Nationally recognized charter organization seeks state approval for San Francisco school


Photo by Tiffany Szerpicki

Photo by Tiffany Szerpicki

UPDATE:  The State Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the charter petition of Rocketship Education, overruling the recommendation made by the California Department of Education to deny the petition appeal.

A battle over whether a nationally acclaimed charter school organization will be allowed to open a school this fall in San Francisco will come to a head today, months after the San Francisco school board voted decisively to deny the school a charter last fall.

The State Board of Education is expected to vote today on the petition submitted by Rocketship Education to open a charter elementary school in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point, a low-income, diverse neighborhood with a heavy concentration of African American residents.

Rocketship Education, which currently operates five charter schools in San Jose, has been hailed for its hybrid model of instruction which integrates regular instruction with using computers to allows teachers to give students more individual attention.

But last August its petition to open the school was decisively rejected on a 6-0 vote by the San Francisco board. By law, Rocketship is permitted to appeal that decision to the State Board of Education. The state board will hear that appeal at its meeting in Sacramento today.

The California Department of Education is recommending to the state board that it reject the petition, but for different reasons than those cited by San Francisco. Further complicating the picture is that the state’s Advisory Commission on Charter Schools, which is appointed by the state board, is recommending that the board approve the charter petition.

Rocketship officials were reluctant to criticize the department, but expressed optimism that their charter petition will be approved. “We are eager to partner with the state and the school district on this very important work,” said Evan Kohn, Rocketships’ senior policy manager. He said Rocketship schools have achieved results similar to schools serving far more affluent student populations.

Just last month, Rocketship got a far more enthusiastic reception than it got in San Francisco from the Santa Clara County Board of Education. The board voted to approve Rocketship’s petition for 20 additional charter schools in eight different school districts in the county. That is in addition to the five San Joe schools it already operates or has received charters for.

“Rocketship has shown what works,” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told the board before it made its decision. “Let’s take it, let’s replicate it.”

Once all Rocketship’s Santa Clara County schools are established by 2016, it will have enrolled some 15,000 students.

Among the reasons cited by the San Francisco school board in its 31-page denial were the following:

  • Rocketship presented an “unsound educational program” for its students.
  • It failed to “provide a clear and comprehensive description of the proposed English/language arts and social science core curriculum.”
  • It had a “major misconception as to what mathematical conceptual understanding is.”
  • It failed to have “reasonable comprehensive description” about health and safety procedures, student discipline and school closures.

Kohn politely took issue with those conclusions. “We have an absolutely sound education program,” he said.

In its recommendation to the State Board of Education for denial of Rocketship’s petition, the California Department of Education focused on what appear to be relatively minor issues compared to the multiple harsh criticisms in San Francisco’s denial.

The department’s concerns focused on whether Rocketship could cover “debts or liabilities” in the event its San Francisco school had to close. It also said that Rocketship had failed to explain how grant funds would be spent on individual schools, how debt service payments would be made, or what kinds of services will be provided for the 15 percent management fee described in its petition.

“We do believe that these are minor findings which we will be happy to address,” Kohn said. “These are non-issues.”

Kohn said there is an urgent need for the services Rocketship is proposing to provide. “We are eager to partner with the state with this very important work,” he said. “There is an opportunity for the state to close the achievement gap in places like Bayview Hunters Point.”

But an additional complicating factor is that while the state board has the authority to issue a charter, it is already burdened with having to oversee 32 other state-authorized charter schools because of limited oversight capacity. This represents a far larger role than that envisioned by the state’s original 1992 Charter School Act, which anticipated that local school districts would be the primary issuer of charters. That is still the case, but as a result of denials for charters at a local level, the state board has ended up granting charters to a growing number of schools.

The Little Hoover Commission has recommended a separate state charter authorizing and oversight commission. But Sacramento insiders say that such a commission is unlikely to be constituted, so the state board will remain the body of last resort for organizations like Rocketship whose petitions for a charter were turned down at a district and county level.

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3 Responses to “Nationally recognized charter organization seeks state approval for San Francisco school”

  1. CarolineSF said

    on January 11, 2012 at 8:17 am

    The SBOE previously forced a similar hybrid charter high school on SF, Flex Academy, connected with the predatory for-profit K-12. Flex has a tiny number of students, trolls desperately for more students (as a high school mom I know that because we get their calls and e-mails), and has low test scores so far.

    Our education press in SF is more savvy and aggressive than San Jose’s, so at least the Rocketship charter that will inevitably open up may get some critical scrutiny, for what it’s worth.

    It will be healthiest for our kids and schools when this fad dies away, as previous corporate-education-reform fads (for-profit Edison Schools, for example) have done.

  2. Donna Ikebe said

    on January 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Take a look at the education system and what their scores have been for decades, and take a look around on your streets. What do you see. I see children and I fear for their futures. All children are on my mind every day I awake. And I know that to make a huge change that will lead to a more stable society is to reform our education system and shake up those traditional platforms of education that as I said for decades have been performing below average and just pushing our children through school when they do not even read at a proficient level!!! I see that our children are the answer to societies problems and to offer all children rich or poor a better form of education is a small request with a huge impact when you take a serious look at what our traditional schools are turning out looking the big picture not just the lucky few. We at Rocketship want to close this achievement gap for all children! And I ask what is so wrong with this? Who would want to stop this from happening really? What kind of person would want to deny a child of the chance to be a successful adult. And how could any one ever want to protest or deny any child of a better chance to go to college. Why can’t all of our non supporters realize that we are not here to debate them but we are here for the sole purpose of offering a choice for all children to be given the opportunity to attend a school which has only shown hope for these kids and their futures which I am sorry to say I have not seen for decades till Rocketship. What is the sense to be a non supporter to a cause that is aimed at children getting a more sound education that focuses on a system which is well rounded and solid and proven to work with an emphasis on core values which this country has forgotten. Like respect. A lost word in todays society. I as a parent of a Rocketeer have found hope again for all of our children which to me is the basis for my existence. The children should over rule any non supporters and help them to see the real issue here and move them away from adult politics which are only a form of evil. Let good shine through and think with a more positive role that we all should play as adults. A better world for man in the future because it sure is in desperate need huh??????????????/And EDUCATION is the place to start making the change. A well educated being with core values and a good healthy mind and happy sole can only improve society. And I move to approve that any and everyday THANK YOU SINCERELY A CONCERNED AND SCARED PARENT FOR ALL OF OUR CHILDREN. sTOP HATING AND START CARING. That is the place I want my heart to visit on a regular basis. We need all people in this world to just agree that our children are the only real answer to a better society because from what we can all clearly see we have so much to repair.

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