Too good to charter

Summit Preparatory High, a top-scoring charter school in Redwood City, California lacks bad students, say local school officials. The charter needs a local sponsor due to a change in state law, but Sequoia Union High School District claims the school doesn’t have enough low-performing students. From the San Mateo Times:

One of the main reasons the California Legislature passed the charter school law, Sequoia Superintendent Pat Gemma said, was to provide more options for struggling students. So far, he said, the data Summit has given the district shows the school is not serving this purpose.

In the school’s current sophomore and junior classes, there are no students that are in the “far below basic” category in English on the state standardized test results, Gemma said.

Furthermore, he said about 75 percent of these students are at “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in English language arts.

Summit Executive Director Diane Tavenner counters that students aren’t doing as well in math with a third of advanced algebra students in the “far below basic” category.

About half of Summit students are white and many come from affluent Menlo Park and Portola Valley families, but 35 percent are Hispanic, typically from blue-collar families. Next fall, the high school will add a senior class and reach 375 students.

All Summit students take challenging college-prep classes, with extra help for those who need it. The minimum passing grade is a “C” to ensure all graduates will be eligible for college.

Junior Arturo Calderon, 17, said his parents wanted him to go to Summit to avoid getting involved with gangs and drugs.

He failed English and history when he first started there in ninth grade. But after attending summer school, he is getting better grades and hopes to attend San Jose State University.

Sequoia, the local high school district, is losing students to a number of new charter schools of which Summit is the most successful, as well as to private schools. I’ve visited the charter and was very impressed.

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  1. So let me see if I get this – because the school is succeeding at teaching it’s students, it’s being criticized?

  2. Will the age of Harrison Bergeron soon be upon us? Welcome to demeritocracy.

    I’m glad to hear that Summit lives up to its name! I’ll be even more glad when it doesn’t have to “prove” how awful it is to appease the cacophiles.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    All right, guys, Get out there and recruit some democrats.

  4. It is not just the student dollars–it is the kind of low-SES students and families. Sequoia Union High School District is the district most of the kids at Eastside College Prep would go to. Eastside, as you know, is a private school in East Palo Alto that serves low SES minority youth. I see this Summit backlash as SUHS’s response to ECP’s continued success. The track record of High Tech High Bayshore is more problematic, but it won’t be chartered by SUHS next year, but by the state. East Palo Alto High School — the class of 2006 is the second graduating class. The many private schools in the area vary in the amount of financial aid they have available (Woodside Priory, for example, would like to do more, and is raising endowment funds so they can offer more scholarships.) So to me, it looks like SUHS is losing highly-motivated students (and families) to a plethora of charter schools and to a lesser extent, the private schools.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Didn’t the New York Catholic schools, in response to accusations of cherry picking, allow their critics to pick a class, and that class did as well academically as the “cherry picked” classes?

  6. Mike in Texas says:

    According to the greatschools website this school has 0% free lunch students. Can that actually be true, or is free lunch eligibility something not reported by CA charter schools?

  7. I work with kids from Summit. They are all quite bright and clearly, Summit covers certain educational aspects very well. However, I’m not impressed with Summit and wouldn’t recommend it. Everyone’s education is subordinated to what’s convenient and manageable.

    As just one example, the school teaches AP US History over three semesters, rather than two. The kids start it in their junior year, but don’t finish it up until halfway through their senior year–and then have to wait until the end of their senior year to take the AP test. I suspect the reason is that not all the kids are capable of moving at the same pace. They aren’t able to offer AP Calculus–the seniors next year are taking an online course with a part-time tutor.

    Another thing I really don’t like is that they are forced into various electives (which I think are only offered at the end of the school year, but am not sure) not by their interests, but based on ensuring that everyone gets “their turn” at an elective. And lordy–forget sports.

    As I said, the kids I work with are very bright. But I wouldn’t send most kids there, because it limits their options in ways that I just wouldn’t tolerate. If that’s not enough, it could conceivably lead to serious disadvantages in college applications.

    South Bay public schools are outstanding, btw. The problem with mid-pen is that most of them got overwhelmed by non-English speakers and the quality of high end education dropped dramatically. MA is the only one that’s still in the ballgame; I wouldn’t send my kid to any of the others.

  8. Some charter schools don’t participate in the federal lunch program, and therefore don’t have free-lunch numbers to report. I’m not sure about Summit; they may have screwed up reporting. The state web site says about 20 percent of Summit students fall into the low-income category; only 2 percent are English Learners while another 22 percent speak English as a second language and have been reclassified as fluent. (I’m doing this from memory, but I’m in the ballpark.)

    In response to Cal’s comments: Small schools don’t offer as many electives or sports as larger schools. This is a trade-off that’s fine for some students but doesn’t work for everyone. The decision to put all students in AP U.S. History, and to offer it over three semesters, again helps some students achieve more but probably isn’t ideal for students who could finish in a year. Parents can decide whether they prefer Summit’s system to the other choices open to them.

  9. Tim Oren says:

    Dear Sequoia Union HSD:

    I live, vote and pay taxes in the Sequoia district. So long as your board and administration continue to manufacture excuses for evading competition and accountability, I will continue to vote against every bond and tax measure you put on the ballot. Have a nice day.

  10. worth clearing up Cal’s claims — although foremost, thanks for working with the Summit students.

    1- AP history is taught over two years, concurrently with AP Government. At the end, the students take both AP exams. the interaction strengthens and enriches both.

