petition was the only petition of the three approved on appeal by the County Board of Education.

Had the petitions been approved, Morgan Hill’s K-8 school population would have been reduced by more than half.  The California Charter School Association (CCSA) spent huge sums in Morgan Hill this year trying to elect pro-charter candidates to the Morgan Hill Unified School Board.  The CCSA attempted to take control of the public school board by running four pro-charter candidates, Janine Moreno, Brenda Cayme, Armando Benavides, and Gino Borgioli.  Only Gino Borgioli managed to get in the top 4 spots amongst the 9 candidates running for the board.

It may be that the CCSA is focusing in on pro-public education districts, like Morgan Hill.  CCSA benefactor Reed Hastings set a goal of ending publicly elected school boards in the next 20-30 years by privatizing California’s education system with charter schools.  Hastings poured $1.5 million of his own money into the statewide CCSA political action committee ion an apparent attempt to implement his goal.  The Morgan Hill community has consistently voiced opposition to a privatization takeover of their public schools.   The public this year seems to have given a thumbs down to Hasting’s plan, both in Morgan Hill and Santa Clara County;  91% of the CCSA’s Santa Clara County campaign money went to losing candidates.


New County Supt finds two Morgan Hill Charter Schools’ Petitions Deficient

New SCCOE Supt, Jon Gundry says Voices and Navigator Charter Schools’ petitions do not meet requirements of the law.  Vote Scheduled for Wed Nov 19th.

**Editors note:  An SCCOE official disagreed with our original headline, calling it “intentionally misleading or just sloppy journalism”.  The original headline read, “New County Supt Recommends denying two Morgan Hill Charter Schools”.  Here’s the facts.  The SCCOE report, written by Toni Cordova “via” Superintendent Jon Gundry, stated that both petitions did not meet the requirements of the law and were “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program” (links are below).  It went on to say that the board of education could either approve or deny the petition.  The Morgan Hill Times ran a headline very similar to ours, “County education staff recommends denial of charter appeals by Navigator, Voices”.  It’s not clear exactly what the official thought was misleading or sloppy, it’s also unclear if the Morgan Hill Times was criticized.  A request for clarification has gone unanswered.  

gundryCounty Office of Education staff have found that two charters, Voices and Navigator, do not meet the requirements of the state charter law.  The petitions will be heard at the November 19th board meeting.   Morgan Hill Unified’s denied both charters 6-1 in September.

Both charter schools were criticized for unrealistic enrollment projections.  They intend to draw from local Morgan Hill School district students, and would drain nearly 2 out of 5 students out of Morgan Hill Unified.  The staff deemed the program demonstrably unlikely to succeed in recruiting such a large pool of students away from Morgan Hill’s successful and popular K-8 schools.

By Year 8, the combined enrollment of the two schools is projected to be 1,044, 38% of the total K-8 enrollment of the five targeted schools. Two schools opening at the same time, in the same community and targeting the same population could be problematic and raises questions about how they will meet their enrollment targets and about their ability succeed.

Voices Charter Schools:

County Staff gave Voices approving marks on all items, except recruitment problems, as stated above.   The full text of the Voices denial recommendation can be found here.

Navigator Charter Schools:

The county board denied, on appeal, the first Navigator petition on January 14th, 2014.  It was the first charter the board had denied after a previous unbroken string of 38 approvals.  Staff had also recommended denying Navigator’s application last year.  The charter petition to be heard on November 19th, 2014 will be Navigator’s next generation charter petition.  The members of the board have not changed since last year, although Hoover-Smoot is now a lame duck, to be replaced by pro-public education candidate Claudie Rossi (after this vote).

We found the staff criticism of Navigator’s required volunteer hours particularly interesting.  Last year, Morgan Hill Unified representing attorney, Laura Schulkind, wrote a letter to the County Office of Education stating that Navigator and Rocketship’s required volunteer hours would “effectively charge tuition”.  She remarked that required volunteer hours are in opposition to state law which requires that charters not charge tuition (§47605(b)(4) & (d)).  In Navigator’s current denial recommendation, County staff noted that required volunteer hours are a line item income, which must be included in financial budget projections.  While the County staff did not mention required volunteer hours in light of the state mandate to not charge tuition, the burden to declare volunteer hours as a reportable cash asset would certainly seem to bolster a case that required hours are not legally defensible.

