Rocketship Is Not Rocket Science

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A chain of charter schools called Rocketship started in California and has now come to Wisconsin. Rocketship Southside Community Prep opened in Milwaukee in August 2013, and Rocketship plans to open seven more schools in the city with 4000 students by 2018 according to the organizations website . In the next five years, the company plans to open eight school-chains in seven cities and expand enrollment to 30,000.

Rocketship is a low budget operation “that relies on young and inexperienced teachers, that reduces curriculum to near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day,” writes Dr. Gordon Lafer, a University of Oregon professor who completed a study on school privatization and how it hurts poor children .

His report, “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” shows that for-profit and non-profit charter schools do not give students a better education than public schools.

Why is Rocketship not successful?

Rocketship uses computers to cut staff costs. Dr. Lafer reported that such a model is not a good one for Milwaukee’s children. You take away gym, art class, librarians, science and social studies . . . and what do you have? You have a heavy emphasis on standardized tests of reading and math. Yet, over the last four years, test scores have fallen at every Rocketship school.

Teacher pay is tied to test results, adding more stress to teaching. Some models of Rocketship have 109 students in a classroom with two teachers. Teacher turnover in these schools is high. Rocketship relies on Teach for America volunteers who come for a year or two and move on.

If Rocketship doesn’t help students, why does it continue?

It makes a lot of money for its investors. Rocketship’s worth grew from $2.2 million to $15.8 million in three years. It is nonprofit but uses the Dreambox software which makes huge profits. The Dreambox vendors are on Rocketship’s board as well.

What keeps Rocketship growing? Corporate lobbies such as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) push for school privatization, and the Wisconsin Legislature continues to make drastic cuts in public school funding. When a public school does not have adequate funding, it does not perform well. When you do not have adequate staff, teaching supplies or school facilities, your results are less than hoped for.

“Imagine a world where your child’s school was run by a
giant out of state corporation; a world in which your
elected school board was dissolved without a trace.

Last week, thousands of real life charter school leaders cheered
just such a plan. Billionaire charter leader and Netflix CEO
Reed Hastings outlined his plan to end democracy in education.
It’s a plan that would transfer the one and only compulsory
American institution into the exclusive hands of the 1%.”