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Palo Alto man seeks to 'eliminate achievement gap'

Original post made on Mar 23, 2012

Can a Silicon Valley business guy retool his startup skills to transform the world of education? Meet John Danner, a Palo Alto resident who is betting his company on it. ==B Related story:==
• [Web Link A focus on data, and minding the gap]

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 23, 2012, 8:40 AM

Comments (16)

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Posted by ageism
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2012 at 9:05 am

"Rocketship schools rely on young teachers and administrators" (see image captions).
Interesting that Rocketship has an ageist policy as a requirement for teachers in their schools.

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Posted by Better Pay
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2012 at 9:36 am

Young teachers are the ones being let go during budget cuts in public schools. What I liked better from the caption was: "Teacher salaries are 20 percent higher than those in surrounding school districts."

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2012 at 9:59 am

This is an odd story. It is ostensibly a story about closing the achievement gap. Yet it lauds the Palo Alto schools without mentioning that PAUSD has one of the worst achievement gaps in the state and that a major report was issued yesterday b a national nonprofit organization (reported on NPR and in the Mercury News (see: Web Link) which lambasted PAUSD as the second-worst large unified school district in the state for poor and minority student achievement.

Yet in this story, Danner seems oblivious to the achievement gap problem here in Palo Alto schools, where he sends his own, advantaged children:

Asked to compare a Rocketship with Addison, he said in many ways they are "totally different worlds. Palo Alto teachers are great at stretching kids' thinking. Rocketship teachers are more focused on the fundamentals, what kids need to know," he said.

With respect to Mr. Danner, given that his driving goal is to eliminate the achievement gap, he might want to first turn a critical eye on his own school district which has been called out as literally at the bottom of the state rankings.

The Weekly would be doing a service to its readers if it, like the Merc, reported on the Ed Trust West rankings that specifically called out PAUSD as one of the worst in the state despite its relative wealth. This was a missed opportunity to educate the public about how our schools are actually performing.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2012 at 10:03 am

Thank you Weekly for publishing an excellent story about the Ed Trust West Report, which was just posted here: Web Link

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Posted by Huh!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2012 at 11:06 am

@Michelle: There is no statistically significant achievement gap in Palo Alto. What you are looking for is 100% proficient in all subjects across all demographics. That's just not possible. We can't all be above average. Let's devote our resources to more pressing problems.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2012 at 11:14 am

I am not looking for any such thing as 100% proficiency for all groups. I am not even expecting to see the gap between majority and minority students close in my lifetime. What I do expect is not to pay a ridiculous tax bill to this school district and have results that are the worst in the state (PAUSD is second to last among large unified districts). There are 146 other districts that do a better job for these kids than we do despite the fact that we are incredibly affluent and well-funded compared with those districts. Why are Clovis and Gilroy and Turlock doing a better job educating poor and minority kids then we are? That's shameful and I want to hold this do-nothing school board accountable for it. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The rest of the town, however, not share your sense of what is a "priority." We might want some accountability for results like these. We Can Do Better Palo Alto continues to call for an independent audit of the basic lane curriculum to ensure that we have schools that work for all kids, not just superstar academics. Every kid deserves the chance to go to a 4 year, public college. Every family is paying taxes so that their child can have that chance. If the child doesn't want to go, that's different. But every family wants their child to have that option and this report card proves that on that measure we are failing.

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Posted by Huh!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I would like to see Rocketship or other charter schools educate every child who lives in their service area with absolutely NO exceptions, test every single child and compare the results to the neighborhood school. It is not okay for charter schools to pick or choose students, to counsel struggling children out of their school, to send special education students back to the neighborhood school, to reject children who show up in the middle of a school year... and then claim that they have solved the achievement gap.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm

> odd story ..

Not really. This story is one that is very timely. What's missing is details. Using data from the State DoED, it seems that three of the Rocketship schools report scores better than 800:

Mateo Sheedy: 892
Si Se Padre: 859
Los Suenos Academy: 839

> "There's no question that if my kids don't know something,
> I'm going to spend an hour with them at home and they're
> going to learn it. It's totally different from Rocketship,
> where a lot of the parents don't know what the kids are
> learning because they're learning English themselves.

And it is hard to believe that this is not true in most Palo Alto homes, where most parents have 4+ years of post-high school education. Parents at the Rocketship schools show only 2.x years.