An estimated value of the described services or donations is not provided in the budget narrative, nor is a plan to pay for these operational costs if 100% compliance is not achieved. A significant  concern is the narrative provided by the Petitioner in the PCSGP application as it indicates that the  school will have mandatory volunteer service, which will be used to reduce operational costs. “MHPS has a requirement of twenty hours per family, volunteers will handle many of the day-to-day operations’ costs from IT to custodial

The full text of the Navigator denial recommendation can be found here.

Campaign Finance: Charters Spend Big, Lose Big in Silicon Valley

California Charter School Association spends $285k in Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara County, mostly on losing candidates has completed a preliminarily analysis of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) P.A.C. contributions in the 2014 election cycle.  The CCSA spent a whopping $285k in local Santa Clara County races, 91% of that spending went towards candidates that lost their races.

Major contributors to the statewide CCSA PAC included a $1.5 million contribution by Reed Hastings, who recently announced his plan “to get rid of school boards” in the next 20-30 years.  Walton Family heiress Carrie Penner and Gap founder Dorris Fisher each pitched in half a million.  Venture Capilists Arthur Rock and Richard Riordan put in a total of $400k, while Charter Advocate Eli Broad contributed $300k.  These ultra-wealthy 1%ers chipped in a total of more than four million dollars to supporter charters statewide.



CCSA PAC Spending by Candidate

Won/Loss Race
CCSA Spending
Julia Hover-SmootSanta Clara County Office of EducationLoss $97,999.49
Armando GomezMilpitas State AssemblyLoss $81,313.76
Claudia Tercero & Dulce GonzalezAlum Rock UnionLoss $38,191.87
John Swan & Martha McClatchieLos Alto School DistrictLoss $28,000.00
Darcie GreenSanta Clara County Office of EducationWon $14,927.85
Sam LiccardoMayor of San JoseWon $7,500.00
Janine MorenoMorgan Hill UnifiedLoss $4,062.19
Brenda CaymeMorgan Hill UnifiedLoss $4,062.19
Armando BenavidesMorgan Hill UnifiedLoss $4,062.18
Gino BorgioliMorgan Hill UnifiedWon $3,937.19
Christine KoltermannSanta Clara UnifiedLoss$500.00
Ina BendisSanta Clara UnifiedLoss$500.00
Michael HelmsSanta Clara UnifiedLoss$250.00
Total $285,306.72

CCSA PAC Contributors

CCSA PAC Contributor
Contribution Amount (Statewide Contribution)
REED HASTINGSNetflix CEO $1,500,000.00
DORIS FISHERFounder of The Gap $550,000.00
BARBARA GRIMMOwner, Grimmway Farms $486,400.00
CARRIE W. PENNERWalton Family Heiress $470,000.00
ARTHUR ROCKSilicon Valley Venture Capilist $350,000.00
ELI BROADThe Broad Foundation $305,000.00
JOHN H. SCULLYDirector of SPO Partners (Private Investement firm) $200,000.00
REGINA K. SCULLYDirector of SPO Partners (Private Investement firm) $200,000.00
RICHARD J. RIORDANVenture Capilist, former mayor of LA $50,000.00
CHESTER J. PIPKINBelkin CEO $5,000.00
Total $4,116,400.00

Source:  California Secretary of State Campaign Finance Website:  Note this data is based on preliminary filings in November of 2014, and should be considered tentative until final filings are posted later in 2014.

Charter Schools pour huge money into campaigns

Charters try to swing elections with stunning campaign contributions

Charter schools are making enormous campaign contributions in Santa Clara County to win school board seats throughout the county.  We won’t know the total sum until after the elections, but already more than $200k in spending has been reported.  The CCSA is far outspending other groups, including labor and union spending in education races.

In this election cycle, charters appear to be attempting to throw both local school board and county wide elections.  The California Charter School School Association (CCSA) is pouring money into County Office of Education re-election candidates Darcie Green and Julia Hoover Smoot.  The CCSA put $35,000 in for Green, and $185,000 in for Hoover-Smoot according to the Mercury News.  Hoover-Smoot, who consistently votes in favor of charter applications, is being challenged by Morgan Hill board member Claudia Rossi, who’s running a grass roots campaign to try to unseat Hoover-Smoot.  Rossi has broad grass roots support, including modest donations by labor and union groups who have contributed a few thousand to her efforts, a tiny fraction of what charters have contributed to Hoover-Smoot.

