Rocketship may ditch "learning lab" model next year

Rocketship Education charter schools, based in Palo Alto, might be eliminating their flagship “learning labs” where kids spend 90 minutes a day in front of a computer working with math and literacy software, according to a report on the PBS NewsHour. Why? Teachers say the labs just aren’t working well enough to provide them with quick and useful information on what students have learned and what should be done to add to that learning.

The learning lab model has been hailed as one of the charter network’s greatest innovations. It is a prime example of the blended learning models that have students learning a portion of their content from software programs or recorded lessons available online.

Rocketship isn’t flinching at the prospect of a big change though. As one principal, Andrew Elliot-Chandler of Si Se Puede Elementary in San Jose, told PBS NewsHour, “Innovation, I think, is one of the most exciting reasons to be at Rocketship. Things change dramatically every year.”



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16 Responses to “Rocketship may ditch "learning lab" model next year”

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  1. Chris Stampolis on Feb 4, 2013 at 5:28 am02/4/2013 5:28 am

    • 000

    Hello Rocketship Teacher. I encourage you to use your real name, so we can have a solid discussion. But even if you are anonymous, let’s get into specifics so kids benefit.

    What do you recommend that school district leaders do to match or exceed RShip goals? All I read above is 1) work 60+ a week, 2) involve parents; 3) filter schools to request only. Is the SJUSD API based on elementary scores only (like you) or, if not, why are you using the comparison?


    • el on Feb 4, 2013 at 9:56 am02/4/2013 9:56 am

      • 000

      I don’t think real names are all that important to the discussion (obviously! :-) ) but I too would like to learn more about what is working at Rocketship to try to bring what is successful to our schools.

      Chris’ comment about the difference in API for elementary versus middle/high schools reminds me of another question, which is if someone is tracking the Rocketship alumni to see if they are maintaining their success in high school and college? I’m thinking that some of those kids are probably old enough to interview about their opinion of it at this point.

  2. Rocketship Teacher on Jan 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm01/9/2013 2:21 pm

    • -11-100

    It’s interesting to see some of these comments which appear to have strong opinions based on pure assumptions. There is no whoops in the learning lab. Under the current model, it is working. This year, more than 70% of our students are on track for 1.5 years growth, over 40% are on track for 1.7 years growth. That is based on internal data. Step back and look at overall public data…on average, Rocketship schools score around an 850 API (which is CA way to score schools). 800 is the expectation or the floor, which if not met, Rocketship will not stay open. The charters granted to us by Santa Clara County mandate we achieve.

    Compare our API to Alum Rock Unified (where I used to teach) scores less than 750. Last year, San Jose Unified scored 798 as a district. Our relative success is not only based on the learning lab, but a variety of innovations and mechanisms to support teachers, families, and most importantly, students. This is not the mention the incredible teachers, leaders, and staff who work tirelessly for Rocketship.

    The transparency for where the money is going comes down to the success of our students. We have a wide range of families we serve; many speak little or no English, but we have parents CHOOSE to take their kids out of private schools and enroll them in Rocketship. We are here to serve our kids and their families and we work 60+ hours a week to do just that. Because we ask parents to volunteer, they come into our schools and classrooms and see the work we are doing with their kids. They are able to participate in the process and that is why many CHOOSE to represent and advocate for us in our efforts to expand. We haven’t done a perfect job and some parents have left as a result, but the numbers don’t lie. We are succeeding in teaching kids.

    The shift in the model is not a result of the learning lab failing, but a reflection on how we can make it work even better. Affluent schools score 900+ APIs and our goal is to provide our kids with the best possible education, as great – if not better – than affluent schools.

    We seek to grow because every year, our wait lists grow. Students are selected at random to attend our schools, but as long as families are on waiting lists, we won’t stop trying to expand. We don’t pander to parents; we strive to educate kids well and we do our best to include parents in every way possible – everything from rallying behind opening a new school to helping teachers grade student homework or helping kids in small groups during class. The parents choose how they want to support our school – we don’t choose for them.

    It would be great to see 60 minutes “investigate” what we’re doing. And for anybody who feels we aren’t doing what is best for kids, do what PBS did and come by.

  3. Former Rocketship Parent on Jan 8, 2013 at 4:18 pm01/8/2013 4:18 pm

    • 11100

    I didn’t think I would ever feel embarrassed to say that I had placed my own child in Rocketship schools for 2.5 years. I transferred him midyear to a regular public school because of Rocketship’s lack of transparency, structure, and qualified campus personnel.

    It’s pathetic to see that the schools even have “fake parents” posting reviews on their GreatSchools profiles. You go to any of the school events and no parent will be able to talk like those “parents” who wrote the reviews for the schools – many don’t speak English and many of the ones who do speak English do not have the vocabulary anywhere near what were used in the reviews, let alone really understand what education their . No parent who could afford to place their child in a private school would ever put their child at any of the Rocketship campuses which are built cheaply and poorly maintained.

    I think the County Board of Education would be making a huge mistake to allow this BUSINESS to grow at the rate it wants. I’m a homeowner and recognize that my property tax dollars are lining the pockets of these “education pioneers.” This will funnel public taxpayer money into a business that will not have to disclose to the public how public funds are used.

