Stanford charter school falters

One of the worst-performing elementary schools in California is run by Stanford University’s School of Education, reports the Palo Alto Weekly.

East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, started three years ago, was reorganized with a new principal last fall. It ranks in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, according to the California Department of Education’s preliminary list. The school serves a low-income community that’s primarily Hispanic, black and Pacific Islander.

Stanford New Schools, a non-profit, runs the elementary and a high school, which is somewhat more successful but still posts below-average scores compared to schools with similar demographics. The high school does send 90 percent of graduates to college.

The elementary school hasn’t met expectations, Stanford Education Dean Deborah Stipek told the Weekly in December.

“In a lot of ways we’ve been very successful in the kind of emotional and family support, but our kids’ skills are not up to what they need to be. It just takes time to get things right.”

In petitioning for renewal of the elementary and high school charter, Stanford New Schools conceded, “We were not satisfied with our students’ achievement gains,” and pledged to redesign “all levels of our system, from governance and management structures to instructional practice and the use of data to drive decision-making.”

Stanford’s Education School has focused on secondary education, so perhaps they have  a lot to learn about running an elementary. I visited the high school when it was new:  Turning theory into practice was proving a challenge. I give Stanford credit for putting its reputation on the line.

Some East Palo Alto charter schools are thriving, including the very successful EPAC, where I once tutored.

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  1. Maybe they should give it to academic disciplines rather than the Ed School?

  2. Just more evidence that charter schools are no panacea.

  3. “Just more evidence that charter schools are no panacea.”

    No, just one more piece of evidence that schools of education are an utter and massive failure.

    “Turning theory into practice was proving a challenge.”

    No, bad theories, e.g., whole language, learning styles, promulgated by schools of education lead to failed practices.

  4. The fact that failure can drive you out of business is one of the positive features of charter schools. They recognize the imperative to improve. It is good that other charters in the area are succeeding. Let the successful ones continue and grow; prune the ones who fail. That’s the beauty of the market.

  5. Charters that succeed in improving the academic and social outcome for their students will be seen as more desirable by their communities. Charters that fail in their goals will be avoided like the clap. Competition – what a novel concept.

    Charters were never intended to be the panacea; they are laboratories.

  6. I don’t know about the elementary schools, but the high school grading system at that school is deeply problematic. Kids are graded on their willingness to work with others, their effort, their teamwork–and just 20% of the grade has anything to do with demonstrated ability. Kids have high A averages but low skills. I tutored many of them at a nearby college support organization, along with kids from Sequoia High, MA, and other local schools. EPA Academy kids had the lowest skills and the highest grades; Sequoia kids had the best skills and the lowest grades.

    But since UCs weight grades better than demonstrated skills (ACT/SAT), guess who got into the better schools?

  7. Cranberry says:

    It’s too early to tell, if it’s only in its third year of operation. I think there’s great value in a school of education facing the real world of education. Many things may sound wonderful in the ed school classroom, but if it fails miserably in the real world, it should eventually have an effect upon the ed school curriculum.

    In the worst case, Stanford may be demonstrably unable to educate children with the ed school theories they espouse. That’s terrible for those children. The graduates they send forth into the world, and the papers they publish in education journals arguably do more damage.

    How many ed school students do their student teaching in inner-city schools? From my viewpoint as a suburban parent, affluent parents monitor and correct their children’s education, as needed. Any number of faulty theories don’t do much damage to those children, because the parents step in. In a school in which the children don’t have those supports, though, the dangers of certain theories may be more clearly demonstrated.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    The high school sends 90% of its graduates to college, but how many of them are on track to graduate? UCs and CSUs are doing no student a favor in admitting him if he doesn’t have the skills to eventually graduate.

  9. tim-10-ber says:

    Dan K said “The fact that failure can drive you out of business is one of the positive features of charter schools. They recognize the imperative to improve.”

    I wish this were true for all government schools…I wish the playing ground was level between the other public school — government default schools and charters. Then, maybe government default schools would do more to improve as well. Charter schools in my district can lose their charter if they fail to meet AYP for two years. It takes literally forever to close down failing government default schools…since both are public schools something is just not quite right with this picture…

  10. Cal’s quote, if representative, is very very damning of the Stanford-run high school.

  11. It’s referenced obliquely here:

    Student performance is evaluated based on a rubric of five qualitative dimensions, rather than on a traditional, quantitative grading system. This approach measures progress in such areas as critical and creative thinking, as well as personal and social responsibility.

    They don’t mention that only 20% of the grade is actual demonstrated knowlege, but that is the case. The organization I worked with had often complained about it to the school, and I had conversations with two different decision-makers closely involved in the school about the policy (recall that I just graduated from Stanford’s teacher education program).

    I imagine the elementary school uses the same rubric.

    Just before posting, I spotted this confirmation:

    Instead of using letter grades, the students are graded on a five-dimensional rubric, where each assignment receives an assessment based on (1) Personal Responsibility; (2) Social Responsibility; (3) Communication Skills; (4) Application of Knowledge; and (5) Critical and Creative Thinking. The idea is that if you give a kid a “C+”, that’s not very meaningful feedback. Whereas by giving assessment across a 5-dimensional rubric you are giving the student meaningful feedback about how they are doing against the standards expected.

    Application of Knowledge–just 20% of the grade dedicated to the actual subject matter.


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