Too rigorous

Summit Prep, a successful California charter school, gets 325 applications for every 100 ninth-grade slots. Students are chosen by lottery. To stay small, Summit’s organizers have applied for a charter permit for a second high school, Everest. The Sequoia Union school board rejected the idea saying Everest will be too rigorous to serve a wide range of students. The San Mateo County Board of Education will hear the charter petition on Monday.

Superintendent Pat Gemma explains in a local newspaper op-ed why there’s no need for a new  charter school.

Everest proposes offering a solely college preparatory curriculum to prepare all its students for enrollment in a four-year college. The rigors of advanced placement-level coursework and required mastery of Mandarin would pose significant, if not insurmountable, challenges to many special ed and English language-learning students. In addition, Everest’s expectations of parents would represent considerable challenges to many lower socioeconomic families.

Yet “lower socioeconomic families” seem eager to be challenged by high expectations.

The ethnic mix of Summit Prep’s 400 students approximates that of the district, with 39 percent from a Hispanic heritage and 48 percent white, 45 percent from families receiving free or reduced-price lunches, and 18 percent from families in which the primary language is not English, the backers say.

Gemma goes on:

Everest is proposed as an alternative to a problem that doesn’t exist. The Sequoia district excels in preparing students for college, and in fact 96 percent of the district’s most recent graduates went on to college.

Unfortunately, one third of the district’s ninth graders don’t graduate. Another third earn a diploma but don’t meet the requirements for a state university. Sequoia has the largest gap between white and Hispanic test scores of any high school district in the state, one comment points out. Honors classes are heavily white and Asian. Hispanic students make up 40 percent of ninth graders but only 15 percent of college-eligible graduates.

By contrast, Summit puts all its students on the college track. Despite receiving $2,000 less per student, Summit outscores Sequoia’s other schools. Surely the hundreds of students turned away every year indicate there’s unmet demand for a rigorous college-prep education.

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Comments

  1. Hunter McDaniel says:

    Plus ca change….

    I helped start a charter school in Colorado 13 years ago (ironically, also named Summmit) and we heard all those same arguments.

  2. This was such a fortitous post I can’t believe my luck 🙂 Some weeks ago Joanne posted about one of the current education buzz words, rigorous. Last night at our district advisory committee meeting, that’s a CA thing, I had a good laugh because posted up on the wall was a page long definition of the word rigorous with all kinds of editing marks on it. I was wondering when I’d get a chance to mention this, and Joanne delivered in record time!

  3. More of the soft bigotry of low expectations from a government school official. Shameful.

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    OK. 325 applicants for 100 slots, and they don’t think there’s excess demand?

    I know a couple of graduates of Summit, one now at Pomona College and one at Wesleyan University. Everything I’ve heard about the school makes me think students there get a fine education. I’ve posted here before that I oppose vouchers, and I still do, but I’m very in favor of charters. What can the Sequoia district possibly be thinking in denying the charter to the second school? What do they mean, students won’t want to learn Mandarin? Of course they will. A student who was a native speaker of Spanish and also was literate in English and knew some Mandarin would be able to write his own ticket to college!

    One young friend was in the first Summit class. At the time, the school was planning that every single student would take AP Calculus as a senior. I was dubious. Sure enough, by the time the first class was seniors, that plan had disappeared.

  5. Robert Wright says:

    It’s very sad.

  6. The ethnic mix of Summit Prep’s 400 students approximates that of the district, with 39 percent from a Hispanic heritage and 48 percent white, 45 percent from families receiving free or reduced-price lunches, and 18 percent from families in which the primary language is not English, the backers say.

    Approximates that of the district?

    Sequoia High School, right down the street from Summit:

    65% Hispanic
    65% free or reduced lunch
    30% white

    So there’s a big lie.

    They might want to mention that Summit takes three semesters to go through APUSH, while giving the students the full extra point despite taking a much easier course. Or maybe mention what their average AP score is.

    Which is not to say that the school doesn’t work hard to live up to its values, or that the teachers aren’t highly qualified and dedicated. But come on. They’re cherrypicking, and all the cheerleaders are white suburban parents who don’t want their kids going to mostly Hispanic Sequoia or getting creamed by the competition at MA.

