Underserved Students in Bay Area Catching More Attention from Schools like Rocketship Education

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Flush with high-income employment and jobs in general, the Bay Area is “defying gravity” as one economist puts it in a Business Insider article.

In fact, the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metropolitan areas rank as places with the highest valued economies in the entire U.S., according to the report. These Silicon Valley blessed neighborhoods generate a worth of around $3 billion, thanks mostly to companies such as Tesla, Apple, Cisco, and Google.

With such a bountiful financial resource, one is pressed to provide an answer to two vexing questions:

Why did 75 percent of African American students in the same region not meet the 2017 standards on an English-language arts test? And why do only 16 percent gain a post-secondary degree within five years after graduating from high school?

Education, earning, and wealth gaps among the African-American community continue to plague high-tech’s “Land of Oz.”

In fact, the NAACP (National Association for Advancement of Colored People) called for the San Francisco district to declare a state of emergency in response to the gap. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the gap to which the association refers has existed for a quarter century—well before and after the swell of Silicon Valley riches.

However, the gap not only pertains to the black population. According to the Chronicle article, 61 percent of Latino students and 65 percent of Pacific Islander students failed to meet the same 2017 state assessment standards in at least one subject.

The Good News

Though the achievement gap in the Bay Area proves a tough tussle to overcome, the picture is gradually becoming brighter, thanks to federal initiatives spawned by the Obama administration years ago and the burgeoning presence of public charter schools such as those operated by Rocketship Education.

An article in the San Francisco Examiner profiles the progress resulting from the Obama program. Four years ago, Mayor Ed Lee and the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) accepted the My Brother and Sister’s Keeper Community College challenge to eliminate opportunity gaps for young people in the city. The baton now belongs in the hands of a mayoral designate, the SFUSD, and a member of the Human Rights Commission.

The Examiner reported that as a result of challenge, African-American achievement ticked up in terms of graduation. It rose from 64 percent in 2014 to 71 percent in 2017. The report added that preparedness in some schools in the SFUSD “dramatically improved” as measured by test scores.

The current SFUSD superintendent says that improving outcomes for African-American students will be placed among the highest priorities for the district.

Rocketship Schools Cited for Achievement

Meanwhile, Rocketship schools—numbering 13 in the San Francisco-San Jose region—received high honors from Innovate Public Schools, which annually releases a Top Bay Area Public Schools for Underserved Students Report.

Only a smattering of Bay Area schools made the Innovate list during its first couple years of existence, according to Rocketship’s website. However, for the 2016-17 school year, 52 of 1,275 Bay Area schools made the list and eight were Rocketship schools—the most of any charter school or school district featured on the list.

Rocketship’s Mateo Sheedy Elementary gained the status of the only elementary school across the entire Bay Area to be cited as gap-closing for low-income African American students in English language arts realm.

Meanwhile, Rocketship Education’s Redwood City Prep joined only six other elementary schools in the Bay Area to be named as a Top School in both math and English language arts for low-income Latino students.

The Innovate report uses the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) to measure achievement-gap improvements in the Bay Area. While Bay Area schools in general regularly outperform the rest of the state’s schools, Innovate finds that low-income students in the region lag behind other students.

The Opportunity Has Only One Way to Go— and That’s…UP!

Currently in the Bay Area, only 1 out of every 20 disadvantaged Latino and African American students attends a school that makes the Innovate list of top schools for closing the achievement gap.

Of the 1,275 schools in the Bay Area, Rocketship notes, 729 of these schools enhance the education of a large, low-income Latino population while an amazing 239 serve a largely African American population.

Rocketship Fills a Void

Because of these stats and previous demographics, Rocketship chose the Bay Area as one of its first regions in which to open schools.

Rocketship Interim Principal and Director of Schools Eesir Kaur credits parent engagement and strong school leadership as two main reasons why Rocketship’s Mateo Sheedy received Innovate accolades.

“The strength of (the Mateo Sheedy) campus is in fact (due to) families who come here every single day.” Kaur notes. These are family members who graduated from the school and continue to return in order to give something back, says Kaur. New families pick up on this verve and continue to set the tone for what it means to be a “Rocketeer,” Kaur added.

Students at Rocketship schools are commonly called Rocketeers for their Rocketship-assigned roles as community contributors and achievers.

Could Rocketship pose as a template of sorts for other districts in the region to follow when it comes to closing the achievement gap for people of color?

As reports and studies unfold in coming years, the answer to this question will become more definitive.

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