Commentary on Rocketship Charter Schools in Milwaukee

Libby Sobic: Rocketship Public Schools in Milwaukee is a network of two campuses around the City of Milwaukee that are serving more than 700 K4-5th grade students. Rocketship embraces their students and families to ensure that they are supported in and beyond the classroom. For Ms. Oliver and her daughter, a six-year-old with special needs, … Continue reading Commentary on Rocketship Charter Schools in Milwaukee

The Adaptive Learning App that John Danner Left Rocketship to Build

Christina Quattrocchi: Many former teachers leave the classroom to start edtech companies. Just take a look at BetterLesson, eduClipper, and SmarterCookie to, name a few. What’s rare is when a co-founder and CEO of one of the world’s most well-known charter school organization makes the jump. But that’s what John Danner did in January 2013 … Continue reading The Adaptive Learning App that John Danner Left Rocketship to Build

Year after Rocketship’s scrutinized Milwaukee launch, signs point to progress; Status Quo in Madison

Erin Richards: What were the highlights of Rocketship’s first year here? Strong growth. Rocketship set a goal of having 65% of its Milwaukee students meet the national average for reading and math growth over the course of the year. In fact, 72% of the school’s students, almost all of whom are low-income and Hispanic or … Continue reading Year after Rocketship’s scrutinized Milwaukee launch, signs point to progress; Status Quo in Madison

Rocketship pushes to enter Milwaukee school orbit

Erin Richards:

t’s midmorning on a Saturday in June when Will Reichardt unlocks the front door of a south side office and grabs the day’s supplies: clipboard, school fliers in Spanish and English, some enrollment applications.
Just in case.
Then Reichardt drives his minivan to the local laundromats, where he circles dryers and washers and toddlers and parents, asking each family, in Spanish, to consider the opportunities at a new school opening in August called Rocketship.
A newcomer to Milwaukee, Rocketship Education is a nonprofit elementary charter-school network based in San Jose, Calif., that’s attracting national attention for its low-cost schools that blend traditional instruction with technological intervention.
Rocketship’s first national expansion site is Southside Community Prep, a new school at 3003 W. Cleveland Ave. which will operate under a special charter with the City of Milwaukee. If successful, Rocketship may open up to eight schools serving up to 4,000 children in Milwaukee.
The organization’s mission is to eliminate the achievement gap by rapidly replicating schools that perform better and cost less than local options. It intends to grow from 3,800 students in California to 25,000 students in six states by 2018.
In a decade, leaders estimate, they could be educating 200,000 students in 30 cities.
But in Milwaukee, Rocketship is an unknown, and the hurdles to recruiting students in a highly competitive school landscape have it scrambling to enroll at least 300 students by an Aug. 19 start date — now four weeks away.

Related: A majority of the Madison school board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school last year.

Job: Managing Director, Milwaukee at Rocketship Education


Rocketship Milwaukee is Rocketship Education’s first expansion city outside of California. This is a unique opportunity to collaborate and contribute – with Rocketship Education’s executive staff – on the development of a regional entity, ensuring success for not only the city of Milwaukee and its communities, but many cities to come.
Rocketship Milwaukee’s Managing Director is responsible for the academic, operational and financial success of Milwaukee’s Rocketship schools and continued growth. The Managing Director leads a team of Rocketeers including regional staff, school leaders and teachers towards closing the achievement gap for students and the Milwaukee community. The Managing Director will grow Rocketship Education’s impact from one school in 2012 to 8 schools within 5 years as it works to eliminate the elementary achievement gap in Milwaukee. Internally, the Managing Director manages the regional leadership team that supports school staff, ensures strong and strategic financial management, and partners with national staff to build the best supports for schools possible.
Externally, the Managing Director builds deep community engagement and fosters public and political support for Rocketship to expand its impact as it works with the Milwaukee community to build first class options for all parents. Specifically, the Managing Director will oversee all community development, funder and authorizer relationships in order to drive regional growth.

