Franklin McKinley: Why is Stopping Rocketship so Important?
The Franklin McKinley community is preparing to fight back against a proposed Rocketship school in the district. The proposed Rocketship would be the 5th Rocketship in or on the border of the small downtown San Jose school K-8 district. The district will vote on the proposed Rocketship on April 14th.
StopRocketShip.com was not associated with the creation or distribution of the flyer. The flyer has a picture, taken by the Mercury News, of Rocketship students in line with their hands behind their back, with the following caption: “Students are trained to clasp their hands behind their backs as if they are handcuffed and to keep talking to a minimum as they walk to class at the Rocketship Spark Academy on Tuesday, May 27, 2014.”
The text, reprinted by permission, follows.
Many people think that charter schools are harmless alternatives to public schools, designed to give parents more choice over where to send their children. However, this is not the case by a longshot.
Independent charter schools, like Rocketship, are private businesses designed to provide low-cost education to students in order to profit off of taxpayer money. Charter schools are not bound by public Ed Code. They create their own laws according to individualized contracts, or “charters.” These contracts allow charters to take public money, but control it privately—meaning they can spend it as they see fit. Public schools, on the other hand, must spend taxpayer money according to strict laws that require public oversight, transparency, and accountability.
Charter schools are incentivized to spend the fewest amount of public dollars on educating children, so they can funnel the remaining funds into the pockets of their business investors. Some charter schools, like Rocketship for example, register as nonprofit corporations to create the illusion that they are not concerned with making money. But Rocketship’s business plan calls for each of its school sites to generate $500,000 annually by increasing class sizes and replacing teachers with computers. With each school site generating half a million dollars, Rocketship is motivated to open as many schools as possible, as quickly as it can.
Rocketship’s nonprofit gimmick works because the company does not retain the money it receives as “profit.” Instead, it uses the money to pay expensive fees to for-profit organizations that are controlled by the very same people who control Rocketship. For example, Rocketship purchases its educational software from DreamBox, a for-profit company owned and run by one of Rocketship’s co-founders. Rocketship also allocates 20% of its funding to pay steep leasing fees to Launchpad Development Company, which was founded by Rocketship and now owns all of Rocketship’s school buildings and facilities. Another 15% of Rocketship’s funding is used to pay “management” salaries.
Following the money trail further reveals that Rocketship solicits investments from hedge fund companies by guaranteeing rates of return above 10%, effectively using public taxpayer money to make rich private investors even richer. Current U.S. tax laws allow these investors to receive a 39% tax credit for “community projects in underserved communities.” This tax credit combined with the high interest collected on the loans allows investors to virtually double their money every seven years.
In order to pocket as much public money as possible, Rocketship depends on young, inexperienced, and non-union teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty. They reduce their curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and, for nearly two hours a day, teachers are replaced with computers. Rocketship calls this “blended learning”—a combination of in-person and computerized instruction—and claims it can cut costs while raising low-income students’ test scores.
Rocketship seems to be focused solely on tested subjects. It does not offer electives, such as art or music. Education historian Diane Ravitch says, “It appears that [the students at Rocketship] 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.” She also notices that these schools are springing up only in low-income neighborhoods, and that Rocketship’s Silicon Valley investors do not send their own children to these “bare-bones Model-T schools.”
Schools are not meant to be test-prep factories. They are meant to develop the whole-child and prepare students for the next stages of life. Conning parents into believing that test scores determine the worth of a school and the ability of a child is part of a disingenuous plan to discredit and dismantle public education.
Charter schools like Rocketship spend enormous sums of money to help charter-friendly candidates get elected to public school boards—something public schools can’t do. These board members then allow charters to enter their districts, and begin siphoning students and public funding away from the public schools. Although public schools are overseen by democratically elected school boards, a charter school is only held accountable to their non-elected corporate board of directors. So, whenever a public school is replaced by a charter school, the democratic rights of the community are replaced as well. Charter schools do not actually help underserved communities. They destroy them in a ruthless quest for profit.
Source: “Rocketship to Profits” (Fall 2014) Rethinking Schools. Pg. 24-29.