Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

July 12, 2016

Rocketship Revisited

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 8:54 am

Rocketship Milwaukee: Another view

Posted: 11 Jul 2016 by Barbara Miner

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s article on Rocketship Milwaukee on July 11, 2016 omits essential information. The following is a feature I wrote for the December 2014/January 2015 issue of The Progressive. For more information, check out the analysis of Rocketship Milwaukee by the Economic Policy Institute.

MILWAUKEE, Wis — Like most principals, Brittany Kinser is a cheerleader for her school. “I just want to make sure you’ll be positive,” she says when I visit the Rocketship charter school in Milwaukee.

Looking younger than her 37 years and with the physique of a long-distance runner, Kinser has a seemingly endless supply of energy, enthusiasm and commitment. It’s hard not to like her. Following one of the school’s axioms — Dress for Success — she is wearing a magenta pencil-skirt that nicely sets off her black sweater, tights and four-inch stiletto heels. Her Dress for Success message is clear: I am competent and I am in charge.

At the same time, Kinser is nervous about my visit. It’s understandable.

For almost a quarter century, I have criticized using public tax collars to fund private voucher schools and privately run charter schools. Rocketship, an entrepreneurial network of charter schools based in the Silicon Valley, has become a national poster child for the privatization of public education. It is particularly known for its bare-bones curricular focus on standardized test scores in reading and math, its use of computer-based “learning labs” that cut down costs, and its promotion of the Rocketship brand — including a daily pep rally where students chant that they are “Rocketship Rocketeers.”

(more…)

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December 15, 2014

Barbara Miner on Rocketship

Filed under: Charter Schools,Rocketship — millerlf @ 3:25 pm

Below is a link to the recent article written for the Progressive magazine by Barbara Miner on Rocketship charter schools.

Rocketship_Progressive_Miner

May 12, 2014

Rocketship program is a model for inequality in education opportunity

Filed under: Charter Schools,Rocketship — millerlf @ 3:47 pm

By Gordon Lafer May 10, 2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sixty years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. The ruling rejected the concept of separate schools for students of different races and demanded true equal opportunity in education for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or income.
Since then, Milwaukee and many other cities have searched for ways to achieve that goal. Along the way, we have learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t.
Twenty-five years ago, for example, Milwaukee was told that education vouchers — public funds that could be used for students to attend private schools — would close the gaps in education achievement. Last year, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a corporate-funded think tank that had promoted vouchers, issued a report admitting that they didn’t work. Then the report insisted that we should trust the newest idea on the corporate agenda: privately run charter schools that replace teachers with computers.
This model is embodied in Milwaukee by the Rocketship chain of schools, and it is part of a corporate education agenda that is being pushed across the country. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is promoting Rocketship schools here, and MMAC President Tim Sheehy sits on the Rocketship board of directors.
Rocketship relies on inexperienced teachers, almost one-third of whom quit last year. It saves money by having students as young as kindergarten spend one-quarter of their day in front of a computer screen with no licensed teacher present. It offers no library or librarians, no music classes, no guidance counselors and no foreign languages.
In short, it’s a model that no suburban parents would accept for their own children — and indeed Rocketship is only being promoted as an option for children who live in poor cities. Hardly what the Supreme Court had in mind.
After 25 years of so-called reform efforts, Milwaukeeans have seen through the smoke and mirrors: The WPRI report on vouchers acknowledged that the public doesn’t support the Rocketship model.
Parents know that smaller classes mean more individual attention for every student, which is why Wisconsin created the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program in 1995. SAGE provides funding for low-income schools to limit class sizes in the early grades, but the funding hasn’t kept pace with inflation or need. Instead of looking to replace teachers with computers, lawmakers should adjust SAGE funding so every eligible school could limit class sizes.
Students need more personal attention from experienced teachers. They also need the kind of opportunities that are found at Wisconsin’s 10 highest-rated elementary schools: a broad curriculum including music classes, libraries and librarians, foreign languages, experienced teaching staff, small student-teacher ratios and support services such as guidance counselors or school psychologists. Good luck finding these things at a Rocketship school.
Milwaukee parents don’t just deserve a choice; they deserve high-quality choices. If the model being proposed for poor kids in Milwaukee is considered unacceptable by privileged parents in the suburbs, it can’t be the solution.
Gordon Lafer is an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center and a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He formerly served as senior policy adviser for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor.

Read more from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/rocketship-program-is-a-model-for-inequality-in-education-opportunity-b99264970z1-258710511.html#ixzz31XIOwuvO

 

February 5, 2014

Lawsuit: Rocketship under fire from four school boards in its home base, Santa Clara County, California

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 10:28 am

The “miracle” English language-only charter management model (Rocketship), originating from San Jose California, was recruited to Milwaukee by the MMAC,  Schools That Can, the Mayor, the Common Council President,  Howard Fuller and Deborah McGriff. Their goal is to establish 8 Rocketships in Milwaukee communities to directly compete with Milwaukee Public Schools.

In the Spring last year, Rocketship staff and teachers went to the doors of MPS schools, on the southside, as parents were picking up their children at the end of the school day. They attempted to convince families to pull their children from MPS while berating MPS programs.