Rocketship charter schools revamping signature ‘Learning Lab’

Valerie Strauss:

The Rocketship network of charter schools has made a name for itself in the world of school choice — and attracted $2 million from the Obama administration to help it grow — with its “blended learning” model that incorporates traditional classroom settings with a computer “Learning Lab” for students.
The idea behind the lab was that students could learn basic lessons in math and reading while teachers could work with students on more complicated material. Part of the attraction, too, was that the computers would cost less than hiring more teachers. Well, it turns out that the vaunted “Learning Lab” isn’t working so well. In fact, it has turned out to be so much less than expected that Rocketship is revamping it.
Here’s what my colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote about the Learning Lab in this 2012 story about Rocketship and its co-founder and chief executive officer, John Danner:
In each Rocketship school, children file into a “Learning Lab” every day, where they sit at computer carrels that line the perimeter of the room.

Can Rocketship Launch a Fleet of Successful, Mass-Produced Schools? (Opening in Milwaukee later in 2013)

PBS NewsHour:

JEFFREY BROWN: Now we look to a California education experiment called the Rocketship Model that involves teachers, kids and parents and aims to expand one day to serve a million students.
NewsHour’s special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has our report.
JOHN MERROW: The Model T was the first, the first innovative and affordable car available to the masses. Others had built good cars, but Henry Ford figured out how to build a lot of them. He and his moving assembly line proved that quality can be mass-produced.
Mass production is a problem the auto industry solved over 100 years ago, but it’s an issue our education system has yet to figure out. America has lots of terrific schools. People open great schools every year, but typically open just one. Nobody has figured out how to mass-produce high-quality, cost-effective schools.
John Danner is the latest to give it a shot. He created an innovative charter school model with replication in mind. Charter schools receive public funding, but are privately managed and operate outside of the traditional public system.
JOHN MERROW: New Orleans, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Memphis have all approved charters for Rocketship schools to be built in their cities. Next year, two new schools will open in San Jose and one in Milwaukee. Danner plans to have 46 schools up and running in five years, with a vision of someday serving 50 cities and a million students. If he succeeds, Rocketship could become the Model T of education.

Notes and links on Rocketship’s arrival in Milwaukee.

Futuristic Rocketship schools redefine teaching

Greg Toppo:

The fourth-grader, his dark hair cropped close, has been staring at a computer screen for close to 20 minutes, trying again and again to solve a devilish little puzzle built around rectangles’ axes of symmetry.
Two friends appear, offering unsolicited advice and urging him to try their solutions. Nothing works, and their teacher, who could offer help, is nowhere in sight.
“This one’s hard,” classmate Brian Aguilera says. Zepeda keeps trying. Finally, after 15 minutes’ more work, he cracks the puzzle. His reward: another, harder puzzle.
Another morning in Learning Lab at Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy, a 3-year-old charter school built on a sliver of city-owned land in the shadow of the I-680 off-ramp. Si Se Puede — Spanish for “Yes It’s Possible” or “Yes We Can” — is part of a tiny chain of schools set to expand nationwide.

Rocketship will be opening in Milwaukee during the fall of 2013.

Rocketship Education’s plan for school in Milwaukee advances

Erin Richards, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

A young and tech-savvy charter school network that’s gotten attention for reducing the achievement gap in San Jose, Calif., got the green light from a Common Council committee Tuesday to bring the model to Milwaukee.
Rocketship Education, a nonprofit management company, has applied for a charter from the City of Milwaukee that would allow it to open a publicly funded school in the fall of 2013, with the eventual intent to serve up to 4,000 children in eight K-5 schools by 2017. Each school would have to show measurable progress before subsequent schools could open.
The organization, started in 2006, currently serves about 2,500 students in five San Jose area elementary schools.
A majority of members on the Steering and Rules Committee on Tuesday approved sending Rocketship’s application to the full council for consideration.
Rocketship CEO and co-founder John Danner explained the organization’s three areas of emphasis: engaging parents through teacher-led home visits and training them to advocate for their children; developing talent by growing a pipeline of teachers who can become school leaders; and giving all students individualized learning plans that blend six hours a day of face-to-face instruction with two hours of lab time spent working with online computer programs and low-cost tutors.

