Thursday, June 16, 2011

Accountability in K-12

A local K-12 charter school is proposing to expand its footprint in Santa Clara County with another 20 schools in the next seven years.

Rocketship Education has achieved impressive results (a state API of 925 in one elementary school) by doing something we take for granted in private industry but is never talked about in education: improving labor productivity. The school uses technology to automate rote learning, and then applies the savings to hire better teachers and give them more time to work with students.

In addition to its unprecedented business model, Rocketship also proposes unprecedented accountability — agreeing to surrender charter licenses if its API falls below 775.

The liberal Mercury News was gushing in their editorial endorsement Wednesday of the company’s proposed plans. And on Wednesday night, parents spoke in support of its proposal while school districts argued for business as usual:

In an emotional public hearing that contrasted different approaches to school reform, the Santa Clara County Board of Education on Wednesday heard heartfelt pleas for more high-achieving charter schools serving poor children, while local superintendents cautioned against moving too fast.

"Parents across Santa Clara County deserve more options," said parent Kevin Ngo, noting that his daughter's kindergarten year in the charter school Rocketship Los Sue├▒os "exceeded our expectations."

He and several others spoke to support an application by Rocketship Education to open 20 charter elementary schools by 2017 near the worst-performing schools in Santa Clara County. It's an ambitious proposal that could make the charter operator the fourth-largest school district in the county. Palo Alto-based Rocketship aims to eliminate the achievement gap, the gulf between the highest-and lowest- achieving students.
Meanwhile, school districts and teacher union oppose the proposed expansion — presumably because they care more about losing resources to competing schools rather than improving education outcomes for local kids.

The final vote is due Aug. 10 on the plan to open new schools starting in 2013.

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