Rocketship Background: Facts for DC and Beyond

Rocketship, a growing national chain of charter schools, hopes to open eight schools in Washington, DC, serving up to 5200 students. The Public Charter School Board granted conditional charter in March 2013 for two schools with “an initial total enrollment ceiling of 1300, with the first campus scheduled to open in 2015.”

Only when the first two schools achieve “Tier 1” status, will a third be permitted to open, according to Scott Pearson, director of DC’s Public Charter School Board. “If the schools don’t perform, there will be no more than two.” (no more than two!)

Pearson spoke on the Education Town Hall, May 22, 2014. He described new charters granted and touched on other topics in addition to Rocketship. Listen the to full conversation, as aired on We Act Radio, on Track 4, beginning at 30:56.

Layers of Fact on Rocketship

Pearson said the DC PCSB’s decision to grant Rocketship a charter was based on the strength of their education model and their students’ high scores on the state test [API] in California, where the model is currently in operation.

Asked about reports that scores have dropped as the chain expands, Pearson replied that he was not aware of that specific information, adding:

I am aware that there has been a well-organized campaign that has been driven by the teachers’ union in California to put out a lot of misinformation.
… I’m not saying that your information is this misinformation.

For the record, Education Town Hall information is PROVIDED DIRECTLY FROM CALIFORNIA’s data site and from RSED (Rocketship Education), not from any “campaign.” Below are two levels of fact regarding Rocketship scores: the level Rocketship and PCSB regularly share with the public and another level, widely available just underneath. (Please be sure to add the bucket of salt required when considering any single set of results as a “measure of success.”)

Mr. Pearson and all concerned for education in DC & beyond: Please note: Visit California’s data site for more information or to verify what is supplied here. Please look beyond what Rocketship tells parents and potential student families: peruse, for example, the material provided by RSED [Rocketship Education] for its own board and financial committee before proceeding further with Rocketship.

Concerns Widely Noted

The Alum Rock (CA) School District recently denied Rocketship a charter. Their Staff Report, adopted as findings of fact by the school board, does not identify its authors. The District staff, however, does not appear particularly skewed to any teachers’ union campaign. The report seems quite thorough. Among concerns noted is the drop in scores as Rocketship expands.

Board Pres Andres Quintero, is quoted in the local Mercury News:

“If you’re a struggling model that’s having issues, why would we go ahead and say let’s go with these folks?” he asked. He also said he’s worried that the San Jose-based charter organization may be losing its quality control as it expands.

Education Week, a nationally respected publication not noted for any particularly teacher-union-driven slant, investigated Rocketship and shared its findings in January 2014: Growing Pains for Rocketship’s Blended-Learning Juggernaut. Among serious concerns, in addition to dropping scores, the article notes notes discrepancies in RSED reports of student-teacher ratios.

The Nashville Ledger reports: “Rocketship Alters Course as Scores Drop.”

“Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education…?” was published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in April 2014. It raises concerns about a range of issues, including class size, preparation of teachers, and narrow focus of learning.

NOTE: EPI does work on labor and other issues of importance to low-income workers, as well as on education. Gordon Lafer, assistant professor at the University of Oregon and a political consultant, specializes in Labor Education. This background qualifies as supportive of teachers and of unions. It it does not qualify as teacher-union-driven misinformation.

A Milwaukee paper reports that the City Council there is considering a second Rocketship school, based on the “success” of the first. The first just opened this academic year and has not met its initial enrollment projections. See also “Fact 3?” below.

Profitability and Education

Rocketship hopes to open eight schools in Milwaukee and eight in DC. These large-scale openings are essential to its own financial goals if not to the student educational experience. The financial success of the founder’s model requires rapid expansion, as explained in this 2012 Business Committee report. (See also “Will DC Help Make Rocketship More Profitable?”)

Community-Integrated-Education1There are many individuals and organizations worried about this aspect of Rocketship’s model. One community partnership opposes the technology- and privatization-driven model of Rocketship schools. They also object to Rocketship’s aggressive, paid marketing strategy. In addition, they believe holistic education — like what they say is offered in their neighborhood school — is at risk from Rocketship and similar models.

It is quite instructive to compare RSED’s “Get the Facts” website with the StopRocketship’s Mythbuster’s page.

Two Levels of Rocketship Fact

Fact 1A: Rocketship scores relatively well in California.
Rocketship lists its 2012-13 scores as 822, overall. This is, in fact, relatively high for California. In addition, Rocketship low-income student scores and English Learners’ scores were relatively high, compared with others in those categories statewide. (So, Pearson’s data is not entirely faulty.)

Fact 1B: Rocketship scores are declining as RSED expands.
Rocketship scores in most of its schools are dropping. Here are the drops over the last year, with one school remaining unchanged and two providing no comparison information. DIRECTLY FROM CALIFORNIA’s data site:

  • Rocketship Academy Brilliant Minds is too small and too new for comparison. RSED_Brilliant_API
  • Rocketship Alma Academy did not have baseline for comparison.
  • Rocketship Los Suenos Academy scores remained the same over the past year. RSED_Suenos_API
  • Rocketship Discovery Prep scores dropped 14 points, from 805 to 791. RSED_Discovery_API
  • Rocketship Mateo Sheedy scores dropped 73 points, from 924 to 851. RSED_Sheedy_API
  • Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy scores dropped 22 points, from 859 to 837. RSED_Puede_API
  • Rocketship Mosaic Elementary scores dropped 34 points, from 872 to 838. RSED_Mosaic_API

Beyond these one-year glances, Si Se Puede Academy scores have declined 50 points (6%) in four years, and Los Suenos lost 6% since 2010-11.

Fact 2A: Math scores are relatively high for California.
On its website, Rocketship claims: “In addition to overall API scores, 77 percent of Rocketeers scored Proficient or Advanced in math on the 2013 CST, compared to 86 percent proficiency scored by the most affluent school districts in California.”

Fact 2B: Rocketship’s English Language record is not so strong.
See attached Adequate Yearly Progress report DIRECTLY FROM CALIFORNIA’s data site, indicating that no Rocketship school has met targets for English Language Proficiency. In addition, RSED recently told its own board that “most year-to-date growth is coming from the Proficient/Advanced group,” while struggling students were not showing gains. (See page 10 of this January 2014 presentation.)

Fact 3?: With no track record in Wisconsin, Rocketship relies on California data to project its success in Milwaukee:

…nationally Rocketship schools see 1.5 years of academic growth in a single school year, while in Milwaukee students average 1.75 years of growth.

No source is cited for this claim; seeking confirmation or clarification.

Look for a representative of Rocketship to join the Education Town Hall soon. Listen Thursdays at 11 a.m. Eastern on We Act Radio, via TuneIn.



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