    I’m reading about how Rocketships may be sprouting all of the place (Wisconsin, DC, South Africa), and am starting to get extremely concerned about Rocketship’s strip-down model of only focusing on giving tax-payer money to headhunter Teach For America to place inexperienced, young, recent Ivy-League degree holders to spend 2 years trying to raise poor, English-language learning students’ test scores in language arts and math so the “public” has less and less control over “public education.” They call Rocketship a “choice.” I believe making the decision to allow Rocketship to expand takes away the most important choice – public oversight on public education. Public education would be eradicated as the little funding that we actually give to public education would be sent to a privately run charter organization. We currently spend more on prison inmates than we do on educating our children. Are we really ready to send the little funding we spend on education to a company that doesn’t even have to show us how it spends our property tax dollars?

    There is so much focus on how great Rocketship is – but this comes from the parents who speak no English (so they will go to any public demonstration the school officials ask so they can get 5 hrs for each adult they bring with them toward their parent volunteer quota), software companies who are trying to find more avenues for consumers, and The San Jose Mercury News which is a sorry example of journalism in their superficial coverage of this very important local (and potentially global) issue. I think there should be some attention paid to the parents and school officials who’ve defected from the organization in its short period of existence.

    I’d like to see 60-Minutes investigate this. Rocketship says there’s a “need” for 20 campuses, but tell me why at every single chance school officials can, they are pandering for parents to help with recruitment. Reason: There is NO need!


    • el on Feb 4, 2013 at 9:51 am02/4/2013 9:51 am

      • 000

      Wait – advocating for more Rocketship charters counts as parent volunteer time towards a quota?

      • CarolineSF on Feb 4, 2013 at 11:03 am02/4/2013 11:03 am

        • 000

        I think that’s pretty common in similar situations. Of course the school can decide what kind of volunteerism constitutes mandatory work hours (it’s my understanding that public schools aren’t supposed to have mandatory work hours to begin with).

        It’s something that the education press might also consider looking into.

  4. Charter Questioner on Jan 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm01/8/2013 12:32 pm

    • 000

    From the Rocketship November 6 meeting materials:
    Subsequently, we have focused on a school model that involves a large cohort of students (80-120) or essentially a grade level, in a single space (possibly with walls or without), under the leadership of two teachers and a coach, with tutoring, technology, enrichment, and multiple learning experiences integrated into this single space. These changes will allow for better use of time and talent and improved individualization for all students.

    How can a teacher individualize instruction for a class of 40-60 children?


    • el on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm01/8/2013 2:34 pm

      • 11100

      I want to know how they keep 40-60 children sitting in front of computers even on task for 90 minutes every day, regardless of the qualifications of the adult. I don’t think my daughter has that kind of attention span even for Rollercoaster Tycoon. :-)

  5. aslanfan on Jan 8, 2013 at 9:45 am01/8/2013 9:45 am

    • 000

    I love the way the way Rocketship’s use of “innovation” can be applied to a process that, from another view, looks like “We don’t really know what improves the teaching process, but if we churn things up annually, we can constantly pat ourselves on the back as “reformers.”

  6. Replies

    • John Fensterwald on Jan 7, 2013 at 8:56 pm01/7/2013 8:56 pm

      • 000

      Thanks for pointing us to this, Alexander.

    • el on Jan 7, 2013 at 10:49 pm01/7/2013 10:49 pm

      • 000

      Rocketship seems unable to express itself in English in that blog. I can’t really figure out what they’re trying to say there.

      • CarolineSF on Jan 8, 2013 at 11:38 am01/8/2013 11:38 am

        • 000

        Education reporters and bloggers, it would be useful if you would pin the speaker down and get him to clarify what he means when you get a quote like this: “We are integrating [the lab] and classroom because [the lab] is working well enough now that we feel the cost of managing it for teachers is outweighed by the benefit of increased learning by giving them more direct control of student centered learning.” — Rocketship founder John Danner

        • navigio on Jan 8, 2013 at 11:43 am01/8/2013 11:43 am

          • 000

          To me it means, ‘whoops, having kids sit in a computer room with uncredentialed hourly employees detracts from their learning and actually having them be with teachers during that time is probably a better idea.’ Maybe those computer lab people were asking for raises..?

  7. CarolineSF on Jan 4, 2013 at 8:32 am01/4/2013 8:32 am

    • 000

    It seems like this calls for a more in-depth look and an effort to get to the bottom of the obvious contradiction. Who better to do this than EdSource? Rocketship, hailed for its learning labs and often touted as the newest reform miracle, suddenly plans to ditch the learning labs?


    • navigio on Jan 7, 2013 at 10:13 am01/7/2013 10:13 am

      • 000

      I agree. And why is ‘things changing dramatically every year’ considered a good thing? Does this mean they are simply trying things at random?
      What’s interesting is in the discussion, the learning lab was touted as a way to save money by hiring fewer teachers (the lab is staffed with uncredentialed hourly employees, according to the interview) and thus allowing them to pay teachers more and hire additional deans.
      In other words, this seems like an integral piece of their entire educational strategy and thus would end up impacting much more than just whether labs exist.
      It was also interesting to hear the parent lament the lack of art and music.

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