Rocketship schools in California consistently have lower numbers of special education students than their surrounding public schools. They do not offer art and music. They are opposed to bi-lingual programming.

 And they have been exposed for having a fundamental flaw in their “original” design. Rocketship schools are founded on use of “learning labs.” Learning labs are staffed by hourly employees who lack teaching credentials. Rocketship says that the “learning labs” save enough money for each school to hire 6 fewer teachers yearly, saving up to half a million dollars a year. The problem admitted in a PBS report is that the “learning labs” don’t work, even though students spend 25% of their day in the lab, sitting in front of computers.

Lawsuit targets Rocketship schools in Santa Clara County

Posted:   02/05/2014 San Jose Mercury News By Sharon Noguchi

SAN JOSE — In another blow to the flagging fortunes of Rocketship charter schools, four Santa Clara County school districts on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking to rescind the approval of 20 Rocketship schools and prevent the county school board from granting similar requests.

The suit claims that the Santa Clara County Board of Education overstepped its authority in approving petitions for the 20 charter schools in December 2011, and argues that only local school districts can approve them.

“The suit is not an attempt to prevent charter schools in Santa Clara County,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Sue Ann Salmon Evans, said, “but to ensure that local charter schools are authorized in compliance with the law.”

The lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court by the Alum Rock, Evergreen, Franklin-McKinley and Mount Pleasant school districts, all K-8 districts on San Jose’s east and southeast side. Some of the 20 schools were slated to be located within their boundaries, as well as in four other local school districts.

Echoing the criticism previously leveled at the county board’s approval of these petitions, the suit maintains that the county board must deny a charter petition unless there is a reason the school could not operate if authorized by a local school district.

The board’s authorization of the charters serves “to usurp the powers and oversight of local school districts … by creating a super-district of charter schools in Santa Clara County,” the suit alleges.

County school board President Leon Beauchman and county Superintendent Xavier De La Torre were not immediately available for comment.

But Preston Smith, co-founder and CEO of Rocketship, said that the organization answered the lawsuit’s allegation when it submitted its petition in 2011. “In addressing the achievement gap, there are pockets of underperforming students in districts countywide, who are difficult to serve in a stand-alone school,” he said. A countywide charter allows a school to serve students in multiple districts, he said.

Four of the 20 schools were scheduled to open next August — two in the Alum Rock District, and two in San Jose Unified — but Rocketship has encountered delays. Now, Rocketship plans to open just one school in San Jose, on North Jackson Avenue in the Alum Rock District. Another school will open in Nashville, Tenn.

In October, Rocketship lost a court challenge over a planned school in the San Jose Unified School District. In that case, the court ruled that the county board did not have the authority to exempt Rocketship from zoning rules. The decision has left that school, planned near the Tamien light-rail station, in limbo. The San Jose City Council failed to muster enough votes to grant Rocketship the needed exemption.

Last month, Rocketship withdrew an application for a charter school in Morgan Hill. After losing in a first-round request to the district board, the organization suddenly pulled its appeal to the county school board.

The suit does not affect five Rocketship schools already operating in the county.

It’s not clear why the suit was filed more than two years after the county board’s controversial charter approval. But Salmon Evans, who is with the Long Beach law firm of Dannis Woliver Kelley, said that “there have been a lot of efforts to try and resolve this issue without going to litigation.”

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.

November 1, 2013

Rocketship Misses Target Goal in Milwaukee

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 9:51 am

During the Spring of this year it was common to see Rocketship “recruiters” out in front of MPS schools attempting to get parents to pull their children out of public schools. While not reaching their goal for recruitment by third Friday, one should ask “what devious tactics will they employ next in their attempt to destroy public education and bilingual public schools?”

Under-enrollment may bring $1.4 million loss for Rocketship Milwaukee

By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Oct. 30, 2013

California-based Rocketship Education’s first school in Milwaukee fell short of its enrollment projection of 485 students on the third Friday of September, which will likely lead to a $1.4 million shortfall for the school, according to new documents.

The K-5 school on Milwaukee’s south side still managed to enroll 307 children in 4-year-old kindergarten through fourth grade, according to a September 2013 headcount, which leaders said was impressive given Milwaukee’s competitive recruitment landscape.

“The 485 was a pretty lofty internal goal,” said Katy Venskus, vice-president of policy for the fast-growing charter school network, which plans to eventually run eight schools in Milwaukee and is expanding to other cities. 

“We’re pleased that we’re at 300.”

The start-up charter management organization has attracted national attention for its vision of redesigning elementary schools in urban centers. Rocketship aims to operate schools that are more financially efficient and more academically rigorous than traditional public schools serving mostly low-income and minority students.

The Journal Sentinel reported in-depth about the organization’s characteristics and challenges in July, as it was scrambling to recruit students.

Based on projections made available for a Rocketship board meeting this week, Rocketship Southside Community Prep, at 3003 W. Cleveland Ave., won’t break even until 2016-’17. The parent network based in San Jose, Calif. will help provide some relief, according to Rocketship documents.

