Brett Bymaster, a community activist in San Jose, California, here describes the chain’s current plans to increase the number of its charter schools. Rocketship withdrew its applications for 8 schools each in Dallas and San Antonio. But it is moving forward in Nashville and D.C.
Recently released board material from Rocketship Education indicates that the charter school corporation intends to grow significantly, tripling in size over the next 5 years. Rocketship is known for its high stakes test prep K-5 schools that minimize arts and extracurriculars, packing 650 kids on a 1.25 acre campus, running 41:1 student to teacher ratios, and elementary aged children receiving > 90 minutes of computer time in massive labs staffed by uncredentialed aids. Local and national pushback earlier this year led to Rocketship delaying school openings and committing to less aggressive growth. But board documents released last month indicate that Rocketship is ramping up growth plans again, hoping to triple in size nationwide by 2019. In the next 5 years, Rocketship hopes to double San Francisco Bay Area schools, opening 5,000 new seats, while opening 4,000 new seats in Tennessee, and around 3,500 new seats in Washington DC.
Rocketship recently announced plans for school takeovers in Tennesse through the statewide Achievement School District, with takeovers slated for August 2015. Rocketship’s executives worried that the Nashville and Memphis “community may be resistant and potentially obstructive” to school takeovers, and then stated that they intended to “aggressively build relationships and identify parent ambassadors” to mitigate the obstructive community in Tennessee. Labeling the low income minority communities that Rocketship targets as “obstructive” seems worrisome, even more so when one considers that Rockteship intends to take over the community’s local public school and replace it with a high stakes corporate charter school that is run from distant offices in Silicon Valley’s ultra-wealthy Redwood City. Rocketship’s aggressive stance in minority communities in San Jose has led, sadly, to division and rancor in communities that should be working together.
Rocketship’s newest school in Washington D.C. provides a good example of what to expect. Rocketship let Andre Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund corporation pick the site of the proposed D.C. school in the Anacostia community. Agassi chose a site adjacent to a halfway house. Rocketship’s V.P. of growth, Katy Venskus (who was convicted for felony embezzlement in 2002 working for a different non-profit) said that Rocketship did not participate in the process of selecting a school site, abdicating their responsibility to Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund. Rocketship attempted to hire a local D.C. outreach coordinator, who quit shortly after taking the job. Rocketship was unable to replace him and seems to have lost track of the project. Rocketship’s CEO Preston Smith recently told the Washington D.C. school board, “We’re really proud of our community outreach and partnership that we’ve done in other communities and it’s very clear that in D.C. we’ve still got some work to do” and then told Rocketship’s board that “during the process of approving this charter however, it became more apparent that we could do a stronger job in engaging the Washington D.C. community, especially the Anacostia neighborhood.” Agassi also just acquired another site for Rocketship in Tennessee. I have to ask the question, is Rocketship leading Agassi, or are the for-profit hedge fund managers really in charge?
The Progressive Magazine just did a special issue on Rocketsihp, with a satire video called “Profitship Learning” by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore
For more information on Rocketship’s growth plans, see: