What computers do best, what teachers do best

“There are things that the computer does best and things that teachers do best,” says John Danner, co-founder of Rocketship Education, in a conversation with Liz Willen on the Hechinger Report. Rocketship uses a “hybrid” model:  Students spend part of the day in small classes taught by well-paid teachers and the rest working at their own pace in a computer lab supervised by an aide. The San Jose elementary schools, which primarily serve low-income, immigrant students, are among the top-scoring high-poverty schools in the state. They even do well compared to schools with middle-class students.

There are things that the computer does best and things that teachers do best. We think that computers do basic skills best. Traditionally, people have maligned computers in the education space for ‘drill and kill,’ but computers help kids practice things and help kids who don’t understand what they are practicing figure it out and go back to the original lesson. Computers can adapt on the fly to an individual child’s mistakes or successes, and that would be impossible for a teacher in a class of 25-30 kids.

What are some of the things that teachers do best?

We think it is social and emotional learning, and helping kids to think critically, along with project-based learning and integrating skills. Very few teachers became teachers to teach basic skills. They became teachers because they like to work with kids and help them learn values—and take what they know and apply it to problems, and help kids understand and cement concepts. There is a big difference between that and what you will see in low-income schools, where teachers have to spend all their time on basic skills. We can do both.

Rocketship hopes to open 20 charter schools in Silicon Valley by 2017 through partnerships with up to 11 school districts. Danner’s ultimate goal is to expand the Rocketship model to 50 U.S. cities, he tells Willen.

Charter does more with same dollars

A San Jose charter elementary school with low-income students and very high test scores has won an award for financial  efficiency, reports John Fensterwald on Educated Guess.

Rocketship Education saves $500,000 per school per year by using online instruction to supplement classroom teaching.  The savings enables the network to pay for two hours a day of after-school tutoring for low achievers, a year-long internship for new principals, an academic dean to work with teachers and develop curriculum, higher teacher pay (for longer hours) and building new campuses — without relying on private donations.

Under the hybrid model, all 450 students in each school cycle through a block of math/science and two blocks of literacy/social studies in a traditional classroom setting with teachers who specialize in their fields. They also attend one block of learning lab, where they supplement math and reading classes with online work. Because the computer lab is not counted as instructional minutes, it can be run by a non-certified instructor. With three certified teachers teaching four classes, the school requires one fewer teacher per grade and five per school, along with five fewer classrooms.

Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, which primarily serves low-income Hispanic students who speak English as their second language, has an Academic Performance Index score of 926, which is high even for schools in affluent areas. A second Rocketship school opened this fall and more are planned.

John Danner, an Internet advertising software entrepreneur and a former elementary teacher, started Rocketship. He’s determined to run his schools on the same funding available to district-run public schools.

Here’s an Education Next short on Rocketship Mateo Sheedy.