High-achieving charter awarded prize for efficiency

San Jose-based Rocketship Education has won a $50,000 national award for its “hybrid model” of a charter school that combines online education and traditional classroom instruction. Rocketship channels the savings from hiring fewer certified teachers into internships for new principals, after-school tutorials, the addition of an academic dean for each school and payments for new school construction.

Educated Guess ponders a 5th grade online math quiz at Rocketship computer lab.
Educated Guess ponders a 5th grade online math quiz at Rocketship computer lab.

A small, ambitious charter school operation in San Jose raised eyebrows this fall for its academic achievement: a 926 API score for its first charter school, making it the highest ranking low-income elementary school in Santa Clara County.

Now it’s gaining attention for financial efficiency. Rocketship Education will receive the $50,000 Innovation Award from the Charter School Growth Fund, a national funder of charter schools. Rocketship won the national competition for its “hybrid” school that combines online education and classroom instruction, at a substantial cost savings. Rocketship shifts the dollars — $500,000 per school each year – into improving instruction, increasing teacher pay and paying for a new school that it builds at each  location. The latter is  remarkable, considering that charters that choose to build their own schools – very few do — must either seek private gifts or, as Rocketship has done, find the money within the state’s standard per student tuition payment, which is the same for charters and district schools.

Continue reading “High-achieving charter awarded prize for efficiency”

Blaming the state is losing parcel tax strategy

Denouncing Sacramento for a school district’s financial troubles may be satisfying — and valid — but it’s a poor strategy for convincing voters to pass a parcel tax, according to pollsters who surveyed voters in Santa Clara County last month.

Denouncing Sacramento for a school district’s financial troubles may be satisfying — and valid —  but it’s a poor strategy for convincing voters to pass a parcel tax, according to pollsters who surveyed  voters in Santa Clara County last month.  Their advice to school trustees looking to a parcel tax to help survive the bleak next few years: Don’t whine and don’t scapegoat. It won’t cut it to blame the state for your district’s financial troubles. Instead, convince voters that you have a plan to improve core academic programs.

The pollsters’ conclusion, that passing a parcel tax would be tough but doable, follows last Tuesday’s election in which seven of 11 parcel taxes passed statewide. Continue reading “Blaming the state is losing parcel tax strategy”

No escape for chronically failing schools

The prospect of getting federal Race to the Top money has prompted Senate passage of a bill requiring the state to take strong measures to turn around chronically failing schools — something California should be doing anyway.

California’s past efforts to turn around chronically dismal schools have been timid or unsuccessful. The state currently has no clearly defined program at all.

That’s why the surprisingly easy passage this week  in the Senate of SB X5-1 is important. Among its provisions, the bill would demand the  restructuring of most stagnant 5 percent of the lowest performing schools. The state has yet  to define this subset.

The chief sponsor, Sen. Gloria Romero, a candidate for superintendent of public instruction, and Gov. Schwarzenegger pushed the bill as necessary to make the state competitive for a Race to the Top grant. But at least that section of the bill is worthy in its own right, whether or not a grant comes through. Continue reading “No escape for chronically failing schools”

State finds Race to the Top a tough sell

State education leaders are having a tough time selling districts on Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion competition for federal education dollars. The state teachers unions are resisting it, and the school boards association is expressing skepticism. But Deputy Superintendent Rick Miller makes a strong case that Race to the Top would be vital for transforming the worst performing school and good for districts committed to structural reform.

State Deputy Superintendent Rick Miller, who has the dubious honor of being a point man for Race to the Top,  revealed the state’s evolving strategy for the federal program during a listening tour of the state this week with Kathryn Radtkey-Gaither, the governor’s Undersecretary of Education. I caught their joint appearance Wednesday  in Redwood City at a Race to the Top hearing.

Their strategy is a combination of  inducements to districts to participate, such as waiving parts of the onerous state education code, and quiet negotiations to enlist the support of the California Teachers Association and urban superintendents.

The competition among the states for the $4.3 billion grants will be intense. California’s share  could be as much as $500 million, assuming 10 or 12 states are chosen, at a time when California is looking at more budget cuts next year.

But Race to the Top is proving a hard sell. Continue reading “State finds Race to the Top a tough sell”

QEIA’s early promise (and its faults)

The California Teachers Association is citing positive early results from an eight-year program to improve some of the state’s lowest performing schools. But the $3 billion Quality Education Investment Act, which the union pushed to create, is an expensive reform that combines smaller classes and other measures. Assuming QEIA does prove effective, it won’t easy to determine why.

The California Teachers Association has issued early data pointing to positive results from an eight-year, $3 billion program for low-performing schools that the union fought hard to create and is fighting equally hard to preserve. Just last week – four months into the fiscal year and after some dragged-out battles – the Assembly passed a bill securing full funding for another year.

I have been a skeptic of the program– the Quality Education Investment Act — since it was created in 2006, although I applaud the CTA for going to the mat on behalf of low-income schools. I have had two problems with QEIA:

  • It  benefited only a third of the approximately 1,500 schools in the bottom two deciles of Academic Performance Index (API) scores.
  • It also committed the bulk of the money to class-size reduction, even though smaller classes, while popular with teachers and parents, is the most expensive school reform, with largely unproven results. The CTA disagrees with most researchers on this key point and cites studies showing gains from smaller classes. Continue reading “QEIA’s early promise (and its faults)”

Privacy at risk in many states’ data bases

In looking around at other states’ longitudinal data bases, California should learn a lesson from what they’re not doing well enough: guaranteeing security and privacy of information.

Responding to yesterday’s post on an important data bill before the Legislature, a reader alerted me to a new study from the Fordham University Center on Law and Information Policy pointing out that states have done a poor job ensuring  the security of personal information in longitudinal student data bases.

The study examined protocols for all  states’ systems and concluded that the majority had  detailed information in what appeared to be non-anonymous student records. Many states didn’t have clear access and use rules, and  nearly all didn’t have policies to purge  the data over time. Continue reading “Privacy at risk in many states’ data bases”

Hearing today on important data bill

An important bill improving the state’s new education data systems will get a hearing today in the Senate. SBX5 3 (Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto) would expand the CALPADS student longitudinal data system down to preschool and up through community colleges and four-year public universities. It also would ensure that researchers get access to the data.

Educated Guest

(I’ve invited John F to fill in for me today. John is … and his book is()

by John Fensterwald

In the next six weeks, the Legislature, at Gov. Schwarzenegger’s insistence, will consider bills that would make the state more competitive for Race to the Top grants. Some of those actions, particularly those dealing with parental choice and sanctions for the worst-performing schools, will be hard-fought.

But passing legislation in one area, dealing with the state’s new data systems, shouldn’t be. The state should be moving ahead, regardless of Race to the Top incentives.

Today, there will be a legislative hearing on SBx5-2, sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who has been pushing for an effective statewide longitudinal data system for years. Continue reading “Hearing today on important data bill”