Venskus said a higher-than-anticipated number of children with special needs enrolling in the school had also affected financial projections. About 14% of the school’s students have special needs, compared with an average 7% of students with special needs at the network’s California schools.

Venskus said Rocketship is committed to serving those students but had to pay for extra staff to accommodate them.

October 21, 2013

Letter From Rocketship Teacher

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 3:37 pm

Following is a letter and essay by a Rocketship teacher sent to Diane Ravitch.

Rocketship charter schools have a goal of expanding to enroll one million children. Their model relies heavily on technology and inexpensive, inexperienced teachers who work long hours and have no union. Their schools are focused on test scores and leave out the arts and other “non-essentials.” The San Jose, California, board of education will decide tomorrow about whether to send more children and more public dollars to this poor substitute for a real school.

This letter came to me from a Rocketship teacher:

“Dear Diane,

I have been reading the coverage on your blog on the lawsuit against Rocketship in its quest to build Rocketship Tamien in San Jose. I appreciate your attention to this issue. I am a current Rocketship teacher who is also concerned about Rocketship’s expansion. With a vote by the San Jose City Council coming this Tuesday, I decided I could not longer remain silent. Below you will find an anonymous letter I sent to the San Jose City Council, as well as the parent group against Tamien you featured on your blog. I wanted to send this letter to you as well. I’m not sure if it is something you would be interested in posting on your blog, but even so I wanted you to know you helped encourage me to write it.

Thank you!
                             -A Rocketship Teacher

To all those concerned and involved with the Rocketship Tamien dispute,

I am a Rocketship Teacher who has become increasingly concerned and frustrated while silently watching the dispute over Rocketship Tamien. In this letter, I hope to bring a perspective of a current Rocketship teacher. I am just one perspective and do not claim to speak for other Rocketship teachers. However, I do think my point of view, without a union for protection, is silenced and hidden in this debate. By raising my voice, I am fearful my job could be in danger. Therefore, I have chosen to write this letter anonymously and leave out many details of my own personal experience.

I have structured the letter under a few key points of my feelings about Rocketship as an organization and the direction we are headed. I hope this perspective might raise new questions in the ongoing debate over opening Rocketship Tamien. I have tremendous respect for many of the teachers I work with at Rocketship and by no means wish to attack the incredible effort and energy they put into this difficult job.

Rapid Expansion Without a Clear Model:

Just a few months into the last school year, Rocketship announced to teachers the start of “redesign.” I say announced, because it was not offered as a conversation, but as a mandate. We would be changing many of our schools to an “open-space” model. This model’s vision would have placed 100 students in a room with two credentialed teachers and one learning specialist (including in Kindergarten and first grade). Without research or proof that this was a good idea for our students, redesign was launched at several Rocketship campuses. Teachers, without a union, had no choice but to follow blindly into the “redesign” path, many teachers staying nightly until 9pm trying to figure out what in the world they were going to do in a new space with that many students.

Unfortunately, the experiment Rocketship embarked on with their students and communities proved to be rash. This year, they have slowed down and redesign is happening, for most schools, only in 4th and 5th grade classrooms. I think my biggest concern when thinking about redesign, which left many teachers bitter and caused many to leave Rocketship, is that even though Rocketship is experimenting with its model and unsure of its future direction, it still seeks to rapidly expand across San Jose and across America. It is irresponsible and egotistical to believe that a model that you have not figured out is superior to established public schools in the neighborhoods you are interrupting. This is especially true in light of last year’s CST scores which showed a decline at every Rocketship campus.

No Teacher Sustainability, Little Experience at All Levels:

Working at Rocketship is not sustainable. I personally have never had a colleague tell me, “I could work as a Rocketship teacher for the next 10 years.” I haven’t even heard a colleague say they could work as a Rocketship teacher for 5 years. Rocketship relies heavily on Teach for America corps members. Many TFA teachers come into the classroom with no experience and no perspective on what a traditional school is like. Without experience of a traditional model, I think many TFA teachers come into Rocketship blindly and follow the unreasonable expectations blindly. They grind through their two year commitment of late hours, ridiculous test score pressure, and tumultuous school and organizational environment. At the end of those two years, or even before it, many will leave Rocketship. Some will go into traditional public schools; some will run away from teaching, or what they believe from Rocketship to be teaching, forever. This turnover and burnout robs the San Jose community of veteran teachers that have worked in and understand the community.

It is not just inexperience on the teacher end, it is also inexperience on the administrative end. If you teach for three years at Rocketship, you may have just as much or more teaching experience as some administrators at Rocketship. Rocketship claims to have a robust teacher training and development program, but unfortunately that training comes from inexperienced educators, which I think highly questions the value of such training. When I have heard this concern brought up, usually the value of veteran teachers and experience is scoffed at as unnecessary. This, I think, is part of a larger issue at Rocketship. In my opinion, Rocketship believes itself superior without the experience or results to support it.

Instability of Student’s Day:

Rocketship, to save money by hiring fewer teachers, has a rotational model. Students move throughout the day between different classrooms and spaces, largely three: 1) Literacy, 2) Math, 3) Learning Lab. Literacy teachers have two classes during the day, while math teachers have four, which I think greatly contributes to lack of teacher sustainability. Building relationships with 60 or 120 elementary students and their families, as well as maintaining classroom culture throughout the day, is difficult, emotionally draining, and exhausting.