  7. According to Dataquest the backers seemed to have gotten the demographics for Summit Preparatory incorrect:

    35% Hispanic
    52% White
    18% Lunch Program
    5% English Learners

    http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/AcntRpt2008/2008GrthSchDem.aspx?allcds=41-69062-0112722

    The numbers dataquest reports for the district are:

    42% Hispanic
    40% White
    33% Lunch Program
    20% English Learners

    http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/AcntRpt2008/2008GrowthDstApiDC.aspx?allcds=4169062

    So I’d say that Summit is definitely different demographically than the district. Are there greater disparities in other districts, yes!

    This doesn’t excuse the ridiculous reason’s the superintendent gave for opposing the charter.

  8. Cardinal Fang wrote:

    OK. 325 applicants for 100 slots, and they don’t think there’s excess demand?

    Come on Cardinal, any demand that can be met outside the district system is excess demand. At least from the point of view of someone who categorically rejects any tampering with the district model of public education.

  9. Go read the comments section associated with Pat Gemma’s op ed. Not much support, if any, from the community. This guy is a poster child for the rot that is endemic in the educational establishment!

    Also see students comments on U-Tube here:http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=ds2dKTfLx2I

  10. I have the impression that the demographics of the public school system do not reflect the demographics of the county. It seems that many white families choose to send their children to private schools. According to the US census, San Mateo County’s population is:

    68% white
    3.3% black
    23.6% asian
    23% Hispanic
    46.7% White persons not Hispanic

    persons below poverty, percent, 2004 6.6%

    (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/06081.html)

    I’d argue that Sequoia High School is the school whose enrollment is out of line with the demographics of the surrounding community.

  11. It seems like both schools are significantly different than the community as a whole.

  12. As a Sequoia Union High School (SUHS) district resident, I have to say I’m ambivalent about the Everest proposal. On the one hand, Summit seems to have a great program. On the other hand, there are two other charter high schools that aren’t fully enrolled. Additionally, Summit worked for years to build community support before opening; Everest hasn’t yet done the ground-work. Another charter high school in the district, Bayside High Tech Highschool, closed because it couldn’t attract students. (The real story was fatally bad marketing–and hubris.)

    SUHS consists of Carlemont, Sequoia, Menlo-Atherton, Woodside, Summit and Redwood High Schools. Redwood is the continuation school(link takes you to Ed-Data).

    The feeder districts are Portola Valley SD, Woodside SD, Las Lomitas SD, Menlo Park SD, Redwood City SD, San Carlos SD, Ravenswood SD, and Belmont-Redwood Shores. If you look at the Ed-Data results for each of those districts, the differences in socio-economic levels among the districts are striking.

    In her op-ed in the Almanac (http://www.almanacnews.com/story.php?story_id=7268, Superintendent Gemma points out that
    there are “school within a school” opportunities in the SUSHD. For example, in 20002, Sequoia HS started an International Baccalaureate program: http://seqhstest.seq.org/programs/ib/ib_about.htm. There’s the Academies program at each of the schools. Sequoia UHSD also offers “Middle College” at all campuses, in cooperation with Canada Community College. http://www.canadacollege.net/middlecollege/

    Gemma also noted that there are two other charter schools in the district, East Palo Alto Academy and East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy. Both are chartered by Ravenswood Elementary District. Neither has a waiting list or a lottery to get in.

    East Palo Alto Academy High School is a project of Stanford University’s Department of Education, http://stanfordschools.org/ Physically, it is located west of 101 in Menlo Park.

    East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy is an outgrowth of the Aspire k-8 charter in East Palo Alto. In 2006, they decided to “grow” a high school program. http://www.epacs.org/school.php. It is located way to the east of 101.

    Turning back to Summit and the 3:1 application:admitted ratio. I wonder about their yield rate — the number of students who are admitted that actually attend. I know of three families whose children were admitted to Summit, but elected to attend local private schools (Crystal Springs-Uplands, Mercy, Notre Dame, Sacred Heart, Menlo, Woodside Priory, Castelleja, and Eastside College Prep).

    You know what I’d like to see in the district? A charter high school serving students with autism, Asperger’s and non-verbal learning disabilities, similar to Orion, across the bay in Moraga.

    You know what else I’d like to see, possibly further south in Santa Clara county: a charter k-8 school serving children with learning disabilities, similar to the private Charles Armstrong school.

