Charter Proposal Deserves Consideration

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.


Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. By chance I met a couple of “teachers” who were in their early 20’s. They were nice enough,  very social out for a night of celebration at the end of the school year.

    Problem was the disconnect between what I saw before me and what they said they were… (grad students teaching for Rocketship). I told them I was aware of Rocketship – they didn’t beleive me until I told them what I knew of it from this blog. They were delighted that someone knew about them.

    They really didn’t stirke me as teachers though. First ( yeah they were grad students – basically kids). They looked like strungout grunge band members. THey were V-E-R-Y drunk, stunk like marijuana AND cigarette smoke, had visible tattoos on the hands, wrists/forearms (pretty common – not in a good way) and they were buying more alcohol and rolling papers.

    It’s bad enough that Rocketship caters to cultures that absolutely do not want to assimilate into American Culture but would rather have America morph into their’s. Worse is the image that these two “Teachers” (Read: ROLE MODELS)  presented – it wasn’t the “best and birghtest” more like Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure meets Beavis and Butthead.

    Sorry Joe, seeing those two turned me off to the whole Rocketship thing – it is just another scam to wsate taxpayer money – a loose – loose. We loose , students loose and then we are gonna stand around and ask ourselves what is going wrong.

    • I agree with Alum Rock. Rocketship teachers an incredibly smart and talented individuals. People are people and having a good time after work hours is acceptable.

      Before bashing Rocketship and the teachers that work at the schools, why don’t you check out one of the campuses in person and see the hard work and dedication of the staff in action.

      Also—- it is spelled “lose” not “loose.”


      • Sorry for the spelling errors, My droid was probly lerned inglinsh from a failed teacher. 

        Funny thing about language – you got the meaning of my message – even though I misspelled some words.  Wonder why that is?  (1) you obvioulsy understand English and (2) you are (what ever your cultural background might be) familiar enough with American culture/idioms/ideas that you received and understood the message.

        As for what people do outside of work – that’s fine too. I guess I just expected sosmething different form people entrusted to role model and teach our youth. I wonder if you would be so forgiving if the two I met were off duty surgeons? airline pilots, bus or train operators, cops or firefighters? Might shake your faith a little bit?

  2. Paul, I hate to call you a liar, but I am. I’ve met quite a few of the teachers at the several of the local east side Rocketship schools and they are nothing like what you describe. Yes, most of them are young and enthusiastic, but they are almost all White and very clean cut.

    And as for students who “do not want to assimilate,” I saw quite a bit of assimilation going on with the kids that go there. And, a recent Pew study has shown that modern immigrants (Hispanics included) are assimilating faster and losing their mother language faster than the previous generations. They assimilating much faster than the Germans and Italians did according to the study.

    And, Rocketship’s test scores prove that the kids are assimilating (the English test scores are very high) and that the schools deserve funding.

    Paul, take you veiled racism elsewhere.

    • Sorry “Alum Rock” if you are offended and can only challenge my first hand experience with the well worn “race card.”

      If the two I met weren’t representative of the teaching corps at Rocketship that isn’t my fault – they identified themselves and were trying to be ambassadors for the school.  They just didn’t pull it off. 

      How many Hispanics did the Pew Study poll in Rocketship’s proposed service area? Where consumers of Rocketships curriculum? How many did they poll that are from the camps?  I only ask because the sample might have been skewed to achieve he desired outcome of the entity that commissioned Pew in the first place – a very common polling motivation – sometimes a race based motivation but usually economically motivated.

    • “…they are almost all White…”

      True to form, DiSalvo’s essays seem to bring out this kind of comment.  What does this racializing comment add to this discussion?

      The Minority White Community wants to know.  (We’re the diverse group of Americans who are not allowed to have “communities of interest” in the redistricting process.)

      • I mentioned they were white (which I also am) strictly to address the assimilation point that Paul made. If all the teachers are white, then you would think the students would have a better chance at assimilating. This goes to my last point below.

        As for the Pew poll, it was a random national poll meant to view the group as a national one. And, I agree, polls can be skewed in any number of ways.

        As for the race card, Paul played that by going down the road that Hispanics/Latinos don’t want to assimilate, i.e. become Americans. The point has been made ever since the first non-English immigrants began landing on these shores. First they attacked the Germans, saying they were incapable of living in a democracy. Then it was the Irish, Italians, Portuguese, etc, etc… Every new group that has come to these showers has been attacked for being unwilling/unable to assimilate. An and every single time, it wasn’t true.

  3. Mr. Di Salvo .
    In order for Rocket ship to expand it must acquire by law a facility (s) comparable to a public school campus . I read the file that recorded .Rocketship has contacted 11 school districts in order what appears as a negotiation process to expand . These “schools” must be near “failing Schools” as part of an agreement . What puzzles me is that it sounds like a take over by an out side organization a private contractor like Launchpad to set up business in a public sector setting ?
    There is always a number of legalities when you set up shop in school district and there are issues with enrollment between the charter , and the districts .
    I would like the state law changed so it would allow school districts to set up their own charter schools , and run them , and practice innovation techniques that could accommodate the poorest students with out red tape .