I truly believe that this middle school model of rotation is not appropriate for elementary school students and creates a culture of instability that breeds behavioral issues. When students are rotating through multiple spaces throughout the day, they do not have consistent behavior expectations, consistent authority figures, or often enough eyes monitoring the transitions. I do not believe this model suits every child, particularly those with special needs. I believe many of our students crave a more stable environment, especially for our students who may experience instability at home.

Students also spend about one hour a day on computers which, as Rocketship has admitted in the PBS special, is not currently effective in pushing student learning. However, because we have a higher student to teacher ratio than traditional schools, students continue to be “held” in the learning lab until their math and literacy classes open up. I do believe that online learning has incredible potential, but Rocketship is using it for too long every day which breeds a lack of investment and boredom in our student’s experience in the learning lab.

Anti-Union Anti-Traditional Public School Rhetoric:

Rocketship claims unions will block their ability to expand and innovate. What that means practically for teachers in the case of the “redesign” experiment last year and day to day decisions of the organization, is that we effectively have no voice or tangible power in this organization.

The PBS special had two Rocketship teachers who claimed that they did not need a union, that they were valuable to Rocketship and safe. Both of those teachers were slated and have now become administrators at Rocketship. PBS didn’t dig, but if they had done some digging, they would have found plenty of disillusioned teachers for their interviews. Or perhaps, they wouldn’t have since we have no union protection. Rocketship also pushes its anti-union, anti-traditional public school rhetoric on our families. I have had many interactions with parents where claims are made about unions or public schools in the area, that have been garnered from Rocketship, that are wrong or over-generalized.

Rocketship, I believe, is not here to provide pressure and competition to traditional public schools. They, with their goals of expansion to reach 1 million students, are here to take over. It is essential to that goal then, to discredit traditional public schools and the teachers at those schools. Students, because of state funding per child, become dollars Rocketship takes from a traditional public school with every child it recruits. This in turn puts more pressure on established districts to lay off teachers and will, eventually, lead to school closures.

Test Scores as the Ultimate Goal:

Rocketship is obsessed with its tests scores. As a charter, they live or die by those test scores. We are now asking our students to learn how to bubble multiple choice questions as early as kindergarten. Teachers are constantly in cycles of testing (which again, is to 60 or 120 students which contributes to the unsustainability).

I believe that knowing where our students are and working to address knowledge gaps is important, but test scores have taken over the culture of Rocketship schools. The stress put on teachers I believe translates directly to the students who are constantly being assessed. Last year, my and other teachers’ salaries were based largely on one computer examination that is given to the students three times during the year. Science, social studies, art and general play time have all become victim to the testing grind. I do not believe Rocketship is cultivating creative, innovative, challenging, minds.

In closing, I do not believe that Rocketship is an organization to be given blind trust. The parents at Rocketship are just like the parents protesting against Rocketship Tamien. They want the best educational experience for their students. I send this letter in the hopes of raising more pause towards Rocketship, its lobbyists, and the tighter hold it is trying to establish over San Jose’s elementary schools.

October 8, 2013

Parents Mobilize Against Rocketship Charter Expansion in San Jose, Home of Their 1st Charter

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 1:13 pm

Go to the following web page to observe the efforts of the community where Rocketship started its first charter school. Hundreds of families have protested their expansion.

http://www.stoprocketship.com

Following is letter sent to me from San Jose parents:

 

Mr. Miller,

We are a community in San Jose California, at ground zero of the Rocketship expansion.  We’ve appreciated your blog entries on Rocketship’s intended growth in MPS.  The first Rocketship school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy is located in our community, as is a new Rocketship school, Rocketship Alma Academy.  There is now a plan to build a third Rocketship school in our small 8 block community.  At first, we were fans of Rocketship, but as time has passed, we’ve grown extremely concerned about how it’s dominated our community, created deep divisions, and hurt our public school community.

We are looking to partner nationally with folks who have similar concerns.  If you have anything you’d like to share or contribute to our website, please pass it along, we’d love to include your thoughts.

Regards,

StopRocketShip editorial staff.

 

Following is a blog posting by Diane Ravitch:

Parents in San Jose Ask for Your Help in Stopping Rocketship Charter Chain

by dianerav

The Rocketship charter chain is known for replacing teachers with computers, relying on Teach for America to cut costs, and eliminating the arts to have more time for test prep. The chain is backed by the rich and powerful California corporate charter industry, and it is opening more test prep charters across the country. But it is heavily colonizing San Jose, California. The rich entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley would not put their own children in a Rocketship school; they prefer Waldorf schools, with lots of arts and imagination, and no technology.

