PBS Features Rocketship Education Charter Expansion, Continuing Innovation

“Nobody has figured out how to mass produce high-quality, cost-effective schools,” PBS correspondent John Merrow explained on a televised feature last week about the successful Rocketship Education public charter school network. Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for bringing to my attention the interesting 9-minute video about how to replicate an innovative and successful education model:

The piece — produced for News Hour by Cat McGrath — highlights three key observations about what fuels the success of the growing network of schools that took root in San Jose, California (which my Education Policy Center friends and I first brought to your attention back in 2010). First is the “launch” activity each morning that engages Rocketship students and parents alike in the all-important culture of high expectations.

Second is the emphasis on recruiting high-quality teachers and giving them the professional development, accountability, and flexibility to succeed. An instructor from Rocketship Mosaic Elementary tells the interviewer: “I’m making more money than I made when I was part of a union. I have more job security, I would say, than when I was part of a union. So I’m not sure what I would need a union for.”

Her teaching colleague explains that the “job security” comes from the fact she is “valuable to the school” and “[produces] good results with kids.” The principal of another Rocketship school says some of his best teachers, in their third year, earn an annual salary close to $70,000.

But how is the school able to afford the flexibility to pay great teachers so much on its regular public funding stream? The third and distinctive feature that has drawn the most attention and acclaim to Rocketship is the use of learning labs where students, guided by non-teacher “Individual Learning Specialists,” independently work on computers to practice math and literacy skills at their own pace.

Interestingly, the PBS feature does not incorporate the term “blended learning” into the discussion, but does note that Rocketship likely will discard its current learning lab approach and bring the computers into the classrooms. (Maybe something like Rocky Mountain Prep does?)

Anyway, however, it is good to see Rocketship and its innovative founder John Danner move forward in their effort to expand and serve students and families in Milwaukee and San Antonio (starting in the fall of 2013), along with additional approvals to open schools in places like Indianapolis, Memphis and New Orleans. We’re only left to wonder when Denver might be next.