    More importantly, the classes continue to apply differention — as in all Summit classes — so that students who excel can accelerate and go deeper.

    2- Both AP Stats and AP Calc will be offered.

    3- Electives occur in performing arts immersion session in January and June. (4 weeks, 6 hours / day, 5 days over week) There are also clubs during the school year. all students must have performing arts — but high demand creates more classes, not rationing. Students can also create independent projects.

    The powerful dividends of immersion are four-fold: a) alignment with arts community/projects. contrast immersion with 1 hour for 9 months which is too short to learn each day, too long each year to get artists
    b) alignment with peer pressure: no longer just a small groups doing performances
    c) a buffer to help students catch up as needed before the next semester
    d) most importantly, two four-week professional development periods for teachers who can collaborate, hire, visit other schools, develop curricular … be a professional. single day staff development doesn’t work.

    4- Varsity sports are in place (although not yet a football team) Club sports are also in place — Merc News ran series last April about the clash between high school and club team: Summit channels this conflict into a win for students. there are also personal exercise and individual sports. All aimed at building the life skill to stay healthy. PE activity is a requirment for each of the four year (not the 1 or 2 at many schools)

    5- College is where it all comes together. and this program prepares them superbly: depth of knowledge, breadth of subjects, timespan of preparation. Ask the college admissions officers who are already regularly on campus. It’s where all students are aimed from the first year.

    This is how and why Summit is ranked in the top 30 in the state … and among the most diverse of those top 30. It’s why Summit has the top Caucasian API scores in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties … and the top Latino API scores in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties — even against welknown benchmarks such as Palo Alto and Saratoga.

    Finally as to M-A being in the game: it has a graduation rate of 60-75% over the past decade … and a college readiness rate (qualified to enter a CSU school) between 25-45% source: Cal Dept. of Ed–SEQUOIA%5EUNION%5EH–4169062-4133716&cChoice=SchGrad&cYear=2004-05&cLevel=School&cTopic=Graduates&myTimeFrame=S&submit1=Submit

    To put those numbers in perspective:
    M-A class of 2004 started with 591 9th graders, has 445 graduates with 263 meeting CSU entrance requirements. The class of 2005 started with 609 students, graduated 358 with 222 ready for CSU.

    the ethnic mix shifts from 40/45/15 (white/latino/other) in the freshman year to 57/26/17 by graduation to 75/14/11 in college preparation. That’s not being in the game.

  11. “Both AP Stats and AP Calc will be offered.”

    In the case of AP Calc, is it or is it not true that the class will be offered with a tutor and online course content? I don’t call that “offering” the class, if so. If instead you have a full-time teacher qualified to cover AP Calculus and not using online resources to cover the material, then my students are unaware of this. You might want to let them in on the news.

    “At the end, the students take both AP exams. the interaction strengthens and enriches both.”

    APUSH and AP Civics combined is only 3 semesters, not four. So why are you taking two years to cover what most students cover in a year and a half? I’m also somewhat skeptical as to whether or not you’ve received AP consent to do this. The courses are designed so that students learn how to do college level course work in an appropriate amount of time. By extending the time it takes to cover the material, you are giving your students additional time to master it. That’s extremely unfair to other AP students who take the course as designed-and are tested after just a year.

    On the other hand, the students who can do the work in a year are wasting their time for an extra semester. While you say it’s because you want to improve the course, I wonder how much of this decision is actually dictated by staffing limitations.

    Finally, there’s the fact that qualified kids aren’t getting AP test scores in their junior year–at least, not in APUSH. More and more, colleges want to know if applicants took the AP test for their course. What are your students going to say–oh, I will eventually, but we’re taking two years to go through a year’s worth of material?

    It’s too early to tell if that makes a difference in admissions decisions, but it’s not a risk I’d want to take.

    I’m not a big fan of the immersion practice, but then I’m not a big fan of greenhouse schools like yours in the first place. Way too precious. However, if as you assert, “high demand creates more classes, not rationing”, you might want to let your students in on that. The students (at least the ones I’ve talked to) are under the impression that they can’t have their first choice because ‘everyone has to have a turn’.


    “Parents can decide whether they prefer Summit’s system to the other choices open to them. ”

    Indeed. But advocates like you ought to make all these points up front. As it is, you make it sound like every other school, when in fact it’s highly constrained in resources and flexibility, with tradeoffs that most people consider unacceptable.

    And I can’t see why you’re so excited about their test scores. Take a group of select kids from Gunn or Paly and you’d get the same results. These are select kids.

  12. “select” is a curious word

    select: yes, in that they’ve been in an extraordinary environment and they’ve made extraordinary progress.

    select: no, in that they started in quite a spectrum ethnically, academically and socio-economically.

    select: yes, in that they (and their families) decided to care enough to apply

    select: no, in that admissions is done by lottery

    To read a story by a skeptic:
    link to

  13. Contrary to Supt. Gemma’s comments, charter schools may be chartered to serve specific constituencies. Summit does not attempt to be all things to all people, nor do most charter schools. Rather, they attempt to offer tailored services to their specific interest groups. There are the rare school district visionaries in the U.S. (e.g., NYC) that can easily grasp that having a school like Summit in their portfolio would improve a district’s capacity to provide a wide range of services to its students and families. That concept so far has eluded Sequoia’s leadership, unfortunately.