Last September just prior to a neighborhood meeting in Concord where Rocketship Charter School was conducting an informal get together with residents to test the waters for them placing a campus in this locale, a large contingent from the California Teachers Association (CTA) made their presence known.
Clad in yellow tee-shirts with the words “No Rocketship” prominently displayed, the protestors after a small confrontation at the church soon dispersed. For the CTA people this was not their first rodeo demonstrating their displeasure with Rocketship. On at least three other occasions the, union conducted similar displays against the charter school organization.
In addition to these protests, the union and the Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) has used all available legal resources and political pressure to keep Rocketship and other charter schools out of their community during the last five years.
Rocketship specializes in taking English as a second language children from predominantly low Hispanic households and immersing them in a rigorous academic program. They take pride in their ability to bring this group up to and beyond the educational standards of traditional grade schools in a short period of time.
One would ask why the school district and their teachers are so adamant about not having Rocketship invade their turf. This is especially puzzling in the low income Monument Community given the fact that all of the grade schools in this area have such a dismal record of educating the group which Rocketship has historically proven to do a superior job with?
For proof of Rocketship’s ability to better educate Hispanic children we need to go no further than evaluate recent test scores from grade schools in the area. As these graphs amply demonstrate, Concord residents and educators should be greeting Rocketship with open arms rather than protesting their every move.
It should also be noted that Rocketship is not for every child or family. No one is forced to attend there. Parents have an option of going to this non-traditional environment where:
1. The hours are almost two hours longer than traditional district grammar schools.
2. Much more emphasis is placed on learning English, Math, and Science than normal schools offer at the expense of physical education, music, and the arts.
3. Parental involvement in the education process cannot be demanded but is greatly encouraged on Rocketship campuses. Home visits by Rocketship staff are a regular part of their program.
4. Computer labs are important tools to re-enforce the learning process at Rocketship.
5. From the uniforms they wear to rigorous discipline demanded by teachers, Rocketship’s success is built on running a results oriented tight ship not typically found in most public schools.
After these factors are taken into consideration, the big elephant in the closet which explains the opposition to Rocketship by the CTA is the fact that these schools are non-union. This might account for the CTA sponsored protestors at every public meeting that the two groups attend.
At the forefront of the CTA’s complaints about the upstart Charter School is that non credentialed teachers (mostly younger) are responsible for educating the children. This is especially true in the computer lab which the kids spend approximately 90 minutes per day primarily honing their skills in math and English.
Rocketship counters this complaint saying that computer lab work is not the same as what goes on in the classroom. They claim this part of the students work load is supplementary in nature thus a lower threshold of teacher participation is required.
In addition Rocketship’s critics claim the curriculum is weighted too heavily towards academics and does not provide the necessary balance kids need to become well rounded individuals. While Rocketship boosters partially agree with this assessment, they counter that parents should determine what educational system their kids can best learn under.
So who is right with all of this bickering? Why has so much money been spent in the courtroom instead of the classroom by both sides of this educational equation?
Actually, there is plenty of what when I was in grade school they termed “improvement needed” by both the CTA and Rocketship as organizations. These groups detest one another so much that any type of dialogue seems to be impossible. At hearings that took place at the District, County, and State Board of Education levels, there was no evidence Rocketship’s detractors ever having visited one of the campuses they denounced so much.
The other side of the coin has found the Charter School at times being insensitive, arrogant, smug, and condescending, in their dealings in trying to establish themselves in the Concord community. Much could be learned if both Rocketship and their detractors headed the words of Rodney King “Why can’t we all get along”
One of the areas both groups could learn from is the value of the time (supervised or not) that Rocketship pupils spend in the computer lab. The results speak for themselves and might be a major factor in the superior math and English scores of Rocketship students.
One thing that might help regular schools is Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla’s AB2329 Computer Science for All bill that was passed in the last legislative session. The summary of the bill says in part:
Requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to convene a computer science strategic implementation advisory panel (panel) to develop recommendations for a computer science strategic implementation plan. This plan will help ensure that every student and especially those students from under-represented communities have access to computer science education.
While this step in the educational process should be applauded, what strikes me is why AB2329 was not implemented years ago? This shows how backwards things have been in California and why just throwing more money in public school budgets will not guarantee success in the classroom. Does it take an operation like Rocketship to demonstrate the importance of computer education in 2016?
Such a stark reality should strike home to the CTA, their compatriots at the school districts, who denounce Rocketship like it’s the second coming of Darth Vader. Take a look at the mirror and see the underachieving results of public schools that have predominantly plagued Hispanic populations of English learners.
To keep them trapped in the present system could be construed as an unintended form of institutional racism as many of the kids will be doomed to lives of menial employment with little hope of upward mobility.
Another factor in the overall dismal performance of public schools versus Rocketship is time spent in school. The extra hours put in at Rocketship, including their “working lunch” schedules, seems to make a big difference in academic achievement they are able to obtain.
These contrasts with time teachers spend away from the classroom for conferences, training, and liberal sick day allowances in conventional public schools. Such policies have translated to a lot lost time for students resulting in an inordinate amount of unproductive learning under the guidance of substitute teachers.
Adding to this is the half day school sessions every Wednesday along with the ridiculous amount of holidays taken over the years where time off has been often turned into an orgy of texting and playing worthless video games.
Beyond funding issues, numerous reforms need to be enacted on all levels of public education to fix what charitably could be termed a broken system in California. Disputes concerning teaching credentials, whether employees are members of the Union, and right to work issues, should be secondary to what goes on in the classroom.
For guidance public and charter schools in California might consider mirroring the K1-12 education in Denver Colorado where teaching kids is a non partisan agenda item in the legislature. Democrats and Republicans equally share power in this Purple State where parental choice trumps political infighting for determining what approach is best taken in educating their youth.
If politicians are really serious about education reform, they will take a look at many factors including not only increased funding but also how these dollars translate into learning and training for all of the high tech jobs promised just prior to election time.
To quote the words of recent Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, “You don’t need a weatherman To know which way the wind blows.” Change is needed now.