I posted a couple of times about John Merrow’s PBS profile of the Rocketship charter chain, but I think there is more to be said on the subject.
The chain now has seven charters in San Jose, California, and it will soon expand into many more urban “markets.” When it enters a new territory, it expects a commitment for at least five charters. It aims to enroll one million children eventually. It is presently planning new schools in Nashville, San Antonio, Milwaukee, and other cities.
Merrow’s show was well done and nicely framed. He begins with old documentary footage of Henry Ford’s assembly line and asks why we as a nation have not even able to “mass produce” high quality schools. He then shifts to Rocketship, where we see children, teachers, and parents chanting in what appears to be a daily ritual. I think they were chanting some sort of self-esteem boosting words or slogans, like “I am a Rocketship,” but I’m not certain of that.
Then we learn the following:
About 75% of the teachers are Teach for America, so we don’t expect to see many experienced teachers.
Students spend two hours a day in front of a computer, which assesses their skill levels and offers them problems adjusted to their ability.
The school has fewer teachers because of its computer time, which saves about $500,000 a year.
The founder of Rocketship is unalterably opposed to unions, because he says they would limit his flexibility.
The teachers are paid more than public school teachers, and some are paid a good deal more, though it was not explained what determined compensation.
The schools have high test scores, even though their students are low-income.
The schools offer neither art or music. They seem to be focused solely on tested subjects.
There was some talk of changing the computer labs next year, though it was not clear how.
Some of the students, especially the younger ones, appeared to be bored at the computer.
These are schools for poor children. Not many advantaged parents would want their children in this bare-bones Model-T school. It appears that these children are being trained to work on an assembly line. There is no suggestion that they are challenged to think or question or wonder or create.
Bit their test scores are high.