Since its inception nearly a decade ago in Silicon Valley, Rocketship has been among the most nationally applauded charter networks, hailed as an innovative model of blended learning. Founder John Danner, who made a fortune in Internet advertising, originally envisioned enrolling 1 million students by 2020, relying on the strength of three pillars — “personalized learning” with software, excellent teachers and parent involvement — to raise the achievement of underserved students. Today there are 13 Rocketship schools, with 6,000 students, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nashville, Tenn., and Milwaukee, with one scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., this fall. The students, largely low-income and Hispanic, outperform their peers on state tests. … Yet despite its successes, as Rocketship has pushed to expand, some parents, teachers and community members have objected in public meetings, raising concerns about the school’s tech-heavy instruction model, student-teacher ratio, and student health and safety. In interviews over the past two months, current and former employees at Rocketship Schools emphasized the pressures on employees and students. They recounted instances of inadequate supervision, bathroom accidents and even infections due to denial of restroom visits. And they voiced concerns about a disciplinary measure the company calls Zone Zero. Several current and former staffers said this practice, in effect, amounted to hours of enforced silence. A handful of the employees also reported, and internal emails corroborated, a practice of having students retake standardized tests to increase scores. The current and former educators linked that practice to the company’s policy of tying 50 percent of teachers’ pay to growth in student test scores. ….
Is a charter school chain called Rocketship ready to soar across America?
Source: Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post, July 29, 2012
…. This is Rocketship Discovery Prep, one of five charter elementary schools founded by Danner that are bridging the achievement gap — the staggering difference in academic performance between poor and privileged children. …But some wonder if five-year-old Rocketship is producing miracles or mirages. Will a model that succeeds in San Jose also flourish in Nashville? Can a strategy that works for a handful of schools be expanded across the country? And can the achievement gap be eliminated? …. For two hours each day, students are taught by computers designed to meet children at their particular level and drill them in rote skills like addition or subtraction. … Computers shave 25 percent from Rocketship’s labor costs — savings used to extend the school day to eight hours, pay higher salaries to its nonunion teachers and to construct its own school facilities, among other things. … Stephen McMahon, president of the San Jose teachers union, worries that a dual system is developing: One filled with charters that attract motivated families and another of traditional public schools populated with reluctant learners….