Here is a plea from San Jose parents:

Dear Diane,
I wanted to encourage all of your readers to check out a new website dedicated to stopping the incredible growth of the Rocketship charter school network:

http://www.stoprocketship.com

We’d love to invite you and your readers to support us by sending San Jose’s city council an email against the unchecked growth of Rocketships.

http://www.stoprocketship.com/take-action-now/

We are a small, low income, Latino community in downtown San Jose with two Rocketship schools in an 8 block span (one of which was the first Rocketship school, Mateo Sheedy). Rocketship has created deep divisions and animosity in our community. Now there is a plan to add a third Rocketship — all three just a few blocks from our thriving and successful public school, Washington Elementary. Our city councilman is married to Rocketship’s head of community relations, and they’ve hired a big money lobbyist to drive this through against the wishes of the community. We need some support!

Regards,
StopRocketShip.com

dianerav | October 8, 2013 at 11:54 am | Categories: Charter Schools | URL: http://wp.me/p2odLa-676

April 25, 2013

Earth to Rocketship: More on Rocketship’s Fundamental Flaw from Scholastic Administrator

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 10:13 pm

In a January 5, 2013 posting titled “Rocketship Schools Coming Soon to an Urban Area Near You” (see below: article 2) I addressed some major issues concerning Rocketship. Following is an interesting point of view from Scholastic Administrator.

 A Cautionary Tale: Rocketship’s learning model works out some major kinks.

By Alexander Russo Scholastic Administrator Spring 2013

Hidden toward the end of a recent PBS NewsHour segment on blended learning was a surprising tidbit about impending changes for the much-admired Rocketship charter school network and its Learning Lab model.

The model—students spending 100 minutes a day in a computer room staffed by non-teachers—was “not really working,” reported PBS. The stand-alone labs would be gone within a year, and with them, presumably, the $500,000 in savings generated for each Rocketship school.

This wasn’t the only change. Rocketship’s relationship with the software company it had relied on had ended. Not long after, Rocketship announced the departure of its founder and one-man publicity magnet, John Danner.

What’s been going on with Rocketship? And what can administrators, reformers, and others learn from its experience with blended learning models and ambitious expansion plans?

Coordination between the labs and classrooms was always a concern. A feature we ran in our Spring 2012 issue [“Learning Labs101”] touched on this, noting how large the labs were and questioning whether the 60-minute computer sessions (supplemented with small-group tutoring) were too lengthy.

And yet, for the past couple of years, the seven-school Rocketship network has been one of the “it” education efforts in the nation—known for its embrace of blended instruction; low-cost, fast-growth expansion; and the ability to raise student test scores. Longtime education writer Richard Whitmire, author of the Michelle Rhee biography, The Bee Eater, was already working on a book about Rocketship. With its affordable, high-impact model, it was thought that Rocketship might be able to expand much faster than earlier charter-school networks.

Back in 2011, Danner sounded extremely confident about the model he’d developed. In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, he boasted, “If you perfect things, like the way we develop teachers and individualized learning, [this model] should be pretty applicable in a lot of places.”

But, as is now obvious, not everything in the Rocketship model was working.

Of course, there’s no reason Rocketship shouldn’t change or improve its model—or any clear indications that the charter chain won’t continue to grow and succeed. Danner’s departure was long in the planning, according to Whitmire, and his new learning software company could help Rocketship thrive.

However, the company probably shouldn’t have touted the model—and begun shipping it out to districts around the country—before it was sure it had perfected it.

That’s the real lesson here: a warning against delivering, or accepting, premature claims of having figured something out. Vendors doing what Rocketship did run serious risks of disappointing schools they’re selling themselves to. Educators who don’t remember to scrutinize vendors’ claims closely enough need to remember they risk professional embarrassment, and school funds.

Since it’s clear that Rocketship is in transition, what might its 2.0 blended-learning model look like in the future? According to Rocketship’s marketing and communications manager Kevin Bechtel: “We envision a large learning space, shared by an entire grade level of students, with two teachers and Learning Lab aides.”

That sounds pretty good, though less dramatically different than other schools’ tech setups and perhaps not as inexpensive as the original model. Rocketship may very well recover and thrive. But hopefully with the next iteration, perfecting the model will take precedence over expansion.

Article 2 from 1/5/2013

Rocketship Schools Coming Soon to an Urban Area Near You

Rocketship Plans to Build an Education Empire According to a December 28, PBS NewsHour Report (See Link below.)

In a 9 minute TV PBS NewsHour report Rocketship  CEO John Danner stated that Rocketship Education’s  goal is for a million students to be attending their schools. This would be over 1600 schools nationally. If they contract the same lucrative deal that the City of  Milwaukee gave them , sending $600,000 annually back to national headquarters in San Jose, this will be nearly $1 billion profit annually  for Rocketship Education. Short-term they want 46 schools up and running in five years, eventually growing to 50 cities.

Rocketship clearly strives to be the largest chartering management organization in America. But with this aggressive expansion comes an increase in scrutiny. I have written about 3 of their “model” schools in San Jose raising what I consider serious issues. The NewsHour report adds to my trepidation, especially as they plan to flood the education market with their brand.

