Rocketship Schools Take Off

If you were a 5-10 year old student, going to a “Rocketship” school would seem pretty cool. Perhaps it would conjure images of going to school inside a rocketship, or studying in space. While the reality might not be quite that awesome, there is still much to be said for the small chain of  schools focused on bringing quality education to low income students.

Though they may only have seven schools now, they hope to have around 2,000 schools in 50 cities by the end of the decade, and aim to close the achievement gap for low-income students.

These schools do share common ground with other privately run, publicly funded charter schools. But just because they’re privately run and publicly funded doesn’t make their teachers, students, or teaching methods the same.

So what’s so special about a Rocketship school?

The Teachers

Most of the teachers in Rocketship schools are new teachers, and many hail from the Ivy League or other top colleges. Many of the teachers come through the Teach For America program, which matches recent college grads with ‘high-need’ schools. The teachers in Rocketship schools are offered a lot of support – in the form of a coach to help them develop their strengths –  and are encouraged to move into school leadership roles as soon as they’re ready. To boot, they claim to pay their teachers above market value to keep them motivated and understanding how important they are.

The Curriculum

A day at a Rocketship school probably doesn’t look a whole lot like a day in a typical school. Students may spend around two hours per day one-on-one with a computer to help them learn their basic skills. Most of this skill building time is spent with games that teach, and each student can work at their own pace.

Each school has a team of five Individualized Learning Specialists who work in the Learning Lab of each school. The specialists oversee the Learning Lab, but also works directly with students in whole class, small group, and individual settings to provide academic interventions in literacy and/or math.

The Numbers

Rocketship schools aim to use standardized testing as a “signpost, rather than a scarlet letter“, and the method seems to be working. So far, the numbers are promising. According to the Rocketship Education website, they are the leading public school system for low-income elementary students with an overall score of 868 on the 2011 California Academic Performance Index.

Three of their schools are in the top 10 schools serving low-income students in Santa Clara County. Not bad for a small chain started less than ten years ago – it will be so interesting to see where they will be in ten years.