Customized Learning Fuels Rocketship


Great post by John Danner, Rocketship CEO today on their efforts to customize learning. Rocketship is a network of high performing elementary schools in San Jose California. Students spend about a fifth of their day in a learning lab. Here’s the guts of John’s post:
We’ve put a ton of work into figuring out how to go from student assessments to individualized learning plans. When a learning plan accurately captures the next 6-8 objectives a student needs at a fine grain (i.e. this student needs to work on short a sounds), then you set yourself up to deliver the right lesson at the right time. This process of figuring out exactly what a student needs to learn is the key. From that, the potential upside for the right lesson to each child at the right developmental level probably has the potential to be 10x more effective for the student than a classroom lesson targeted at what a child that age should be learning, or some scope and sequence that has been defined. For students who are the farthest behind, classroom lessons are almost never relevant, they just aren’t there developmentally. So this 10x potential increase in learning is what our model plays on.

What Can Districts Learn From Top Public Charters on Remote Instruction? Highlights From a New Report.

Laura Waters: Yesterday I posted a letter (read it here) from the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association to the Democratic National Committee. The 65 signatories express grave disappointment at the DNC’s anti-charter  stance, which the signatories call “especially egregious” in light of powerful support from Black and Latino parents. Today the Fordham Institute published … Continue reading What Can Districts Learn From Top Public Charters on Remote Instruction? Highlights From a New Report.

“If you believe in charter schools, then it’s time to start asking why Wisconsin doesn’t have more.”

Libby Sobic: So what’s a charter school and what kind of options do parents have access to? Charter schools are public schools with significantly less red tape than their traditional public school peers. Wisconsin has several types with the most common type of charter school is a school authorized by the school district. “Instrumentality” charter … Continue reading “If you believe in charter schools, then it’s time to start asking why Wisconsin doesn’t have more.”

How LeBron James’ new public school really is the first of its kind

Christian D’Andrea: Several reform-minded schools have carved similar paths for I Promise to follow. The Knowledge is Power Program, better known as KIPP, has created the nation’s largest network of charter schools by catering to marginalized students with longer class hours, increasing access to teachers, and a tough but accommodating schedule for students. Rocketship Public … Continue reading How LeBron James’ new public school really is the first of its kind

Commentary on Charter & Traditional Public Schools

Dave Zweifel: Lafer’s report details how Rocketship teaches only basics like reading and math with “live” teachers, while the rest of the curriculum is taught online. There are no art, music or gym classes. The teachers are recent education school grads who have volunteered for a couple of years with Teach for America, a private … Continue reading Commentary on Charter & Traditional Public Schools

Silicon Valley and the Edtech Revolution

Geoff Ralston: Silicon Valley holds a certain mystique among entrepreneurs and investors. More cool technology was born here, more wealth created, and more technology revolutions begun, than anywhere else on the planet. The Valley’s formula for success has been the subject of debate and business school cases for decades. It certainly helps to have excellent … Continue reading Silicon Valley and the Edtech Revolution

Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Gordon Lafer During the past year, Wisconsin state legislators debated a series of bills aimed at closing low-performing public schools and replacing them with privately run charter schools. These proposals were particularly targeted at Milwaukee, the state’s largest and poorest school district. Ultimately, the only legislation enacted was a bill that modestly increases school reporting … Continue reading Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Netflix’s Reed Hastings: “Get Rid of Elected School Boards”

BeyondChron: On March 4th, 2014, Billionaire Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings delivered the keynote speech to the California Charter School Association’s annual conference. In that keynote speech, Mr. Hastings made a shocking statement: Democratically elected school board members are the problem with education, and they must be replaced by privately held corporations in the next 20-30 … Continue reading Netflix’s Reed Hastings: “Get Rid of Elected School Boards”

