Rocketship Education Brings Tech Closer to Teachers

When Rocketship Education, a pioneering, rapidly expanding charter school network, looked at its results, it could have rested on its laurels. After all, with seven schools in California together ranking as the top public school system for low-income elementary students, Rocketship had proof that its blended-learning model— combining online learning with face-to-face instruction—works.

But next year, Rocketship leaders will fix a disconnect they see between what happens in the online learning lab and the classroom, to give teachers more control over the students’ digital learning and further individualize the teaching.

Instead of reporting to a separate computer lab, fourth- and fifth-graders will move within an open, flexible classroom between digital learning and in-person instruction, with those moves based on their individual needs and the roles that specific teachers are best suited to play.

In the latest Opportunity Culture case study from Public Impact, Rocketship Education: Pioneering Charter Network Innovates Again, Bringing Tech Closer to Teachers, we look at what Rocketship has done so far to achieve its top results, and where it’s headed.  In 2011–12, 82 percent of Rocketship’s students scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the California Standards Test for math, compared with 87 percent of students in California’s high-income districts, and far higher than in low-income schools. Rocketship schools aim for an average of 1.5 years of student learning growth annually to achieve these outcomes with so many students who start out behind.

With a Milwaukee school set to open in fall 2013, the network will expand outside California, with future schools approved for Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Rocketship will serve at least 25,000 students by 2017.

In its fourth- and fifth-grade classes in 2013–14, the revised model will put up to about 115 students (but typically fewer) in one large space, with three teachers and a full-time individualized learning specialist, spending variable amounts of time online depending on students’ needs—similar to the Opportunity Culture Time-Technology Swap—Flex and Role Specialization models. Kindergarteners through third-graders will continue to follow the set rotation between classroom and learning lab time—about 80 minutes of online lab time—with other rooms in the buildings being reconfigured as smaller learning labs.

Rocketship’s schools meet the five Reach Extension Principles of an Opportunity Culture, which call for reaching more students with excellent teaching, higher pay, sustainable funding, job-embedded development opportunity, and enhanced authority and clear accountability for great teachers.

Through extending teachers’ reach, blended learning, teacher specialization, and paraprofessional learning specialists, the network is able to put $500,000 per school per year into such key areas as higher teacher salaries, after-school programs, teacher development, training of principals for future Rocketship schools, and other needs.

By extending their reach, Rocketship teachers earn 10 percent to 30 percent more than their peers in the local public school system. At Si Se Puede, a K–5 San Jose school, the principal offered the school’s excellent third-year teachers salaries of about $70,000, nearly 30 percent higher than their peers in a neighboring district.

“Excellent teachers and school leaders are at the foundation of transformational schools, and there are not enough excellent teachers to go around,” says Rocketship CEO Preston Smith. “At Rocketship, we focus on developing novice teachers and extending the reach of excellent teachers to more Rocketeers through collaboration and flexible learning spaces.  This extends the reach of teachers in powerful ways, and, in turn, leads to transformational academic outcomes for our Rocketeers.”

Rocketship Education: Pioneering Charter Network Innovates Again, Bringing Tech Closer to Teachers was co-authored by Sharon Kebschull Barrett and Joe Ableidinger, with contributions from Public Impact’s Jiye Grace Han, Bryan C. Hassel, and Emily Ayscue Hassel.

—Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel

For another example of a school that expands the reach of outstanding teachers, please read “New Charter Empowers Excellent Teachers for Strong Results,” also by Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel

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