Ultimately, parental education is a huge component to schools that are top performers. In the Rocketship case, they seem to be including more hands-on access to technology, which is intended to offset the lack of parental involvement at home. However, is it enough? The underlying involvement of more technology, via distance learning, is not discussed in this article. It's a shame that Mr. Danner doesn't hold a couple open round tables that would allow this sort of question to be posed. His answers would be interesting.

These scores put these schools, and the students in the schools, in the upper 2/3rds of the performance spectrum in Santa Clara County.

There are other details missing from the article, such as the performance levels of the students before they enrolled in these schools, so that some sort of before/after profile can be developed which focuses on how these schools are succeeding.

It would also be interesting to see his financials.

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Posted by loop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

If your point is that the students and parents are responsible for the achievement gap, you confuse performance with achievement. There is a performance gap in Palo Alto which can humble the best of us in this district. But that's different from achievement. Achievement, in my opinion, is completing a program with access to post-secondary opportunities, and receiving a decent education in Math and Science.

On achievement, there are schools which do better than PAUSD at educating even struggling students. These schools are able to teach more Math and Science to struggling or under-performing students, regardless of race, wealth, o video-game consumption. Some argue that Palo Alto is teaching better Math and different Science, than other schools. Is that the reason why struggling students have a harder time in Palo Alto?

I think the lanes are not being used properly. What is the point of lanes, if nothing is adapted for each lane? It's all pretty messed up, and I would agree that an outside audit is necessary to settle the controversy about whose "fault" it is, and then maybe this topic can get beyond this loop.

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Posted by loop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm

When I mentioned schools that do a better job in my post above, I was not referring to Rocketship.

I agree with Paly Parent, charter schools are not a PAUSD comparable, given the greater flexibility charter schools have to select students.

A comparable to PAUSD are the schools mentioned in the related story about the Ed Trust West Report,

Web Link

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2012 at 9:46 pm

There is a measured achievement gap PAUSD. Exactly how many kids are "not achieving" out of the total measured student population? In other words, what is the percentage of kids not achieving out of the total 100%?

Are we talking about 36 HS students out of a population of 3600 HS students? 1%?

Just asking.

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Posted by Finally
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 24, 2012 at 3:53 am

well said, this is every school districts worst nightmares that underachieves. Kids are never prepared going through k-12.
Everyone thinks different and learn differently. Teachers just see a group that are learning their way, and will neglect the other kids and will not teach those alterantive routes. i have experienced this in my lifetime. This program should be adopted once a school fails to meet expectations.

(The government should implement these programs for our children. Just like Unions or HR in place during realife work place experiences, to force these school districts to change)

KUDOS Rocketship and John Danner keep fighting, change will come soon!

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Posted by Rocketship Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2012 at 11:05 am

I am a Rocketship Teacher and feel I must clarify the point made about charter schools hand-picking students. At Rocketship, we accept ANY child regardless of academic level. Our Rocketeers are selected through a lottery system. After 6 years of working in traditional public schools, I also believed that charter schools only selected the cream of the crop. However, after working at Rocketship for 2 years, I can truthfully say we work extremely hard to move our students academically - almost all of whom enter our schools 1 - 2 years below grade level. At my current school, there is a high percentage of students with special needs, and in my class alone, 6 out of 27 have an IEP. Out of all the schools I've worked at (and they've all been schools in low income urban neighborhoods),Rocketship has THE strongest special ed program I've ever experienced. Please don't make assumptions unless you've been at our school and have seen our Rocketeers and teachers in action. You might be surprised :)

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Posted by 42 year public high school teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2012 at 11:54 am

To the Paly parent,
The "selection of students" you described is very characteristic of "private schools". Rocketship is mandated to not do just that. They must have a lottery system.

I do know of one charter school "north of San Jose" that does not follow that model, and actually charges a tuition to be used for extensive field trips around the United States. Their charter is being challenged. Their abuses of the charter school option was noted in the San Jose Mercury News two months ago.

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Posted by pa parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I'm not sure this story says anything at all except what we already know, and have heard repeatedly about from the Finnish model: Whatever it Takes, for each child, works.

My early elementary education (public school) was broad with lots of enrichment, in an ordinary, none-too-wealthy corner of the Midwest, in which the basics were taught on a self-paced basis. I wish someone would study it, as it's astonishing how varied the careers and successful the kids I knew there have become. Interesting that Rocketship is doing something that is in principal very similar.

What I would not like to see is this used as a foil for the public-private debate (or, as it might more truthfully be called, the 30-yr-long attack on all things public in this country), because charter-public-private aren't the essentials when it comes to quality. I would also not like to see his work dismissed because of that debate.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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