Broad Foundation emails indicate charter operators reluctant to expand without TFA presence

Chad Sommer and Jennifer Berkshire:

By Chad Sommer and Jennifer Berkshire
Last weekend, former Newark Star columnist Bob Braunpublished a bombshell column, arguing thatthe state-appointed superintendent of Newark, NJ schools, Teach For America (TFA) alum Cami Anderson, wants to waive seniority rules to fire upwards of 700 tenured Newark teachers and replace a percentage of them with TFA recruits. Executive Director of Teach For America New Jersey, Fatimah Burnam Watkins, quickly dismissedBraun’s assertions as *conspiracy theories*, while claiming TFA has a small footprint in Newark. But the heated back-and-forth misses the larger issue: TFA plays an increasingly essential role in staffing the charters that are rapidly expanding, replacing public schools from Newark to Philadelphia to Chicago to Los Angeles. In fact, newly released documents indicate that many charter operators won’t even consider opening new schools without TFA to provide a supply of *teacher talent.*
TFA a requirement
Emails sent by the Broad Foundation, a leading advocate of market-based education reform and charter expansion, and acquired through a freedom of information request, reveal that many charter management organizations consider TFA presence in a region a necessary prerequisite for opening new schools.
According to the documents, charter management organizations including Rocketship, KIPP, Noble, LEARN and Uncommon Schools all indicated that a supply of TFA teachers was a general pre-condition for expanding into a new region. The emails, which detail the Broad Foundation’s failed efforts to lure high-performing charter operators to Detroit, were released as part of a trove of thousands of documents requested as part of an investigation into Michigan’s embattled Education Achievement Authority.

Keep an eye on these top 10 Milwaukee education issues

Alan Borsuk:

Six. The new kids on the block. There are quite a few, but three new schools particularly interest me. They are:
Carmen North. Will the people involved in the successful Carmen High charter school on the south side successfully launch a middle school-high school program in a long-troubled MPS building on the northwest side?
Rocketship Southside Community Prep. This high-profile charter elementary, the first expansion for Rocketship Education beyond its base in San Jose, Calif., will be watched by education activists nationwide who heatedly debate the virtues of the program, which includes a strong component of technology-based learning.
Universal Academy for the College Bound This Philadelphia-based charter school operation is opening elementary and middle schools in two MPS buildings on the north side. The questions I had about how this will go were only compounded when the key Milwaukee leader, Ronn Johnson, was charged recently with sexually assaulting children. But Universal appears intent on weathering the damage that caused.
Seven. MPS leadership. There was a period in the spring when the future of Superintendent Gregory Thornton seemed in doubt.
I still don’t get why School Board members considered putting $80,000 in the budget for a superintendent search.
But last week the board voted to extend Thornton’s contract until 2016. I’d suggest the focus now should be on the rungs below Thornton.
There’s been a lot of change in administrative ranks and a continuing wave of changes in principals. It may be difficult for outsiders (including me) to figure out how this is going, but I know it’s really important.

Oconomowoc & Madison

I read with interest Madison School Board President Ed Hughes’ blog post on local spending, redistributed state tax dollars & property tax increases. Mr. Hughes mentioned Oconomowoc:

Superintendent Cheatham and new Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Mike Barry (recently arrived from the Oconomowoc school district to replace Erik Kass) promise a zero-based approach to budgeting for the 2014-15 school year, so the budgeting process promises to be more lively next year.

Mr. Hughes, writing on May 3, 2012: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay..
Alan Borsuk recently followed up on the changes (fewer, but better paid teachers) in Oconomowoc.
Rocketship and Avenues are also worth looking into.

