Rocketship CEO Preston Smith drops his kids Zeke, 7, and Phoenix, 5, off at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep. Photo: Preston Gannaway/NPR
Students — mostly from low-income, Hispanic families — do well in reading and math at 13 Rocketship charter schools in the San Jose area, Nashville and Milwaukee, concedes Anya Kamenetz in NPR. But At What Cost? the headline asks.
Then comes the complaints by current and former staffers about pressures to improve test scores, large computer labs supervised by one or two adults, a policy of not letting kids go to the bathroom less than 20 minutes after lunch or recess, and no-talking periods known as Zone Zero.
Teachers receive large bonuses for improving students’ scores on internal test given three times a year. That creates an incentive to ask for retests if a student isn’t at his or her best, said former staffers.
Some criticisms reflected Rocketship’s old model, which has changed in the last few years.
I visited Rocketship Brilliant Minds in San Jose last year and it didn’t resemble Kamenetz’s picture of a tech-heavy, test-prep factor.
It turns out she never visited a Rocketship school. An NPR colleague visited Rocketship Fuerza in San Jose, which happens to be where the co-founder and CEO, Preston Smith, sends his kids.
In Smith’s response, he stresses that Rocketship’s “impressive results” are on state tests, for which there are no retests without state approval. “On the most recent state assessment in California, we had 6 students retake a single test out of 4,565 tests administered.”
The charter network cracked down on retakes on its internal tests two years ago, dropping the retake rate to less than one tenth of one percent, according to Smith.
If our teachers were indeed gaming the system, once our kids move on to middle school (we only have elementary schools), their scores would logically plummet.
But in an independent study from SRI International, our alumni in middle school significantly outperform their peers. The gap-closing gains our graduates make in elementary school persist in middle school.
Rocketship does not have any network policies on bathroom breaks, he writes. It’s elementary school. Accidents happen.
The story questions Zone Zero, but ignores the daily Launch, when “the entire school gathers to recite our core values, dance, sing, and get motivated for the day ahead,” he writes.
One staffer was quoted criticizing Zone Zero. Farah Dilber told Smith her comment had been taken out of context:
“I told NPR that expecting students to be quiet at discrete parts of the school day is standard practice. Surely no one would find fault with students being asked to be quiet during independent reading. Further, these quiet parts of the day are balanced by daily singing and dancing at morning Launch, enrichment, and recess where kids can just be kids. In particular, I find it frustrating that Anya omitted this point about the balance between more structured and more exuberant parts of the day.”
Rocketship students spend 80 minutes a day using five or more different adaptive online learning programs, writes Smith. The story also implied all that time is devoted to DreamBox, which is supposed to be used for “30-45 minutes per week.”
Ninety-one percent of Rocketship families return the following year, according to Smith. On a survey, 72 percent of parents said they’d recommended Rocketship to another parent.
Those who feel the school is too focused on improving reading and math performance or doesn’t have enough teachers staffing the computer labs can choose another school.