CHARTER SCHOOL NEWS: Stanford University charter school has

A nine-year-old charter school overseen by Stanford University's School of Education will be closed in June 2010, according to a recent article in the New York Times (April 16, 2010). What the Times did not note is that the district-by-district and state-by-state rules on charter schools are so disjointed that a charter school in one place can be closed (for "academic failure") while a school elsewhere that is almost the same remains open. In Chicago, there is no regular reporting of the academic performance of Chicago's charter schools in a way that can make them comparable to regular public schools, and the charter schools generally proclaim their success by using measures which are never really scrutinized.

The main Chicago university that operates (non union) Chicago charter schools is the University of Chicago.

There has been no organized critique of Chicago charter schools as they have come up, generally in October and November, for review at the Chicago Board of Education's monthly meetings. The Board members have generally relied on the reports from the Board's "Office of New Schools," which are not made public prior to the Board meetings at which charter renewals or expansions are on the agenda.

April 15, 2010, Charter Extension Denied to Low-Scoring Stanford School, By CAROL POGASH 2010/04/16/education/16 sfcharter.html?pagewanted=print

A charter school created and overseen by Stanford University’s School of Education was denied an extension of its charter on Wednesday night after several members of the school board labeled it a failure.

Last month the state [California] placed the charter school, Stanford New School, on its list of persistently lowest-achieving schools.

After the Ravenswood [California] City School Board voted 3 to 2 to deny a five-year extension to Stanford New School, it asked its superintendent to work on a plan with the charter school for major revisions and a possible provisional two-year charter extension. If board members do not approve such a plan — and it was not clear that members would be amenable — and if there is no other reprieve, Stanford New School will close in June.

The vote surprised teachers, students and Stanford professors who filled the board room, which grew even more crowded as word spread that the school was in trouble.

“We’re all in shock,” said Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford School of Education and president of the charter school’s board. Starting a new school, Dr. Stipek said, “takes time.”

Yet despite the support of some of the nation’s finest educators, the benefits that a great university can provide and spending $3,000 per student above the state average, Stanford New School was not able to become the national model that the School of Education set out to create in 2001 when it opened its first charter institution.

“I’m totally devastated,” said Lola Rockwell, a grandmother who asked board members, “Where will my child go if you close our world down?”

East Palo Alto Academy — the name of the two Stanford charter school campuses — teaches 521 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, many of whose parents lack a high school diploma. Seventy-three percent of the students are Latino; some are recent immigrants. And most students, although born in the United States and socially verbal in English, are behind in classroom English.

Stanford’s educators expected that with excellent teachers, many trained at the university, they could provide state-of-the-art instruction, preparing students to become “global citizens.” While Stanford New School does better than most other California schools in student retention and sending them to college, the students’ standardized test scores are low. East Palo Alto is also a tough place to experiment — of the 12 schools in the district, 3 landed on the state’s new list of worst-performing schools.

“It’s a risky business,” Dr. Stipek, said before the meeting. “We rolled up our sleeves and opened a school in a financially and socially-challenged environment so that we could prepare teachers and leaders for the real challenges they will face.”

After the vote, Beth Injasoulian, who teaches statistics at the high school, said, “This was such an act of courage to start this school despite the challenges.”

In recent years, education departments at several major universities have started charter schools. As Stanford has found out, however, running a public school can be a teaching experience even for the learned.

But Stanford New School has the best of credentials. It was founded by Linda Darling-Hammond, a leader in the school reform movement and President Obama’s adviser on education during his transition. Its blueblood board includes Stanford administrators and professors and Silicon Valley royalty with connections to Google and Cisco. It also includes Maria de la Vega, the superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District — who recommended that her board deny the charter extension.

During Wednesday night’s jammed board meeting, professors parsed test statistics, while unimpressed board members simply looked at the scores. Some board members spoke favorably of the high school, reserving major complaints for the newer elementary school.

Ms. Darling-Hammond — who told the board that the school “takes all kids” and changes their “trajectory” — was angered by the state’s categorization of the charter as a persistently worst-performing school. “It is not the most accurate measure of student achievement,” she said, “particularly if you have new English language learners.”

The state’s new list of persistently worst-performing schools was precipitated by Mr. Obama, who wrote legislation to close or improve bad schools.

Stanford’s charter school ranks in the state’s lowest 20 percent of schools. Deborah Sigman, California’s deputy superintendent for curriculum, learning, and accountability, said that the rating was actually an improvement over past years, but added that “the bottom line is they didn’t make the amount of growth that is required” to stay off the list.

Even though they have been inching upward, test results for Stanford New School students are almost uniformly poor. On last year’s Standardized Testing and Reporting Results only 16 percent of the students were proficient or advanced in English and math, an improvement from the previous year. And in a three-year comparison of similar schools in 2007 and 2008 — the most recent state results — the school scored 6, 7 and most recently a 3 out of 10. Stanford officials said the dip was the result of a changing composition of similar schools.

“Maybe this demonstrates that schools alone cannot solve the very deep problems kids bring to school,” said Diane Ravitch, the education scholar and historian. “You cannot assume that schools alone can raise achievement scores without addressing the issues of poverty, of homelessness and shattered families.”

Still, Stanford New School has had success in certain areas. The state’s high school completion rate is 80 percent, Stanford New School is 86 percent; and an impressive 96 percent of the charter school’s seniors are accepted to college, even though the most current state numbers show that the average SAT scores per subject hover in the high 300s.

The school “puts a lot of attention on a variety of skills and provides opportunities that don’t necessarily promote higher scores,” Dr. Stipek said.

One day this week, for example, Japanese-Americans who had been interned during World War II spoke to one class, while another class toured Cisco Systems to learn about jobs.

“If you’re just looking at test scores, then you don’t see what we’re learning,” said Jonathan Solis, a sophomore.

Students receive a rubric of evaluations, not grades. High school students have one teacher/adviser who checks that homework is done, and when it is not, the teacher calls home. Teachers know students’ families and help with issues as varied as buying a bagel before an exam to helping an evicted family find a home. Teachers stay late and work weekends, and tend to burn out quickly — causing a high rate of turnover.

Stanford University provides summer classes, tutors and fund-raising by the football and women’s basketball teams. The medical school regularly sends a health van to the schools. The university also helps raise scholarship money for students who are in the United States illegally and therefore ineligible for government grants. But none of that was enough Wednesday night.

As Ravenswood board members pointed out, another charter school in the same district, Aspire, has consistently had better results on state tests. In fact, Stanford’s first charter school in 2001 was a joint venture with Aspire.

The two cultures clashed. Aspire focused “primarily and almost exclusively on academics,” while Stanford focused on academics and students’ emotional and social lives, said Don Shalvey, who started Aspire and is now with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Five years ago the relationship ended amicably and Stanford New School was on its own.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Sharifa Wilson, the board president, who volunteered that she had a teaching degree from New York University, expressed her disappointment. “I would have expected that any school that is overseen by Stanford would have the best scores,” she said.

Ms. Wilson was the sole vote against considering a two-year provisional extension.


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