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California: The Charter Game is Rigged

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This article provides an inside view of the charter racket in California.


If local districts oppose charter schools, it doesn’t matter. No matter what they say or how well the community organizes, the die is cast. State officials will approve the charter application, regardless of its flaws.


Rocketship charter chain wanted to move into the Mt. Diablo district. It had a federal grant to expand, and the chain wouldn’t let community opposition stand in its way. The district did not want Rocketship’s computer-based approach. It did not want a corporate chain whose headquarters was sixty miles away. Neither did the county board of education, which rejected Rocketship.


“This is the opposite of local control,” said Nellie Meyer, the superintendent of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, who called the proposal deeply flawed and was followed by MDUSD’s general counsel, Deborah Cooksey, who said Rocketship had collected its petition signatures “under false pretenses,” by telling people—including parents who were non-English speakers—their kids could get kicked out of school if they didn’t sign.


“This is going to be something that will divide our community,” said Gloria Rios, who has lived in the Monument Corridor near the northeastern Bay Area city of Concord for 20 years and has three children in the district’s public schools. “Our children will suffer the consequences, and these funds can be used for the schools we already have.”


Rejected by the local community and the county board of education, Rocketship went to the State Board of Education.


Slam dunk.


“The first indication that the proceedings were tilted to Rocketship came when Cindy Chan, who oversees the California Education Department’s charter school program, summarized Rocketship’s petition and, using the same legal terms that the Mt. Diablo and Contra Costa County Boards used to reject Rocketship, concluded the opposite. Rocketship’s prograns were “sound” and they “will implement it,” she said.


“Rocketship’s Cheye Calvo, its chief growth and county engagement officer, then led the board through a powerpoint presentation filled with all the buzzwords of the charter school movement. He talked of closing the “achievement gap.” He said that most “Rocketeers” learn more than one year’s worth of studies every school year. He said the school collected 1,100 petition signatures from district residents. He said the computer labs were “personalized learning,” saying they were “no substitute” for instruction. He called their teachers “purposeful, focused.” He said they rely on data to “assess students” and focus on the “whole child.” He acknowledged that Rocketship has high turnover—losing 20 percent of its faculty annually, but said their “teachers are performance-driven professionals who strive to achieve gap-closing” results. Finally, he put up graphs that compared the test scores from Rocketship’s San Jose schools with students in the Mt. Diablo district, saying they can do better than the traditional public schools.


“The opponents, led by the Mt. Diablo School District superintendent and local school board president, said Rocketship’s persistence was an affront to local control. They recounted the major flaws in its curriculum, especially its shallow approach to teaching English to students who did not speak it at home or as a first language. The district’s programs, especially in the Monument Corridor, were appropriately bilingual and award-winning, they said, adding their approach was seen by Rocketship as a liability. They said that Rocketship was not invited by parents to come into the community, but was lured by local real estate developers.


“But mostly, the critique was aimed at Rocketship’s overreliance on its test-centered curriculum and its lack of attention to the needs of what was working in a low-income, bilingual community, and one where special education also was a challenge.


“We are outraged at Rocketship’s lack of information on special education,” said Cheryl Hansen, president of the Mt. Diablo School District Board. “This is not Rocketship’s first school. Rocketship has not been able to answer special education questions at the school board and county board level.” And returning to their English language instruction, Hansen said, “More than 75 percent of their charter schools show declining achievement in the last four years.”


Nothing the district said mattered. Diablo will get a Rocketship charter, despite its poor performance elsewhere, despite its rejection by the local community.


This process is a rejection of local control and a rejection of democracy. It serves corporate interests, not children.








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