Charter does more with same dollars

A San Jose charter elementary school with low-income students and very high test scores has won an award for financial  efficiency, reports John Fensterwald on Educated Guess.

Rocketship Education saves $500,000 per school per year by using online instruction to supplement classroom teaching.  The savings enables the network to pay for two hours a day of after-school tutoring for low achievers, a year-long internship for new principals, an academic dean to work with teachers and develop curriculum, higher teacher pay (for longer hours) and building new campuses — without relying on private donations.

Under the hybrid model, all 450 students in each school cycle through a block of math/science and two blocks of literacy/social studies in a traditional classroom setting with teachers who specialize in their fields. They also attend one block of learning lab, where they supplement math and reading classes with online work. Because the computer lab is not counted as instructional minutes, it can be run by a non-certified instructor. With three certified teachers teaching four classes, the school requires one fewer teacher per grade and five per school, along with five fewer classrooms.

Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, which primarily serves low-income Hispanic students who speak English as their second language, has an Academic Performance Index score of 926, which is high even for schools in affluent areas. A second Rocketship school opened this fall and more are planned.

John Danner, an Internet advertising software entrepreneur and a former elementary teacher, started Rocketship. He’s determined to run his schools on the same funding available to district-run public schools.

Here’s an Education Next short on Rocketship Mateo Sheedy.

About Joanne


  1. Do they pay teachers a competitive wage? I’m all for charter schools and would work in one if they would pay me a living wage. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen one in my area where that is the case.

  2. According to the Greatschools link you provided, this school district, which appears to be a collection of charter schools, spends 54K a year per student, as compared to 9K for the state average.

    Wow, that’s amazing they can do so much with so little (sarcasm on)? How do they EVER manage to stay in budget?

  3. You are pretty pathetic Mike and your comment shows where your priorities lie.

    According to that same link this school is the best around but all you care about is the money. People like you are precisely why the teaching profession has suffered a decline in public respect.

    When you punctuate continual whining about how little you’re paid with solemn assurances of how deeply you care for the kids, after a while it’s only the whining people hear.

  4. I’d like to know how using the online supplement saves them a half a million dollars a year, and if my district could save similar money and fund similar programs.

  5. On the basis of a 450 student school, and using the state average of $9,093 per student, a $500,000 savings amounts to just a 12% savings.

    A respectable cost reduction but less impressive in the context of the public education system in which, for decades, a bigger budget, not a better-educated student, was the mark of success.

    I suppose I ought to forward this item to my state legislators. Michigan’s so far down the toilet that even our political class is starting to run out of excuses for an ever-escalating education budget coupled with dismal results. They might be interested to discover that they can look like heroes by reducing the crushing tax burden while still getting kids educated.

  6. Rocketship Mateo Sheedy is sponsored by the County Office of Education, which includes a few charter schools and a bunch of schools for students so disabled (or poorly behaved) that they can’t be taught in their home districts. The schools for the disabled get a lot of extra money. The charter schools get the average state funding for their age level with elementaries like Mateo Sheedy getting less than secondary schools.

    An Ed Next story says the school gets $6,000 per student, which seems low. That’s probably basic state aid without categorical funding for disabled students and English Learners.

    Teachers now earn 10 percent more than teachers in the surrounding district, but work longer hours. The director hopes to raise teacher pay.

  7. tim-10-ber says:

    If this is true my district could save at a minimum $68MM!! This is more than 10% of its current budget!! Go for it!!

  8. Allen,

    You’ve tried pulling that BS about me whining for more pay, and I’ve challenged you to prove. Of course you cannot because it never happened.

    But then again, facts don’t matter in Allen’s world.

    Tell you what, gimme 54K per student to spend, let me pick and choose my students, and I’ll give you the greatest test scores around.

    YOU are sad and pathetic, and as we say in Texas, the north end of a south bound horse.

  9. Joanne,

    My district serves kids who are so disabled and so poorly behaved they shouldn’t be served in the regular schools; but we do. THAT will always be the difference between charters and public schools.

  10. Actually Joanne the Ed Next article says the school operates on a budget of 6,ooo dollars a year, which is so inaccurate as to be laughable.

  11. I don’t have to prove a thing. You put the lie to your first paragraph…

    “You’ve tried pulling that BS about me whining for more pay, and I’ve challenged you to prove. Of course you cannot because it never happened.”

    …in your third paragraph…

    “Tell you what, gimme 54K per student to spend, let me pick and choose my students, and I’ll give you the greatest test scores around.”

    But it is nice to finally know what you think enough money might be since you’ve always carefully tap danced away from anything as definitive as a particular figure. Now we’ve got one – $54,000 per student.

    As I recall K-12 got about 42% of the Texas state budget. That’s at $7,700/student. So education in Mike’s world would only need about seven times the total state budget.

    I believe at this point your thoughtful response, if the past is any guide, should be something on the order of “sez you” seasoned with another burst of vulgarity.

    The problem is that the vulgarity and the excuses and the whining are just the final wheezing of a system that’s lost credibility and lost the faith of the public. Even our not-so-new president isn’t quite the beacon of hope and change that the proponents of the educational status quo were hoping for. He knows the way the wind is blowing which is why Arne Duncan is running around talking up charters, vouchers, merit pay and accountability.

  12. Ah, Allen, can’t prove anything with facts, AS ALWAYS!

    As usual you resort to insults to cover up your lack of evidence.

