Stanford's charter called 'failure'

It doesn’t get much more humiliating: A charter school run by Stanford ‘s Education School was denied a renewal of its charter and dubbed a failure for low scores and “ineffective behavior management.” Stanford New School, a K-12, is on California’s list of lowest-achieving schools, despite spending $3,000 per student more than the state average.

Ravenswood trustees voted 3-2 to deny the charter, but left open the door for a two-year extension — if the school works out an improvement plan with the district superintendent.

Stanford’s education professors, led by Linda Darling-Hammond, hoped the school would become a national model, when they started in 2001, reports the New York Times. Students come from low-income and working-class Hispanic, black and Pacific Islander families in East Palo Alto. Some are recent immigrants with limited English skills.

Stanford’s educators expected that with excellent teachers, many trained at the university, they could provide state-of-the-art instruction, preparing students to become “global citizens.”

But Stanford New School is posting lower scores than schools that teach similar students. In the all-minority Ravenswood district, which has many struggling schools, Stanford runs the lowest-scoring elementary school.

The high school is considered more successful because 96 percent of seniors are accepted to college, but “average SAT scores per subject hover in the high 300s,” reports the Times. That suggests most graduates are going to unselective colleges to take remedial classes.

Students receive a rubric of evaluations, not grades. High school students have one teacher/adviser who checks that homework is done, and when it is not, the teacher calls home. Teachers know students’ families and help with issues as varied as buying a bagel before an exam to helping an evicted family find a home. Teachers stay late and work weekends, and tend to burn out quickly — causing a high rate of turnover.

Stanford University provides summer classes, tutors and fund-raising by the football and women’s basketball teams. The medical school regularly sends a health van to the schools.

Perhaps students are learning things that aren’t measured by tests. They’re certainly not learning what is measured by tests: In 11th grade, 6 percent are proficient in English Language Arts, 0 percent in Algebra II, 9 percent in biology, 0 percent in chemistry, 6 percent in U.S. history.

The top-scoring school in the district is also a charter school. Aspire’s K-8 East Palo Alto School (EPAC) consistently outperforms the state average despite also serving an all-minority student body with many students from low-income Mexican immigrant families. (I tutored at the school for a year.) Aspire co-founded the charter high school with Stanford, but bowed out five years ago.

The two cultures clashed. Aspire focused “primarily and almost exclusively on academics,” while Stanford focused on academics and students’ emotional and social lives, said Don Shalvey, who started Aspire and is now with the Gates Foundation.

When I started the reporting that led to Our School, I planned to write about the Aspire-Stanford school, which was being organized. I went to school board meetings, talked with parents eager for a high school alternative, met some of the teachers hired for the first year, interviewed Shalvey and Darling-Hammond. However, I couldn’t get the access I needed — the inexperienced teachers didn’t want to deal with a writer hanging around — so I ended up at Downtown College Prep. I knew the Aspire-Stanford school was struggling in the early years, but I thought they’d adapt and improve. Instead, Stanford assumed sole control and created a K-12, while Aspire took its academics-first approach to EPAC.

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