D.C. debates growth of charter schools

Emma Brown:

It’s the latest sign that the District is on track to become a city where a majority of children are educated not in traditional public schools but in public charters: A California nonprofit group has proposed opening eight D.C. charter schools that would enroll more than 5,000 students by 2019.
The proposal has stirred excitement among those who believe that Rocketship Education, which combines online learning and face-to-face instruction, can radically raise student achievement in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Rocketship’s charter application — which is the largest ever to come before District officials, and which might win approval this month — arrives on the heels of Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s decision to close 15 half-empty city schools, highlighting an intense debate about the future of public education in the nation’s capital.
A growing number of activists have raised concerns that the traditional school system, facing stiffer-than-ever competition from charters, is in danger of being relegated to a permanently shrunken role. And they worry that Washington has yet to confront what that could mean for taxpayers, families and neighborhoods.

Kindergarten in the Computer

Katherine Mangu-Ward:

The notion of online education for the Crayola set can strike adults as absurd. But for kids, even little ones, it’s the idea ignoring computers all day that sounds crazy. After all, if you ask a third grader to list his favorite things, “doing stuff on the computer” will rank high, probably somewhere between race cars and string cheese.
What most people envision when they think of online education–a college or high school student sitting at a computer all day at home, perhaps with minimal parental guidance–isn’t viable for the vast majority of families with young kids. Warehousing is a dirty word in education circles, but the truth is that it must be part of the package. Kids need somewhere to go during the day, preferably to hang out with other kids. They also need a bunch of adults there to keep them from killing one another and help them learn something.

Catholic schools can learn from charters

Sean Kennedy:

Charter schools, only 20 years old, are on the rise across America as parents and students try to escape failing public schools. The growth in charter schools has hit Catholic schools especially hard, as education historian Diane Ravitch noted, “Where charter schools are expanding, Catholic schools are dying.” Instead of fearing the rise of Charter schools, Catholic schools should learn from their innovative practices.
Parents who once preferred Catholic schools to the failing public system are abandoning Catholic schools en masse. This coming school year (2012-2013), more American elementary and secondary school students will enroll in charter schools than Catholic schools for the first time.
Charters have grown precisely because they took some of the best practices of Catholic schools – uniforms, discipline and high expectations – and applied them zealously. Now, Catholic schools should adopt some of the best practices used by charters to stage a comeback.
Milwaukee’s Catholic schools have a special opportunity to lead reform. Starting in the fall of 2013, one of the most innovative charter school networks, Rocketship Academy of San Jose, Calif., will open its first franchise in Milwaukee.
Rocketship plans to open eight in total and enroll 4,000 students in the coming years. Rocketship’s model has improved student outcomes dramatically, especially for English language learners. More important, Rocketship spends half as much per pupil than traditional schools.

Santa Clara County friendliest to charter schools

Sharon Noguchi:

Charter schools, once considered the experimental outliers of public education, are poised to go mainstream in Santa Clara County.
That’s due in part to sheer numbers. Eight new charter schools opened this school year, taking in 1,600 students. Last week alone, five charter schools were approved to open next August in the county. But perhaps more important, key places in the county have seen a transformation in attitude, from hostility and suspicion to acceptance and collaboration.
The growing number of charters cements the county’s reputation, along with the giant Los Angeles Unified district, as the most charter-friendly place in the state. In a month or so, the county school board will consider approving 20 more charters schools for Rocketship Education. The increase comes amid widespread growth of charter schools in California. Today about 7 percent of the state’s public school children attend a charter, which are public schools operating independently from local school boards and most of the state Education Code.

MMAC Milwaukee Schools plan falls short

George Mitchell:

During the past three decades, Milwaukee no doubt has led the nation in the number of plans advanced to improve K-12 education. With another initiative announced last week, Journal Sentinel readers can be excused for feeling they’ve heard this story before.
New recommendations – from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce – are encouraging in one important area. MMAC and its allies have convinced innovative educators from elsewhere to open schools in Milwaukee. Two years ago, I visited a Rocketship charter school in San Jose. It’s great news that impressive operation is coming here.
However, the worthwhile goal of adding high-quality charter schools stands in contrast to other aspects of the MMAC plan. Business leaders who will be asked to finance it should apply the kind of scrutiny required in the world where they operate.
The plan comes up short in two major areas. First, it relies on a dated, narrow and misleading description of the major problem. Second, it walks back from the organization’s historic commitment to creating a real education marketplace.