Questionable practices

  • Their main source for teachers is Teach For America, that is, uncertified teachers that enter the classroom with only 6-weeks of training. 75% of their teachers are from Teach For America.
  • Rocketship schools are also founded on use of “learning labs.” Learning labs are staffed by hourly employees who, as the report notes, “…lack teaching credentials.” Rocketship says that the “learning labs” save enough money for each school to hire 6 fewer teachers yearly, saving up to half a million dollars a year. The problem admitted in the PBS report is that the “learning labs” don’t work, even though students spend 25% of their day in the lab, sitting in front of computers. (See report below.) Yet Rocketship’s “success”, as claimed on their web site, is because “Rocketship has a very innovative instructional model that utilizes the Learning Lab as a place for students to master basic math and reading skills.
  • Rocketship does not offer arts or music in its curriculum.
  • Disturbing data from 3 of their “model” schools in San Jose data shows the low enrollment of special education students (They admit to 5% special education student enrollment.) While the San Jose school district has a special education population of more than 12%, the Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy has only 14 special education students total. Its sister school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary, serves only 15 special education students out of a total of 270 students. The newest school, Rocketship Los Suenos Academy, serves only 11 special education students. Keeping the number of special education students below 20, as shown in all three schools, means that special education is not considered as a subgroup required to make “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind.
  • In the selection of students Rocketship operates charters that enroll students via application. Therefore, it necessarily follows that the Rocketship will enroll a different mix of students than the low-SES-area neighborhood public schools.  As one observer stated, “If Rocketship thinks it has discovered the secret to effectively educating low-SES-area students, let Rocketship take over a low-SES-area neighborhood school — enrolling all the neighborhood school children and only the neighborhood school children — and let’s see how Rocketship’s model works when Rocketship has the same students as the neighborhood public school.”

To see the PBS report, go to:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/july-dec12/rocket_12-28.html

Below is a transcript of the PBS, NewsHour report:

(more…)

January 6, 2013

More On Rocketship Schools, by Barbara Miner

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 11:10 am

Do Milwaukee’s children deserve art and music classes?

By Barbara Miner Jan. 5, 2013 View from the Heartland MJS Blog

Do young children deserve art and music classes?

Or, instead of art and music, should kindergarten and first-graders spend two hours a day in Dilbert-like cubicles, keyboarding answers into computers while uncertified aides monitor the room and maintain order?

Such questions should be part of a much-needed public discussion on the City of Milwaukee’s expectations for its charter schools.

A PBS Learning Matters report on Dec. 29 provided a fascinating glimpse at the privately run Rocketship Education network of charter schools in California that, beginning next year, will be in Milwaukee. The show, which aired Dec. 29, is available online and is worth the nine minutes it takes to watch.

The PBS report looks at both strengths and weaknesses in the Rocketship approach and focuses on the Rocketship Mosaic school in San Jose, Calif. It begins by likening Rocketship’s business plan to Henry Ford and his mass-produced, assembly line Model T that became the “first innovative and affordable car available to the masses.” The show also has scenes of energized students, known as Rocketeers, chanting about their potential, and interviews with supportive parents and enthusiastic young teachers.

But the PBS story raises some tough questions — for instance the lack of art and music at Rocketship Mosaic, that the computer learning labs aren’t working as planned, and that half the teachers have less than two years’ experience.

In November 2011, the Milwaukee Common Council approved Rocketship to open its first city charter school in September 2013, enrolling 480 students the first year and to be known as Rocketship Milwaukee. The Council also gave Rocketship Milwaukee an unprecedented go-ahead to grow to eight schools and 4,000 students — even though Rocketship has yet to demonstrate that even one of its schools here will live up to its marketing promises.

Rocketship, which started in 2006 and runs seven schools in California, has national ambitions to reach 50 cities and one million students. Powerful movers and shakers, including Mayor Tom Barrett, wooed Rocketship to Milwaukee. With a business approach not unlike that of McDonald’s or Wal-Mart, national franchises such as Rocketship develop a uniform, cost-efficient product that can be marketed and replicated nationwide, especially to cash-strapped urban districts.

Rocketship is focused on working with low-income students to raise test scores; its background is with Latino students. Attempts to open schools in Oakland, Calif., and East Palo Alto were rejected when critics said the franchise lacked experience educating African American children. A July 29 report in the Washington Post also noted that about six percent of Rocketship’s students are classified as having learning disabilities — “about half the rate found in the surrounding traditional public schools.”

Rocketship has limited its efforts to kindergarten to fifth-grade schools, and has not ventured into the more troubled (and more expensive) educational waters of middle and high schools.

One of Rocketship’s biggest selling points has been its “learning labs” —a computer-room where students sit in individual cubicles and the computer substitutes for traditional classroom interaction between students and teacher. The computer labs are promoted as a digital-era innovation of “blended learning” that will spur academic achievement. The Scholastic Administrator magazine describes the learning lab as “the financial and academic key to Rocketship’s ambitious mission.”

But that key may be broken.

“The learning lab saves schools a lot of money,” Merrow notes in his report, “but there’s just one problem: They’re not really working.”

A Rocketship teacher, for instance, notes that the learning labs don’t provide information that teachers can then use in the classroom. “A problem we saw,” Merrow adds, “is that some students in the lab do not appear to be engaged. They sit at their computers for long periods of time, seemingly just guessing.”

The problems are such that the school may drop its learning labs, the principal tells PBS.