  4. Dear Supervisor Di Salvo,

    1.  Will Rocket ship have the same class sizes and student/teacher ratios as everyone else in the district?  It would be unfair to compare a fully funded program with one that is being starved.

    Rocketship’s website states that they can provide: 

    a. Individual learning plans for each student
    b.  Teachers work 1:1 and in small groups with students, to focus on specific learning needs
    c.  Students receive 1:1 computer time every day, and work with tutors, if needed, for additional support.

    Reading between the lines, this means: having small class sizes so that teachers can pay attention to individuals and give them the time needed to connect and teach and enough resources (computers and tutors) for each student.  This is the real secret of their success.

    I am no education expert, but I believe that students learn best when class sizes are small and when resources are abundant.  In the past 3 years, we’ve:

    a.  Increased class sizes in our K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
    b.  cut funding for “non academic” programs like the library, civics, and sports.
    c.  attack our public schools and teachers by calling the professionals failures, greedy and dysfunctional.

    In this environment it is no surprise that achievement has declined. 

    2.  Will you limit their marketing (outreach) budget so that money goes into teaching and not towards junk mail?

    3.  Will their be gaurantees that the public money does not go towards a hedge fund that then uses that money to campaign against public programs (ala Citizen’s United?).  Right now Rocketship is locally owned.  As a private company, they can be bought out.  Will their be poison pill clauses in the contract that prevents this scenario?

    • Its my understanding that Rocketship and all Charter schools get funded using the same ADA formula that the public schools are funded with.

      The money follows the student.  If Charters are able to maintain lower teacher to student ratios that include one on one computer time and individualized learning plans its because they avoid the high overhead of existing districts who funnel money into administration rather than direct student service.

      Districts protect the adults rather than the students.  Unfortunately as a parent of public school kids who was also a product of public schools I am not considering moving my kids to charter schools because they are working a new paradigm and doing more with less.  Until public schools get serious about cutting the fat (meaning the overhead and administration costs) more and more parents are going to opt out and go to where our sons and daughters education will be put first and right now that is charter schools. 

      I urge the County Office of Ed to approve the Rocketship proposal when it comes back to them for a vote.  Parents and more importantly, children, deserve the options and the challenge will be to the districts to start providing the same success rate that the charters are or to go out of businesses and become defunct.

      The Tea Party folks are itching to dismantle public ed, so get ahead of the curve and reinvent yourselves or become extinct.

  5. Nice to see kill-the-rich class warfare warriors like Rahm Emmanuel walk the talk and have his kids attend public.. er what’s that?  ..just like Obama? ..Al Gore too?  Aw for crying out loud.

    “Only after the interview did CBS 2 learn that Leah, Ilana and Zach – who walked with their mother and father to City Hall right after the inauguration in May – would go to the top-rated South Side private school once attended by President Barack Obama’s daughters.”

    “This double standard is largely unchallenged by either the teachers’ unions or the press corps. For the teachers’ unions, it’s a fairly cold-blooded calculation. They’re willing to look the other way at lawmakers who chose private or parochial schools for their own kids—so long as these lawmakers vote in ways that keep the union grip on the public schools intact and an escape hatch like vouchers bolted.”

    All this time I thought Democrats were the champions of the little guy, the oppressed and downtrodden. 

    So what to do?
    Here’s a thought.  Next time you go into a polling station, kick your normal “Find a D.  Find a D” voting M.O. to the curb and actually engage brain.

  6. If a group of teachers consistently trains students at an API level above 900, I don’t care if they have purple skin, horizontal hair and bounce to work on pogo sticks everyday.

    A visit to Rocketship Mateo Sheedy school shows that Rocketship not only provides strong academics, but also supports a crispness of proper dress and decorum.

    Their learning model is top notch.  I have not read a single education professional negatively critique the Rocketship approach on this blog – or on any journalistic forum.  Stepping beyond the classroom experience, Rocketship’s additional structure is a bonus.

    When one reads opinion pieces on sites like “Education Week,” too often it’s all theory and longing for halycon yesterdays.  Here we have educators, in real classrooms, teaching real kids from challenged neighborhoods.  And, their model (which IS different from the process at most neighborhood schools) succeeds.

    To salute Rocketship success does not mean one throws disdain on any neighborhood public school.  Nonetheless, if one purpose of charter schools is to encourage replicable innovation, let’s identify what’s working at Rocketship and seek to spread those copiable practices to the rest of California’s young people.

    – Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, West Valley-Mission Community College District

    • Chris I hope you don’t mind me offering up a slightly different view here.

      Why is it Rocketship isn’t needed when a school district is attended by students from affluent areas?  Cases in point, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Silvercreek, Atherton, and Los Altos.

