07-14-2011 08:17 AM #1
Rocketship Education Forges Ahead With Expansion in Santa Clara County
From WSJ.com by Vauhini Vara:
Four years after opening its first charter school in Santa Clara County, Rocketship Education wants to significantly expand the number of schools it operates.
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 traditional public schools.
In May, Rocketship asked the county for permission to open 20 charter schools by 2017 on top of its three existing schools and six more it plans. The county's Board of Education will vote next month on whether to approve the expansion. Currently, 45 of the county's 404 public schools are charter schools.
Rocketship, whose high-profile donors include Netflix Inc. Chief Executive Reed Hastings and Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, is known for a hybrid approach. While students spend most of an eight-hour school day in traditional classrooms, they also bone up daily on their shakiest skills by playing educational computer games and getting tutored in small groups. Rocketship has a waiting list of about 500 students for its schools.
At issue is how to shrink a wide achievement gap among the 266,000 public-school students in Santa Clara County, which encompasses wealthy suburbs and lower-income areas. On California's academic-performance index, elementary schools' scores varied widely last year—from the low 700s to the high 900s, out of a possible 1,000—with higher scores usually correlated with wealthier neighborhoods in the county.
Rocketship's existing schools are among a handful in Santa Clara County that are both high-performing and attract mostly low-income students. On the state performance index, the two Rocketship schools with available data scored 925 and 886 out of a possible 1,000 last year, compared with 792 and 746 in the closest public school districts. The third Rocketship school opened too recently to have data available, school officials say.
Rocketship's founders are betting that an expansion would boost students' performance throughout the county. "There has to be an outside group that elevates the level of expectation for what is possible for kids," said Preston Smith, co-founder of Rocketship, which opened its first school in 2007. "We think it's a moral imperative."