  13. First, let’s cool down.

    Second, the County Office of Education runs non-charter schools for the disabled that apparently cost more than $54,000 per student because the handful of charters sponsored by the COE get a lot less. I found one source that says Rocketship Mateo Sheedy got a bit less than $11,000 per student in 2008, including nearly $2,000 in federal aid for disadvantaged students.

  14. The underlying point is that charters, not being buried within the comforting invulnerability of a district, live and die on the basis of their appeal to the parents with school-age children.

    Right now school districts provide a nice performance “umbrella” so charters can be pretty lousy and still be better then district schools. But as the number of charters increases they’ll inevitably start to compete with each other and then excellence becomes less a matter of personal pride and more a matter of survival.

  15. No Allen the point is charters can spend money on puff propaganda pieces which make claims that aren’t true. That’s in addition to the advantages they already have over public schools, being able to pick and choose their students AND being able to expel anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a student.

    We have a charter here that gets MORE than the state average per student and it gets an award for financial efficiency. I have to admit it takes a set to make that kind of claim.

    Gee, they must be the only school in CA that has afterschool programs and computer-aided instruction. Why didn’t the public schools think of that (sarcasm on)?

  16. Tell it to the various state legislatures, Michigan’s included, that are revisiting the political deal that brought charters into existence with an eye towards relaxing the inevitable caps on charter numbers. They’re not listening to sort of feverish denunciations of charters you favor because they *are* listening to a rising chorus of constituencies who also aren’t listening to the likes of you.

    That’s why Obama’s talking up various kinds of education reform among which is more charters. His state senate district was the south side of Chicago just the sort of place that’s been failed by the education system for decades.

    You can bet that when Obama set foot in some little, local church one of the things he heard about was the lousy state of the education system and what he also heard about was how good kids were doing in charters. And how happy parents were their kids was in those charter.

    But you keep repeating the NEA talking points. Maybe not quite yet but one day soon you’ll realize that you’re the only person listening to you.

  17. Roger Sweeny says:

    I hate to step between two commenters when they’re pissing on each other but can we all agree that Mike is right when he says, “gimme 54K per student to spend, let me pick and choose my students, and I’ll give you the greatest test scores around”? And can we also agree that this charter gets nowhere near $54,000 per student?

  18. I should think you would inasmuch as you’ll be getting hit from both sides but in answer to your first question: no.

    No amount of money is enough because money isn’t the factor biases the public education system in the direction of success or failure.

    Pick the right students, those whose internal or external resources are sufficient to turn a rotten teacher, a self-involved, self-pitying teacher, into a speed bump and you’ll get great scores but then you’re not taking about getting an education in a school opened to all, you’re talking about climbing Mount Everest.

    As for the per student figure, I doubt it’s accurate although some special needs kids suck up simply stupendous amounts of money.

    $54,000 per student does move us closer to the twenty-teacher-per-student classroom which I’m informed is what’s necessary to ensure every child gets a good education. Not sure it’s enough money for a whale though.

  19. …but can we all agree that Mike is right when he says, “gimme 54K per student to spend, let me pick and choose my students, and I’ll give you the greatest test scores around”?

    No we can’t agree. It’s entirely possible that Mike would waste 54K per student a year. As far as I can tell, effective teaching is a complex skill requiring great professional ability on the behalf of the teachers in the classroom and the various structural supports (school staff, curriculum, teaching materials, okay there are some occasional teachers who manage to work magic despite the best efforts of the school administration, but one can’t guarantee hiring superheroes), it’s not some mindless system with a 1:1 correlation between money and output. For example, I recall a teacher once calculating that one day she was interrupted on average once every ten minutes during class teaching time, these sorts of interruptions are going to be a drag on any teacher. If Mike sets up his school in a similar way then I don’t see how 54k a year would help.

  20. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mike’s comment involved him getting $54,000 per pupil to spend. It also involved him picking and choosing his students. I assume it would also involve him setting up a situation where he isn’t interrupted every ten minutes.

    In those circumstances, no decent teacher can lose.

    I actually thought the most important part of his hypothetical was not the money but the ability to choose his students.

  21. The district includes “Santa Clara County Special Education.” 1300 students, k-12, average (for those Sped students) of 7 students per teacher. So, the “district” is a grouping of charter schools — probably under the county’s authority — and all the sped students from Santa Clara county. Among the population of sped students, some receive services running into six figures. So, it’s a bookkeeping convenience. It says nothing about the budgets of the charter schools who also fall under the county’s authority. The money isn’t evenly distributed.

    The Santa Clara County Special Education budget must be much higher than $54,000 per student.

  22. George Mitchell says:

    I wrote the EdNext item on Rocketship Mateo Sheedy.

    In response to some comments above, I offer the following:

    The FY 2010 total budget for Rocketship Mateo Sheedy is $3,229,381. With an enrollment of 452 students, that is $7,145/student. Excluding almost $600,000 in capital costs, the operating budget is about $2.6 million, or $5,842/student.

    The average salary for the eleven teachers at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy is $60,660. With benefits, total average compensation is $74,996. The benefit package more closely reflects the real world, rather than the dreamland that is going to bankrupt so many traditional public school districts.

  23. I’d rather be able to choose my administrators than my students. I suspect successful charters have leaders who know better than to interrupt class constantly and saddle their teachers with pointless beaurocratic tasks. I’ve seen good teachers fleeing our local charters, which are the pits.


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