  13. Gemma was named Superintendent of the district in March, 2003. Summit opened its doors in the fall of 2003 (first graduating class = 2007). According to the discussion board at the Almanac, Superintendent Gemma had never visited Summit until this year, when he came to inspect a leaky roof.

    http://www.almanacnews.com/square/index.php?i=3&d=&t=1892

  14. Liz Ditz, I agree that specialty schools in the public system make sense, as I believe that such schools can recruit the most professional faculty. I doubt, though, that parents would necessarily be enthusiastic about the idea. There seems to be a great fear of a “specialty school.”

    The yield rate will improve with time. I know a few parents who chose not to attend relatively new schools, deciding that they were “just too new.”

  15. Cardinal Fang says:

    “They’re cherrypicking, and all the cheerleaders are white suburban parents who don’t want their kids going to mostly Hispanic Sequoia or getting creamed by the competition at MA.”

    But admission is by lottery.

  16. Cherrypicking refers to any method of buliding a student body so that set of students is easier to teach than the population as a whole. Just having choice schools and default scoops leaves open the possibility that the motivated students go to the choice school. This simple problem can be fixed by making every school a choice school. This issue is mostly a concern to people that want to compare teaching methods by school and not by individual. Which I think happens frequently in the political arena.

  17. “In addition, Everest’s expectations of parents would represent considerable challenges to many lower socioeconomic families”…I consider this a very offensive statement. Whatever the aggregate statistics are, there are certainly individual parents in the “lower socioeconomic” category who are *more* committed to their childrens’ education than are many parents in the “upper socioeconomic category.”

  18. Mark Roulo says:

    I consider this a very offensive statement. Whatever the aggregate statistics are, there are certainly individual parents in the “lower socioeconomic” category who are *more* committed to their childrens’ education than are many parents in the “upper socioeconomic category.”

    Good thing that the sentence you quoted used the word “many” instead of the word “all”.

    -Mark Roulo

  19. I have the impression that the demographics of the public school system do not reflect the demographics of the county.

    You’re absolutely right about that. There are only a handful of good government-run schools in the county and for that reason, most families who care about their kids’ education go private (or homeschool) if they can afford to. It’s around 19% of K-8 and around 17% of 9-12, which is about double the statewide average.

    There’d definitely be demand for more slots at high-quality charter schools as an alternative to the status quo of either shelling out big bucks for a private school or being stuck with the mediocre traditional government-run schools.

    What I’d love to see in the county is a charter school like the Davidson Academy in Reno, only for elementary students. Currently the only school for young gifted kids is private and charges a whopping $24k/yr per child.

  20. Crimson Wife, would you provide a citation for the 19% of k-8 figure and the 17% of the 9-12 figure?

  21. Cardinal Fang says:

    Crimson Wife, I’m not sure you have the causality right in your claim that there are proportionally more private school kids in San Mateo County than statewide. San Mateo County includes some very, very rich towns: Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton. Burlingame and Menlo Park are not full of paupers either. Probably, no matter how good the school system was, a lot of those extremely rich people would send their children to private school.

  22. The private school enrollment stats come from here: http://www.city-data.com/county/San_Mateo_County-CA.html

    Most people in San Mateo County cannot afford to live in the ritzy neighborhoods of Woodside, Atherton, Portola Valley, Hillsborough, etc. with high-achieving schools.

    Burlingame and Menlo Park actually have underperforming schools despite their pricey real estate. Of the 8 elementary schools in those towns, only 2 of them in Burlingame (Roosevelt & Washington) are ranked in the top 10% statewide when compared to schools with similar demographic profiles. Several of them are ranked in the bottom 10% statewide.

    When I look down the list of API’s for schools in San Mateo County , I don’t see too many schools that are 10/10’s or 10/9’s (top 10% overall and top 10-20% compared to schools with similar demographics).

  23. Crimson Wife made the claim about San Mateo County that there are only a handful of good government-run schools in the county and for that reason, most families who care about their kids’ education go private (or homeschool) if they can afford to. It’s around 19% of K-8 and around 17% of 9-12, which is about double the statewide average.

    You really have to look closely at the underlying data. In some circles, this is known as “ground truthing”. Not all private schools are the same.