Charter school deserves Milwaukee’s approval

Tim Sheehy:

On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Common Council will consider the Charter School Review Committee’s recommendation that the City of Milwaukee contract with Rocketship Education to open a network of independent charter schools.
Rocketship Education selected Milwaukee as its first expansion city outside of California because it saw great need but also because it sees the opportunity to be part of a systemic change in a community that desperately needs it. Rocketship has never promised miracles. It does promise a chance – a chance for children and a chance for Milwaukee.
Milwaukee has serious challenges and an urgent need to grow, develop and attract more schools that are effective in educating low-income children. Closing the gap in educational achievement for all 127,000 of the city’s K-12 schoolchildren is a community-wide responsibility.
There are no miracles, and we cannot wait for Superman. What we can do is expand our best-performing schools and work to improve our high-potential schools that operate as Milwaukee Public Schools or under the charter and choice programs. This requires the development of quality teachers and school leaders.

50 percent of all high school courses will be taken online by 2019

Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn:

As a disruptive innovation–an innovation that transforms a sector from one that was previously complicated and expensive into one that is far simpler and more affordable–the rise of online learning carries with it an unprecedented opportunity to transform the schooling system into a student-centric one that can affordably customize for different student needs by allowing all students to learn at their appropriate pace and path, thereby allowing each student to realize her fullest potential.
Whether it does this in the coming years will depend on several variables.
Entrepreneurs and investors–both for-profit and non-profit–are doing their part, as they seek to fashion the future by solving the problems they see students and teachers struggling with today.
Some, like those at Los Altos School District and Rocketship Education, are creating new learning and schooling models and liberating students and teachers.

Learning from California: Improving Efficiency of Classroom Time and Instruction

Center on Reinventing Public Education via a Deb Britt email:

John Danner, CEO and Founder of Rocketship Education, presented the Rocketship charter elementary school model and argued that hybrid schools are better for both students and teachers. Rocketship Education currently operates two open enrollment schools and serves a primarily low-income student population. The organization, which aims to have clusters in 50 cities over the next 15 years, works to eliminate the achievement gap by ensuring its low-income students are proficient and college-bound when they graduate from elementary school.
Shantanu Sinha, President and COO of the Khan Academy, described how their online academy began when the founder created math instruction videos to tutor his cousins. In just seven months, the Khan Academy has grown to serve over 2 million unique users per month with close to 60 million lessons delivered. With a mission “to deliver a world-class education to anyone anywhere,” the Academy is utilized mainly by students at home as a supplement to their regular school instruction. Increasingly, though, Khan lessons are used in public schools to provide self-paced exercises and assessments to students, so as to avoid gaps in learning.
Presentations and ensuing discussion with local leaders pointed to two core components of innovative education that Washington State can learn from: efficient use of teacher time and skill as well as individualized instruction. Each builds on the lessons which Joel Rose, founder of School of One, emphasized at the launch of the Washington Education Innovation Forum.

In Search of EduProductivity

Tom Vander Ark:

Almost every state has been slashing budgets trying to balance expenses with shrinking revenues. A few governors have asked for creative ways to stretch education funding while improving learning and operating productivity. Here’s a few ideas:
Promote blended learning
Require all students to take at least one online course each year of high school and negotiate a 10-20% discount with multiple online providers and give students/schools options.
Provide statewide access to multiple online learning providers and reimburse at 80% of traditional schools (with performance incentives for serving challenging populations).
Encourage K-8 schools to adopt a Rocketship-style schedule with 25% of student time in a computer learning lab and a tiered staffing model that makes long day/year affordable. A loan program to upgrade to a 1:3 computer ratio would support adoption of a blended model could be repaid out of savings.