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.

About Joanne


  1. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    Nya, nya, nya.
    Time to get rid of Tinsley, rebuild Ravenswood High, sell the buses and bury the new age theories that denied an education to two generations of EPA students. What a shame!

  2. The teacher burnout in this case is key. When a school turns over a staff quickly it’s like starting the school nearly from scratch every couple years. With populations like these, the reputation of the teacher is incredibly important. If none of the teachers have a reputation for success and the students have heard nothing about them, those teachers are at an extreme disadvantage- or so it would seem from the point of view of a second-year teacher.

    There might also be issue of the School of Ed trying to implement almost completely new ed theory and not enough old, commonsensical pedagogy. With the move to reform education and make it great for every American child there can be the tendency to throw out what was working as well as what was not.

  3. Has there ever been any evidence that fixing the “support system” instead of academics has helped students achieve in school?

    Head Start evidence is against it. This school evidence is against it. I’ve never seen any data anywhere that the support system improves the academics. Anyone else have any?

    Further, I’d posit the opposite: the more you move in to provide support, the less anyone takes ownership and responsibility for those aspects of their lives, creating more dependence, not less.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    I suppose there will be an argument that Stanford’s kids are more emotionally grounded and socially successful than the swots at Aspire.
    Who’d want to have high grades, anyway?

  5. wow

  6. Oh dear, why are they leaving open the possibility of an extension? Just close the thing down and try a different charter. I can just see this turning charters into just another can’t-fail institution.

  7. I wonder how many ed schools will make Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College assigned reading?

  8. Just say NO to ed schools (everywhere)!

  9. from the “Academics” page of Stanford New School’s website:

    “Instruction includes opportunities for students to engage in standards-based skill and inquiry learning, grappling with real-world problems, and seeking answers to their own questions.”

    Doug Lemov’s champion teachers spend many hours “scripting” (that is the word he uses) and memorizing the questions they will ask of students.

    I am halfway through the book, and so far not one of the champion teacher techniques is: have students seek answers to their own questions” or anything even close.

  10. “Instruction includes opportunities for students to engage in standards-based skill and inquiry learning, grappling with real-world problems, and seeking answers to their own questions.”

    Why, oh why won’t students take advantage of the opportunities offered to them by “some of the nation’s finest educators?”

  11. Catherine, Don’t cha’ no, they’re “teaching” them to “think critically”. Even though their students have little content knowledge or background, they’re suppose to “discover” answers to complex questions.

    Get with the program. (sarcasm)

  12. Joanne, have you ever looked at Beechwood School? — serving same population as the Stanford Charter. It’s private, so no state data.

    Walter, I’m curious as to why you think the Tinsley program is a failure? (the link takes you to Palo Alto Unified School District’s description of the program but it includes other districts).

  13. suppose there will be an argument that Stanford’s kids are more emotionally grounded and socially successful than the swots at Aspire.

    In fact, that’s exactly what they say.

    I’ve mentioned before that actual ability is only 20% of the grade.

  14. We have friends in EPA whose kids were, a few years ago, taken into a Stanford-run “enrichment” program. They pulled their kids out almost immediately. The program was supposed to provide help with homework and tutoring in more advanced subjects, but the kids claimed they spent too much time playing and getting pizza, and too little time actually doing homework. Their kids were already doing well in school, but they signed up because the Stanford program was supposed to give them the inside track for applying to Stanford and for certain summer jobs, etc. The thing sounded like a mess, which matched my experiences with the School of Education when I was a math grad student at Stanford in the 70’s, so I was not that surprised. I was surprised that they wouldn’t let kids study if they wanted to (the “activities” were mandatory).

    Our friends’ kids are poster children for the Tinsley Program – all of them went through it and did very well; the smartest son had been the top student at his Menlo Park middle school, got a scholarship to go to a local private high school where he also did really well, and is now on an academic scholarship at BYU where he is an engineering major. The people running the Stanford program really wanted these kids, because the results of the program were (from what I was able to find out) a disaster. I couldn’t find anyone accepted at Stanford from the program that had graduated, but I didn’t make any kind of systematic search, and when I talked to one of the grad students involved with the program, she got very defensive and then hung up on me. No doubt she thought I was obnoxious, but my friends don’t speak the best English, and they had asked me to call for them as they were trying to decide whether to push their kids to remain in the program or not. I tried to find out what the program’s success rate was, and that kind of question seemed to be taboo.

    It’s not much of a data sample, but I would never put my kids in anything run by the Stanford School of Education.

  15. But a key question is to what extent any of these charter schools make their incoming students jump through hoops that result in admitting only the most motivated, and push out challenged and low-performing students. It’s unknowable, and that makes it impossible to compare.

  16. ‘Has there ever been any evidence that fixing the “support system” instead of academics has helped students achieve in school?’

    I had all kinds of family emotional problems when I was a kid in the 50s & 60s and school was a place to get away from all that. For a few hours you could forget all that and hope to someday get away from it under your own power. If the teachers ever knew what I was going through they never let on.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: New blog post: Stanford's charter called 'failure' […]

  2. […] is the original post: Stanford's charter called 'failure' « Joanne Jacobs By admin | category: STANFORD | tags: charter-school, education, education-school, […]

  3. […] tip to Joanne Jacobs and Kids Prefer […]

  4. […] Joanne: It doesn’t get much more humiliating: A charter school run by Stanford ’s Education School was […]

  5. […] school? We’ve seen what happens when expert academics try to start their own schools (see the underperformance of Stanford’s charter schools, for example). So why would economists do any better, beyond some compensation and smaller tactical […]

  6. […] Academy Elementary, which has more than 200 students. (I wrote about the school’s problems here and here.) The Stanford-run high school was offered a charter till 2012 or till another sponsor […]