    I looked at the data from from the state, rather than a second-hand source.

    http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ps/

    I’ve done a fair amount of research on this issue in the past. First point: state-wide averages are meaningless in a state as geographically and demographically diverse as California. For example, San Benito county has only seven private schools, only two of which are non-religious.

    There are 67* private schools in San Mateo County. Of those, 43 have a religious affiliation.

    About 60% of the total private-school enrollment of the k-8 enrollment is in Roman Catholic parochial schools, which of course vary in size and in quality. The Catholic high schools account for 68% of enrollment.

    About 7% of the private-school enrollment is in schools that….I’m struggling for a way to express this. About 7% of the schools have a science curriculum that rejects evolution as a fundamental principle of biology. That’s the best I can do.

    Of the 25 non-religious private schools, five (Martha Williams, Charles Armstrong, Stanbridge Academy, Avalon Academy, Wings Learning Center) serve students with dyslexia, autism, and movement disorders. That gets us down to 20 private schools. Two (Bright Horizon Chinese School and German-American International School) specialize in non-English languages. Count: 18. Two restrict their admissions to low-income students (Beechwood School and Eastside College Prep). Count: 16 One school listed is in fact a multi-school after-school tutoring program (Newton School). One school I know exists, Nueve, wasn’t listed on the spreadsheet (is it possible they didn’t file the documentation on time)…

    Here’s another wrinkle. Unlike the public schools that have residence restrictions, students enrolled at School X in County A may live in Counties A, B, C….X. How common is this for San Mateo County private schools? I have access to the parents’ directory for one of the k-5 private schools in Menlo Park. Only about 50-60% of the parents reside in San Mateo County.

    The rest come from Santa Clara county. Is it possible that the greater-than-average private-school enrollment in in San Mateo County is from out-of-county families? Without better data, it’s hard to say, but it is an interesting conjecture.

    I didn’t have time to do the same sort of data-comparison for Santa Clara county, but I’ve provided the links so you can do it yourself.

    One point is that, other than the parochial schools, San Mateo County doesn’t really have, or educate, many kids in traditional independent schools.

    I could go on for quite a while, but the main point is: the number and enrollment of private schools in a given county doesn’t really tell you much about the quality of the public schools in a given county.

    —–
    *I eliminated a couple of schools that end at kindergarten and a few with <10 students.

  24. LS,

    Are you saying that the Catholic schools don’t teach evolution? I doubt this is true, but it if is, so what. Where I live in California, the public elementary school doesn’t teach evolution. Actually, it doesn’t teach science at all.

    Jane

  25. Are you saying that the Catholic schools don’t teach evolution? No, I am not saying anything about the Catholic schools and evolution. I looked back and realized I’d edited out one sentence.

    “Greater than 70% of the enrollment in private schools in San Mateo county is in schools with a religious orientation. Of that number, about 70% is in parochial schools. Another 7% are in schools that profess a belief in bible inerrancy and have a science curriculum that rejects the evolutionary principle of biology. ”

    The 7% figure is distinct from the parochial schools. They identify as Evangelical, Baptist, Assembly of God.

  26. About half the families I know with kids enrolled in religious-affilated private schools in San Mateo County do not belong to the faith of the school. They’re not enrolling their kids in the school for religious reasons but rather because the religious schools tend to charge quite a bit lower tuition than the secular private schools (typically around a third to half). It’s actually one of the reasons why several devoutly Catholic families I know have chosen to homeschool their children rather than enroll them in the parochial schools (which they find too secularized).

    Menlo Park is right on the San Mateo-Santa Clara county line, so of course any private school in that town is going to draw from both counties. But by the same token, there are schools just on the other side of the line like in Palo Alto that presumably draw a significant percentage of their students from San Mateo County. So it likely all evens out.

    Had I just gone by the families I know, I would’ve actually guessed that the private school enrollment countywide as much higher than the actual roughly 1 in 5. For example, on my DD’s soccer team this fall there were 6 girls. Of those, 4 attend private schools (2 Catholic, 2 secular), 1 attends the local government-run school, and my DD is homeschooled. In her Daisy Scout troop, there are 10 girls- 5 attend private schools (3 Catholic, 2 secular), 3 attend regular government-run schools in town, 1 attends a language immersion magnet school, and my DD is homeschooled. If one were to go down our street, just about every family with kids sends them to a different school. And we live in a regular middle-class neighborhood, not a super-affluent one.