The learning lab has been key to the Rocketship model because it allows a school of roughly 500 students to hire six fewer teachers and save money to put into other areas, such as a longer day and teacher training.

That saved money, however, is not necessarily used to provide an enriched curriculum.

“One thing the savings are not used for: art and music classes,” Merrow reports.

Merrow also notes that more than 75% of the teachers at Rocketship Mosaic come from Teach for America (TFA), which recruits college graduates, trains them during the summer and then sends them to urban schools. The problem? Studies have repeatedly shown that experienced, quality teachers are one of the best guarantees of academic improvement. Relying on TFA, which only requires a two-year commitment, also means that staff turnover will likely be high. (John Danner, the former Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded Rocketship, is philosophically opposed to unions.)

Interestingly, all the teachers shown in the PBS special were white, and all the students were Latino. PBS did not mention, but it is well known, that Rocketship does not believe in bilingual education for its Spanish-speaking students and has adopted an “English-only” approach. It promises to follow federal and state laws regarding services for “English Language Learners,” but that is a far cry from supporting students in both languages so that they enjoy the academic, personal and economic benefits of being truly bilingual.

The Rocketship model raises a number of questions which merit public discussion about the city’s expectations for its charter schools. Does the public support the view that schools, as part of a deliberate education strategy, should forego art and music classes? Is it good education policy to rely on inexperienced teaches? Is it sound education practice to put five- and six-year-old children in front of a computer for two hours straight during the school day?

Perhaps most important, why is Milwaukee’s Common Council in the business of overseeing schools in the first place?

The questions are particularly important given the proliferation of privately run charter schools approved by the Common Council.

Charter schools have their roots among progressive educators in the 1990s who wanted charter contracts with school districts so they could operate outside the bureaucracy and experiment. The goal was to improve academic achievement, strengthen the connections between school and community, and use the lessons learned to improve all the schools in a district.

Some charter schools still uphold those values. But in recent years, the charter movement has become the darling of hedge-fund managers and marketplace entrepreneurs who view parents as consumers, not deciders, and who chafe at public control. Such forces are driving the charter school movement’s dominant agenda of promoting privately run, franchise charters that operate outside the supervision of democratically elected school boards.

POWERFUL BACKERS
Leading business people have been a guiding force behind Rocketship’s entry into Milwaukee, in particular Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Michael Grebe of the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Sheehy visited Rocketship and spearheaded efforts to raise $3.5 million in additional funding that Rocketship said was necessary.

Rocketship has worthy aspects, for instance its administrative support for teachers. But I’m always nervous when hoped-for education miracles are first tested on poor children in Milwaukee.

If these charter franchise schools are so great, why aren’t the Whitefish Bay or the Lake Country school districts clamoring for Rocketship?

Imagine if Tim Sheehy were to tell his neighbors in Whitefish Bay that he wanted to raise $3.5 million to bring in a California-based outfit to compete with and take money away from the Whitefish Bay schools, that these privately run schools would not provide art and music, that kindergarten children would be put in front of Dilbert-like cubicles for two hours a day, and that the board of directors would be dominated by people who did not live in the community? What do you think the response in Whitefish Bay might be?

If I had to put any money on it, Whitefish Bay parents would echo the thoughts of Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. “These are schools for poor children,” she wrote in a blog titled “Rocketship to Nowhere,” where she summarized her impression after watching the Merrow show. “Not many advantaged parents would want their children in this bare-bones Model-T school. It appears that these children are being trained to work on an assembly line. There is no suggestion that they are challenged to think or question or wonder or create.”

COZY RELATIONSHIPS
The MMAC’s Sheehy is not the only influential businessman promoting Rocketship Milwaukee.

The Bradley Foundation, which is a strong proponent of both voucher schools and privately run charter schools, granted Rocketship Milwaukee $375,000 last year. The ideologically conservative foundation also gave $3 million to the Colorado-based Charter School Growth Fund, a venture capital initiative that — surprise! — has given money to Rocketship.

Michael Grebe, head of the Bradley Foundation, is on the board of directors of the Charter School Growth Fund. (In Wisconsin, Grebe is better known as the chair of Scott Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.) Sheehy, meanwhile, is chair of the board of directors for Rocketship Milwaukee.

Another prominent local person involved with Rocketship is Deborah McGriff, the staff person at the California-based NewSchools Venture Fund that has invested $1.18 million in Rocketship. (The Fund promotes “entrepreneurial organizations” and is yet another indication of how the private sector believes there is money to be made in charter schools.) McGriff is married to Howard Fuller, who founded and directs the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, which oversees the City of Milwaukee charter school initiative. Until recently, Fuller personally chaired the city’s charter school process. Last year, the Bradley Foundation gave $50,000 to the Institute to support the approval process for city charters — on top of $875,000 in funding to the Institute in the previous four years.

McGriff and Fuller, meanwhile, are two of the three members of the board of directors of the Quest schools, another privately run charter initiative approved by the City of Milwaukee.

If it all sounds a bit too cozy and ingrown, well perhaps it is.

