Has Rocketship Education Launched the Next-Generation of Learning Models for America's Ailing Public Schools?

While many parents and even teachers complain about what is wrong with public education in America, one former teacher and principal decided to be the change that he thought was needed to improve the system. In 2007, Preston Smith co-founded a network of K-5 public charter schools that is called Rocketship Education. To date, Rocketship schools have been established in California, Tennessee, Washington D.C. and Wisconsin communities. The schools focus on serving the needs of low-income families.

Rocketship Education schools employ personalized learning models that are designed to empower teachers, engage parents and inspire students to reach their full potential. Parents who are fans of the program say that Rocketship Education is like putting their kids in a high-quality, private school that is free. While the founders of the non-profit, public charter schools are naturally happy to receive positive feedback from parents, they really had broader reasons for starting the unique program. According to Smith, the underlying goal of Rocketship Education is to strengthen the public school system and not to separate from it. For that reason, the group of charter schools was recently renamed Rocketship Public Schools.

Armed with working knowledge of the current public school system, the founders of Rocketship identified several glaring issues, created possible solutions and implemented their ideas in the microcosmic education systems of their charter schools. The main issues that were addressed during Rocketship's 10 years of operations include:

- Relationships among school staff and families
- Igniting the influence of parents
- Exploring the hidden benefits of diversity
- Highlighting the need for strong community partnerships
- Recruiting the right educators for their unique schools

Strengthening Relationships Among Schools and Families

Parent and teacher conferences are standard meetings in nearly every public and private school. It usually involves one or both parents of a student to show up at the school and meet with the child's homeroom teacher for about an hour to discuss the child’s academic and social strengths and weaknesses. At Rocketship Public Schools, teachers meet once a year at students' homes to speak to parents in the setting where the school children spend the most time. This allows teachers to get a clearer picture of a child's identity that includes their family background, culture and physical surroundings. Understanding the context in which their students are being raised helps teachers to create personalized learning experiences that allow each child to shine. The home visits also facilitate an atmosphere of trust with parents as the teacher makes the effort to see life through the lenses of their individual family. The concept looks innovative by today's public school standards. However, it was just over a century ago that young schoolmarms regularly met at students’ homes for dinner or more abbreviated visits. Arguably, it was a good idea then, and Rocketship has proven that it's still a good idea now.

Giving Parents a Voice
Rocketship members believe that parents are sleeping giants when it comes to advocacy for positive changes within the public school system. Parents have a vested interest in the success of public education because of their children, and they are tax-payers. Subsequently, Rocketship seeks to engage parents throughout the year and arm them with information that they need to make specific demands for higher-quality education. For instance, Rocketship has an open-door policy that allows parents to drop into a child's classroom at any time of the day to observe class activities. This kind of transparency helps to forge stronger bonds between the school and the parents, and it gives the parents knowledge about various learning models and the success of various techniques. Rocketship schools only serve students up to the 5th grade, but parents can voice preferences for the Rocketship methods at their children’s middle and high schools later.

Making the Most of Diversity
Diversity is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in schools, public organizations and private companies. In education, it has traditionally symbolized schools that include students of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. While these students certainly offer valuable perspectives and cultural experiences to their classmates, their contributions are not the only benefits of a diverse classroom. Diversity within the teacher and school administrative ranks enrich the educational experiences of students because these individuals guide classroom discussions, generate lesson plans, create curricula and formulate budgetary spend plans. Rocketship schools also recognize the value and contributions of all children, and special-needs kids learn alongside the rest of their peers. This seems to create a more equitable learning environment, and it prepares the children for real-life situations when they will be required to work with all types of people including those who have disabilities.

Stoking Stakeholder Involvement for Stronger Education Systems
The Rocketship Public Schools model of public education is relatively progressive, and the initiatives that were implemented within this network of public charter schools took careful planning, organization and support from education-related agencies. Rocketship kept their methods transparent to education officials at the local, state and federal levels. The schools continually evaluate their learning models for effectiveness and make slight tweaks to improve operations. The schools' measurable successes give education advocates the confidence to back ground-breaking Rocketship educational models.

Making Better Teacher/School Matches
The founders of Rocketship Public Schools realized early that to create truly effective, dynamic learning environments they had to recruit a very special type of teacher. The school is known for its heavy integration of technology into students' daily work activities. This creates a blended learning environment that includes teacher-led instruction as well as computer-based education that adapts automatically as students demonstrate progress. Rocketship has also notably piloted flexible classroom models that allow students to rotate through small group discussions, large group instruction and independent work activities that are led by multiple teachers who have different specialty areas. Since these activities happen within the same physical classroom, the scene can become chaotic quickly without teachers who are organized and committed to improving the schools' educational offerings. Teachers who don't fear change and like to extend their skills beyond the standard teaching methods that yield predictable yet mediocre results are probably in high demand at Rocketship Public Schools.


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