UPDATE: On Tuesday, Rocketship Education withdrew their current petition for a material revision of 20 new countywide charter schools to the SCCOE Board of Trustees. On the SCCOE agenda for Wednesday evening was Information Item 10A on the responses by Rocketship Education to the Board’s questions. I asked the Board to consider dropping that agenda item at Rocketship’s request. This has come to pass due to the lack of individual school accountability for transparency with the current petition. Rocketship wishes and stakeholders demand individual and separate school data for testing results, grants, etc. In the petition’s current form the California Department of Education could not provide separate school CDS identification numbers. Rocketship Education will resubmit their petition after gathering the necessary signatures in 6-8 weeks. That puts off a SCCOE approval or denial vote until a September meeting at the earliest.
Rocketship’s Silicon Valley expansion is becoming more and more a compelling story. The Wall Street Journal’s Vauhini Vaha for the Bay Area edition wrote on July 14, “While the organization’s initial efforts are yielding strong test results among elementary students, the expansion plan is drawing opposition from the superintendent and teachers’ union in the county’s biggest district, who say the Palo Alto nonprofit is cutting out local officials who were elected by voters to oversee education. They also say the charter’s rapid growth might come at the expense of the region’s tradition public schools.
What reporter Vaha writes is exactly why I am taking my vote on Rocketship’s request for a material revision of 20 new schools in five years as serious as any vote I have ever cast. Fairness and justice have been critically important values for me throughout all aspects of my personal and professional life. It will be paramount for justice and fairness to prevail when it comes to the approval or denial of Rocketship’s request.
On Aug. 10, the Santa Clara County Office of Education board will hold a public hearing on the Rocketship revision and take an up or down vote to approve or deny the request. My main goal as the board chair is to make certain all parties that have a stake in the decision are once again heard fully and completely.
One voice came in the form a letter addressed to the Superintendent and board from US Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “With charters, districts, and the County Office working together around proven strategies, San Jose can be the first large urban area in the nation to eliminate the achievement gap,” she writes. “Approving this Rocketship expansion should be part of the strategy and can be an important step forward.”
Several stakeholders have asked me to strongly consider reducing the number from 20 to considerably fewer, to delay the vote for several months, to deny the Material Revision and request that Rocketship go back to the individual districts to be authorized by each of them directly. As I understand it from legal precepts, we cannot tamper with the number. We can only approve or deny the material revision; we must act within the 90-day legal window, or the appeal is automatically denied; and there would be no assurance that the individual districts would approve the request.
Other stakeholders have suggested that South County is a prime location for a Rocketship Charter School instead of Sunnyvale School District, which is one of the districts in the request. The Board of Trustees proffered 59 questions from the June 15 public hearing that were asked of Rocketship Education to answer in written form prior to our meeting this Wednesday, July 20.
Rocketship did thorough and thoughtful work in their responses. I was particularly pleased with their honesty and candor. Here is a sampling of their responses:
Question 7: What evidence can Rocketship Education provide on its capacity to open 20 schools and maintain the educational program consistent with the three existing schools?
Answer: “There are four key drivers of quality at Rockeship’s schools—leaders, teachers, parent engagement, and individualized learning. Rocketship has designed its systems to provide increased quality with scale, a unique approach in the charter school industry… (on leaders) we are highly invested in providing an exciting and rewarding career path for our employees. With this in mind, we have created a multi-year leadership development program … (on teachers) Rocketship is unique in its approach to talent recruiting in the education industry…Teacher attrition (currently 15 percent, well below industry averages), teacher promotion to leadership positions, and teachers moving campuses to help start new schools are compensated for by the new teachers (Teach For America) coming to campus. This creates a dynamic environment with new energetic teachers each year…”
Question 21: Why must the approval of the twenty Rocketship schools occur at the county level?
Answer: “As displayed by written and oral testimony by SCC school districts, there are well over 20 failing schools located in districts which have no interest in partnering with Rocketship … Without a multi-year multi-school agreement, it will be impossible for us to guarantee that SJ/SV2020 goals will be met by the end of the decade.”
I encourage those interested in this subject to read Rocketship Education’s complete responses to questions from the Santa Clara County Board of Education and Superintendent.