The CCSA honed in on the Morgan Hill Unified school board races, supporting 4 pro-charter candidates in the rural south county community.  The Morgan Hill community rallied against  two proposed charter schools last year, resulting in Rocketship pulling their application, and Navigator being denied by the County Office of Education.  Two more charters were recently denied by the Morgan Hill Unified board of Education, and are up for a vote on appeal at the County Office of Education on November 19th.

Paymon Zarghami in San Jose Unified supported by out of state Hedge Fund Investor with Bain Capital

We were surprised to see a few contributions for Paymond Zarghami’s  campaign to unseat San Jose Unified’s long time board member Veronica Lewis.  Mark Nunnelly contributed $700 to Zarghami’s campaign.  Nunnelly is a retired hedge fund investor who worked for Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital and lives in Massachusetts.  Zarghami also got an enormous $19,000 contribution from Arthur Rock, who runs a San Francisco venture capital firm, supports Teach For America and numerous charter schools, including KIPP.  Rock has supported other pro-charter candidates throughout the region.

Andre Agassi pivot to education capitalist

NPR’s Marketplace:  Andre Agassi pivot to education capitalist

Read the full story at:
Note!!  This story fails to mention a very important point.  Agassi’s charter school facilities are funded with tax payer dollars, through the rent charged to charter schools.  The real estate empire that Agassi is building will have been funded by public tax dollars.  But when the lease is up, the buildings we payed for will be owned by the hedge fund investors!  The future of these publicly funded properties will be in the hands Wall Street, out of reach of our local main streets.
by Blake Farmer

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Former tennis star Andre Agassi has spent the last few years building schools. Recently, he has stopped doing it out of pure generosity. After years of raising money for charter schools, Agassi has had a conversion. He teamed up with investors and joined the growing ranks of education capitalists.
“If you want to treat a problem in society, philanthropy is fine,” Turner says. “But if you want to


Bobby Turner & Andre Agassi

cure – really cure – you need to harness market forces to create a sustainable solution. That means making money, because only then is it scalable. And by the way, there’s no rulebook that says you can’t make money and societal change at the same time. They’re symbiotic.”

But some parents don’t buy the sales pitch.

“It kind of makes my stomach turn,” says Brett Bymaster, a parent in San Jose where the Agassi-Turner fund has been active.

He’s taken it upon himself to dig into their business model, though one can only dig so far. While they’re building public charter schools, there’s very little disclosure, including what they charge tenants.

We need to partner with people outside, but I don’t think the solutions to problems in my community are one-percenters getting filthy rich,” he says.

Bymaster wonders what happens to one of these buildings if the charter has to shut down, and many do. So far, all 39 schools built by the fund are still up and running. A spokesman says if one closed, the building could be rented to another charter operator.


Rocketship to Profits: The Super-Rich Shape Education in Their Own Image

Journalist and author, David Bacon, writes on Rocketship’s profit motives in Rethinking Schools


David Bacon is a writer and photojournalist based in Oakland and Berkeley, California. He is an associate editor at Pacific News Service, and writes for TruthOut, The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. He has been a reporter and documentary photographer for 18 years, shooting for many national publications. He has exhibited his work nationally, and in Mexico, the UK and Germany. Bacon covers issues of labor, immigration and international politics. (from his profile in In These Times)

By David Bacon, posted originally on Rethinking Schools.

Excerpts are below, read the full article here.

Education policy analyst Diane Ravitch describes Rocketship charters as “schools for poor children. . . . In this bare-bones Model-T school, it appears that these children are being trained to work on an assembly line. There is no suggestion that they are challenged to think or question or wonder or create.”


Buying Politicians

There is a national trend toward corporate education reformers investing heavily in state and local campaigns – including city council and school board races. California is a scary example, with Silicon Valley money at the center.

In 2012, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, run by the high-tech industry, formed an organization to promote charters, Innovate Public Schools. It got its first $750,000 from the Walton Foundation and $200,000 from Silicon Valley sponsors.

Innovate’s head is Matt Hammer, who for 10 years has been executive director of People Acting in Community Together (PACT). PACT has a history of supporting immigrant rights and a base in Catholic parishes. In the Silicon Valley area, however, it has also mobilized support for Rocketship and Navigator.

