Rocketship: Business Product or Educational Enterprise?

lafer“DC is being used as an experimental model for something that is failing elsewhere,” says Gordon Lafer, associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, of Rocketship Schools (RSED). Lafer told the Education Town Hall, “Obviously, Rocketship is in some degree in trouble. It’s unclear what’s going on there. But it’s obviously not what they try to say, a proven model ready for expansion.”

Gordon Lafer, University of Oregon

Professor Lafer, author of the Economic Policy Institute‘s report on Rocketship Schools, “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education…?,” says “things going on at Rocketship are even more troubling than what I wrote about in that report”:

I say that because, since that report came out, I’ve been contacted by current and former teachers who are scared of saying anything on the record…and they told some very disturbing stories….they were idealistic college students, and then felt they weren’t doing right by the kids they were supposed to serve. They are scared of getting black-listed by Rocketship, but they’ve told me things that are quite disturbing.


Branding or What’s Good for Kids?

While RSED’s CEO/President Preston Smith called Lafer’s report “reckless and poorly researched,” Lafer says that he shared his findings with RSED officials before publication and asked for any inaccuracies. They reported none. They have since offered nothing more specific than “multiple inaccurate findings.”

More recently, RSED hired Spitfire Strategies to help with “branding and communication” for the charter school chain. Their presentation highlighted Lafer as a key Rocketship “opponent.” (Spitfire Presentation to Rocketship, see RSED website for more.) Lafer told the Education Town Hall:

Hiring a marketing company, that’s not what a school be. A school should be where no teacher teaches in fear, where parents can know everything that goes on there. And if it’s good for kids, it’s good for kids. That’s all that matters. But it shouldn’t be a marketing strategy that tries to cover up things.

Rocketship’s Vision and [Lack of] Enrichment

Plans for Rocketship DC
Plans for Rocketship DC

Lafer points out that Rocketship touts technology but that its model has children as “passive users, not learning anything about mastering technology.” In addition, he says, “rich people want music and art and experienced teachers and small class sizes…that is a standard that we should want for all kids.”

Thomas Byrd noted that Rocketship DC proudly highlights the “glass entry-way” of its proposed school facility without mentioning a library. Asked if that was usual for the charter chain, Lafer responded:

Rocketship has no libraries and no librarians. And when I interviewed them, they said they “oh, we don’t think we’re miss anything by that.”

…studies show that libraries are correlated with higher reading scores. But look at where there are experienced librarians — they do things like helping find books that kids actually like, so that reading is not just a chore. They help kids become critical learners, [show them different authors, giving] different ways to think about the same things.

For more on Rocketship, listen to track 4 here —


  1. I happened to see a segment about a Rocketship charter school in California on a PBS program. I was horrified–a large room with the entire perimeter filled with computer cubicles, each with a restless 6 year old inside. There were a few under-qualified “adults” in the room to monitor things. The children were there several hours every day. If this is the innovative future of public education, we are doomed. Children need to interact with each other and with human, caring, experienced, and knowledgeable teachers. The other heartbreaking thing about this school was that most of the children were Hispanic. Their parents believed that their children were privileged to have this type of “advanced” education. In my view, it just sets the children up for low-wage, mindless jobs in computer cubicles pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping. No informed parent would want this for their children.


  2. It is an out-and-out scam. No wealthy businessman, lawyer, politician or doctor would ever want that sort of education for their own kids. Why is it foisted onto our poorest kids, in the guise of removing them from the tentacles of evil, experienced, licensed and trained teachers? Well, I know the answer: because the poor kids don’t have parents who are lawyers or politicians or write letters to the editor or write blogs.

    And — by the time the general public has figured out what a scam all this RocketShiT nonsense actually is, the wiliest of the profiteers will have figured out how to move on to a new scam, while leaving behind a few slow fraudsters holding the bag.


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