A few key people are calling the behind-the-scene shots for City of Milwaukee charters, and even many aldermen have little idea what’s going on in these city-approved schools. Several alderpeople have begun asking questions, in particular Robert Bauman, Tony Zielinski, Nik Kovac and Jose Perez. But by and large the council has rubber-stamped the decisions by Fuller’s Institute, providing a fig leaf of public oversight.
REASON TO BE DUBIOUS
It’s enlightening to look at the last big school reform pushed by Fuller, the MMAC, and the Bradley Foundation.

All three have been key forces behind the voucher movement, under which tax dollars are funneled out of public education and into private schools. Using the seductive rhetoric of ‘choice,” vouchers began in 1990 and were supposed to usher in a golden era of educational achievement in Milwaukee.

The voucher movement reflected a virtual wish list of conservative, free-market reforms: no unions, no central bureaucracy, minimal government oversight, the ability to hire and fire teachers at will, and wide latitude to institute just about any innovation desired, from the length of the school day to curricular reform.

But the voucher movement’s rhetoric crashed on the rocks of reality. In 2010, for the first time the voucher schools were required to take the same tests as public schools and the test scores were released publicly. The results? The voucher schools scored about the same in reading as comparable MPS students, and worse in math.

Substitute “charters” for “vouchers” and this troika of the MMAC, Bradley and Fuller is up to the same old same old. There’s little to indicate the results will be significantly different — and everything to indicate that the major consequence may be even more public dollars flowing into privately run schools, with the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) left to pick up the pieces when a charter school fails or expels an unwanted student. (Charter school expulsions are one of many issues that need to be addressed. The city charter high school CEO Leadership Academy, for instance, expelled roughly 16% of its students last year, according to a performance reviewed submitted to the Common Council. The review also notes that the academy’s test results were far below scores for low-income students in MPS. Fuller helped found the school in 2003, and until 2011 the academy was a voucher school; Fuller remains chair of its board of directors.)

MPS, for all its shortcomings, problems, and challenges, remains the only institution in this city with the capability, commitment and legal obligation to serve all children. We abandon it at a peril not just to democracy and public control of public institutions, but at peril to our moral obligation to provide a quality education to all the children in the City of Milwaukee.

At the very least, we need to ask ourselves: do the children of Milwaukee deserve art and music classes?

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This blog is cross-posted at my blog, “View from the Heartland: Honoring the Wisconsin tradition of common decency and progressive politics.” At the blog, you can also sign up for email notifications.

January 5, 2013

Rocketship Schools Coming Soon to an Urban Area Near You

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 12:27 pm

Rocketship Plans to Build an Education Empire According to a December 28, PBS NewsHour Report (See Link below.)

In a 9 minute TV PBS NewsHour report Rocketship  CEO John Danner stated that Rocketship Education’s  goal is for a million students to be attending their schools. This would be over 1600 schools nationally. If they contract the same lucrative deal that the City of  Milwaukee gave them , sending $600,000 annually back to national headquarters in San Jose, this will be nearly $1 billion profit annually  for Rocketship Education. Short-term they want 46 schools up and running in five years, eventually growing to 50 cities.

Rocketship clearly strives to be the largest chartering management organization in America. But with this aggressive expansion comes an increase in scrutiny. I have written about 3 of their “model” schools in San Jose raising what I consider serious issues. The NewsHour report adds to my trepidation, especially as they plan to flood the education market with their brand.

Questionable practices

  • Their main source for teachers is Teach For America, that is, uncertified teachers that enter the classroom with only 6-weeks of training. 75% of their teachers are from Teach For America.
  • Rocketship schools are also founded on use of “learning labs.” Learning labs are staffed by hourly employees who, as the report notes, “…lack teaching credentials.” Rocketship says that the “learning labs” save enough money for each school to hire 6 fewer teachers yearly, saving up to half a million dollars a year. The problem admitted in the PBS report is that the “learning labs” don’t work, even though students spend 25% of their day in the lab, sitting in front of computers. (See report below.) Yet Rocketship’s “success”, as claimed on their web site, is because “Rocketship has a very innovative instructional model that utilizes the Learning Lab as a place for students to master basic math and reading skills.
  • Rocketship does not offer arts or music in its curriculum.
  • Disturbing data from 3 of their “model” schools in San Jose data shows the low enrollment of special education students (They admit to 5% special education student enrollment.) While the San Jose school district has a special education population of more than 12%, the Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy has only 14 special education students total. Its sister school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary, serves only 15 special education students out of a total of 270 students. The newest school, Rocketship Los Suenos Academy, serves only 11 special education students. Keeping the number of special education students below 20, as shown in all three schools, means that special education is not considered as a subgroup required to make “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind.
  • In the selection of students Rocketship operates charters that enroll students via application. Therefore, it necessarily follows that the Rocketship will enroll a different mix of students than the low-SES-area neighborhood public schools.  As one observer stated, “If Rocketship thinks it has discovered the secret to effectively educating low-SES-area students, let Rocketship take over a low-SES-area neighborhood school — enrolling all the neighborhood school children and only the neighborhood school children — and let’s see how Rocketship’s model works when Rocketship has the same students as the neighborhood public school.”

To see the PBS report, go to:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/july-dec12/rocket_12-28.html

Below is a transcript of the PBS, NewsHour report:

(more…)

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