School reformers have spent heavily on local school board races. The Santa Clara County Schools Political Action Committee (created by the California Charter Schools Association) and Parents for Great Schools raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the 2012 election – $40,000 from Fisher, $50,000 from Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and $10,000 from Rocketship board member Timothy Ranzetta, among others.

The PACs spent more than $250,000 to try to knock out Santa Clara County Board of Education member Anna Song, who survived nonetheless. They spent lavishly in East San Jose districts as well. Parents for Great Schools got $5,000 from Ranzetta and more from former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, PACT’s Matt Hammer, and Rocketship consultant Erik Schoennauer. “Had donors given money directly to support high performing schools, they would have had a more beneficial impact,” Song told the San Jose Mercury News.


Read the full article here.

Agassi makes millions off of Tax Payers with “confidential” deals

Turner-Agassi builds a real-estate empire with tax payer dollars on secretly negotiated charter school land deals

Tennis star Andre Agassi has invested heavily in charter schools nationwide.  His newest endeavor, Turner Agassi, is a for-profit investment scheme that generates huge profits for investors by financing charter school facility construction. has analyzed the term sheets for these deals, both in Nashville and Milwaukee.  Some of the terms are quite surprising.

1.  Confidentiality  — publicly financed land deals, shrouded in secrecy.
Agassi contractually forced Rocketship to “agree to keep these terms and their mutual discussions regarding a potential transaction confidential and not to make any public comment or disclosure regarding such potential transaction.”  Further, Rocketship signed a statement that said “any and all information or documentation provided by one party to the other or its designated representatives shall be treated as confidential and proprietary and shall not be disclosed to any other party.”

Rocketship’s own documentation shows that Turner Agassi makes significantly more profit than other financing tools (like CMFA bonds, which also have problematic public disclosures, but cost taxpayers less).  However, Agassi’s confidentiality clause stunts any public discourse on the matter, leaving editors with myriad questions about whether or not the public is getting a good deal.

2.  Succession — After tax payers finish paying for buildings, Agassi may still own them.
Turner Agassi directly uses taxpayer funds, funneled through Rocketship Education and their secretive affiliate, Launchpad Corporation, to purchase land and build facilities.  At the end of the 29 year term, it appears that Agassi will still own the land, raising serious questions about public succession.  In the case of any public institution (charter schools have argued in court that they are private corporations), any land transaction will generate revenue that is given back to the public.  However, in this case, it appears that the sale of publicly financed land could be used to further enrich Agassi’s investors after they’ve already made millions in finance fees during the normal term of the loan.

The term sheet does allow for a purchase option for the charter school “to purchase the Facility from Landlord during the period beginning 36 months and ending 53 months after the Commencement Date”.  It’s an early period in the life of the charter school, during which the school has the least ability to purchase their facility outright.  Turner-Agassi charges a base rent that grows with the school’s enrollment, allowing the charter school to build out its attendance over a 4-5 year period.  After 5 years, The charter school would have a positive balance sheet putting it in a better position for a traditional loan with good terms.  However, after 5 years, Agassi closes the purchase option, ensuring that the land stays in the hands of Agassi’s investors.  At the end of the day, it seems that Andre Agassi and his merry band of of One Percenters are going to own a lot of real estate across the US, including here in San Jose, which they didn’t pay for – taxpayers did.

3.  Rocketship’s secret MOU between Launchpad and Agassi.Rocketship’s board documents indicate that Agassi pressured Rocketship into entering an exclusivity deal so that all Rocketship facilities would be built by Agassi.  Rocketship denied absolute exclusivity, but did sign an MOU that guaranteed Agassi a minimum number of schools.  That MOU was never released to the public.  It’s certainly in the best interests of Agassi’s investors to have Rocketship’s guaranteed business.   Is anyone asking what is in the best interest of the tax-paying public, or the kids?


Board documents from Oct 16, 2013


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,

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 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: 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, 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
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.


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.


Lily Casillas

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

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.


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


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


Time for a change!  2014 San Jose Mercury News Editorial Board
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:


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.”

Does Teacher Experience Matter? 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!

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.”


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.


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.

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

Year of Operation
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, sits on Rocketship’s board and leads the Charter School Growth Fund investment division


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.”


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

Year of Operation
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