      I’m not discounting the short term achievements Rocket Ship has made, but at the same time I have nothing long term to go on either.

      The real problem I see with charter (as I do with the public school system in general) is every child is expected to learn at the same tempo.  There’s children that can pick things up quicker than other students, and wind up bored.  There’s slower students who need more time, and end up being frustrated at their own lack of understanding at a subject while other kids pass them up. 

      What is succeeding, a model that doesn’t follow the last 10,000 years of teaching is Khan Academy.

      Granted, there are kids that need the discipline that Rocket Ship provides (since they aren’t getting it at home) but I think saying we should adopt it for everyone in California is like saying a hammer is a good tool for everything.

      Personally, I’d like to see stuff like Khan become accredited in California before Rocketships are adopted, and if that doesn’t improve things, then go ahead and dump resources into adopting Rocketship.  It’d be a cheap way to give our students access to the learning materials they need from the very best teachers.(I just refreshed myself on histograms the other night)

  7. Robert,

    I took a look at the Khan Academy site.

    Fascinating.  If kids and adults spent 2 hours a day watching those videos rather than cartoons, in a few years the entire US would rise to a dynamic academic level.  Appropriate lectures that share much of human knowledge for anyone who wishes to learn.

    For families that want to homeschool, Khan probably is an excellent resource.  The lectures are interesting and concise.  I presume however that most elementary aged students need some type of in-person human interaction to thrive and that computer learning alone is not sufficient for an entire academic career.  If that presumption is incorrect, then maybe the future really is to have even Kindergarteners learn at home on individual computer screens without driving and dropping the little ones somewhere for “school.”

    – Chris S.

    • >> If that presumption is incorrect, then maybe the future really is to have even Kindergarteners learn at home on individual computer screens without driving and dropping the little ones somewhere for “school.”

      I don’t think Khan academy is a replacement for in person teaching, that need will always exist, but I see no reason why it can’t be used to supplement our school systems today. 

      How much do we spend every year on school materials?  For $100 I can buy a device (older Ipod touch via wifi) that can watch Khan/youtube videos, open PDF files, record audio/video and would be something today’s kids would relate to way more than the books we hand them today.  Something a student could carry with them throughout their school career.

      I’ve often heard the schoolbook publishers being compared to a mafia extortion racket. 

      I just see all this awesome stuff public schools should be trying first to augment what we already have, instead of trying to start over from scratch.

      Teachers have lesson plans ready to fly from the Khan acadamy.. Free.  You know how nice that would be for our overworked teachers if they were told “By all means, use this, make your lives easier”

      And again, this isn’t to knock the rocketship model at all, other than I see other things that need to be tried first before we “start from scratch” with charter or rocketship schools.

        • Hey so I listened to the whole podcast.. Good stuff.  Quoting the teacher,  “Some kids are solving quadratic equations, while others are doing multiplication, the kids are everywhere and that’s OK”

          Another quote I liked, “Kids don’t have to raise thier hand and show the entire class they don’t know how to do something” <—-this… This speaks volumes for the self esteem boost this is giving kids. 

          “The classroom resembles an engineering firm, where kids get together in groups to help one another, students write on the blackboard topics they’ve mastered and tutor students who haven’t mastered them yet”

          “Los Altos School district is planning on adopting Khan district wide for the next school year”

          All this fits in well with what I preach.  Technology and automation doesn’t kill jobs, it just helps people do their jobs more efficiently.  More efficiency means more gets done, and apparently it’s working well for the Los Altos School district.

          A few stories ago (bullying story) I mentioned using simple webcams to keep bullies in line, and a bunch of folks here (I’m guessing folks that don’t want positive changed) tried to jump on me saying “OH GREAT LETS JUST GET RID OF TEACHERS AND LET KIDS WATCH VIDEOS”  It wasn’t the point I was trying to get across, but it does show that in Santa Clara County our educational leaders are out of touch.

          Technology exists to fix a lot of the shortcomings of SCC schools if you guys would just embrace it.  Kids need to learn about today’s world, in today’s paradigms.

  8. Does anybody understand (and can explain) the update Mr. Di Salvo posted on July 21? In particular, what are the deficient signatures?
    If RocketShip withdrew its proposal, shouldn’t it be back to square one with a new submission and with the 60 some days for the County to review?
    If RocketShip withdrew because of technical deficiencies in its application, why didn’t the County catch that on its own?

    • Nice Catch!

      They have much bigger problems looming ( the SCCBOE that is). THey are probably wondering how they are going to cope with the bloodshed that will be coming due to the consolidation of their “last chance for dead end kids” schools.

      THey had schools for behavior problems, they had schools for noreteno gang members , schools for sureno gang members , schools for this problem child and that problem child… any faction of kid who was too disruptive to be in schools with regular kids trying to get an education.

      Now I hear that they will be “desegregating” and lumping these competing interest factions together. Something no “Rocketship” could possibly deal with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *