On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope



ON THE ROCKETSHIP examines the rise and expansion ofleading charter school network Rocketship, revealing the“secret sauce” that makes a successful program. Astrong narrative with a timely message, the book explores howRocketship started and the difficulties encountered as it expands.Designing schools for children who have been failed by traditionalschools is extremely challenging work. Setbacks are inevitable. Asthe story progresses, the narrative shifts to the...

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On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools Are Pushing the Envelope

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ON THE ROCKETSHIP examines the rise and expansion ofleading charter school network Rocketship, revealing the“secret sauce” that makes a successful program. Astrong narrative with a timely message, the book explores howRocketship started and the difficulties encountered as it expands.Designing schools for children who have been failed by traditionalschools is extremely challenging work. Setbacks are inevitable. Asthe story progresses, the narrative shifts to the national picture,exploring how high performing charter schools are changing theeducation landscape in cities such as Denver, Memphis, and Houston.The book emerges just as charter schools are running into stiffpolitical opposition in New York City and elsewhere. Even in SanJose, California, Rocketship’s home base, the pushbackagainst charter schools is gaining speed.

On the Rocketship becomes a valuable resource forexplaining what’s at stake in this battle. Lose theseschools, in New York, San Jose and other cities, and low-income andminority students lose their best shot at a quality education.

Written by a veteran journalist who followed Rocketship througha school year, the book explores some of the factors that makeRocketship and other charters successful, including the blendedlearning that was pioneered at charter schools.

Many schools around the country look to Rocketship as a modelfor implementing blended learning. Blended learning, itself acontroversial topic, ultimately offers students a more active rolein guiding their own education. At these schools, blended learningis leading to richer learning. The interplay between charterschools and blended learning is setting a change in motion, and theAmerican education system is ready to evolve. On theRocketship details this phenomenon, providing insights foreducators across the nation.

On the Rocketship is written for school administrators,classroom teachers, parents, and anyone interested in transformingour schools into places where students discover their truepotential.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781118607640
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 6/9/2014
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 963,374
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

RICHARD WHITMIRE, a veteran newspaper reporter and formereditorial writer at USA Today, is author of The Bee Eater:Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation’s Worst SchoolDistrict. He is also author of Why Boys Fail: Saving OurSons from an Education System That’s Leaving ThemBehind.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1: The Players

Rocketship Finally Launches outside California 7

John Danner 9

Preston Smith 15

Danner’s Big Pivot 19

Part II: The Startup Years

A Charter Fund Designed to Nurture Top CMOs 25

Did the Butterfly Effect Give Wings to Rocketship? 27

Hurricane Katrina 29

Startup Meets Smokestack 31

Sci-Fi-Inspired Software 41

Joel Klein Does the Unexpected 43

Recruiting the Key (Outside) Players 45

The Hard Sell: Pitching the First Rocketship 53

Opening Mateo Sheedy: Tough Times 61

New Schools Launches Charter Accelerator Fund II 65

How to Build a Fibonacci School 67

Part III: The Growth Years

The Ideal Personnel Department? Not within Rocketship 73

Alum Rock Rejects Rocketship Is That a Bad Thing? 79

Rocketship Finds a Friend 81

Charter School Growth Fund Puts Rocketship on the Map 85

Slivka’s Sci-Fi Software Gets Shipped: DreamBox 87

Rocketship Wins Five More Charters 91

Finding Karen Martinez It’s an Art 93

Achievement Gaps in Fabulous Silicon Valley? 99

District-Charters Compact Launched 101

Danner (and Reed Hastings) Discover DreamBox 103

Yet Another Boring Education Book? Not Exactly? 105

States Repeal Charter Restrictions (Okay, a Bribe Was Involved)107

Fresh Charter Strategy from the Department of Education 109

Growing the High-Performing (and Blended) Charters 111

Double Setbacks Rocketship Changes Course 113

A Corporate Jet Packed with Movers and Shakers TouchesDown 117

Leaders of Top Charters Tapped as State Commissioners 123

Top Charters to Get Stiff Test 125

Blended Learning Rocketship Style: This StuffWorks! 127

KIPP Opens Its One-Hundredth School 129

A Discovery That Would Lead to Big Changes (and Bigger Drama)131

Rocketship Bids Big: Give Us Twenty More Charters in Santa ClaraCounty 133

Setting Up Rocketship to Fail? 137

Rocketship Doubles Down on a Reinvention 141

One Million Rocketship Students by 2030? Not Happening 147

Rocketship and Unions: It’s Complicated; A RocketshipTeacher Sits down with a Union Leader—Her Mother 149

Early Fallout from Model Change 157

The Pushback Gets Real: The Fight over Tamien 159

Part IV: The Push to Expand outside San Jose

Welcome to South Milwaukee 171

A Power Play Backfires 173

School Starts in Seven Months—but Only Three Sign-ups!177

Danner Steps Down; Smith Steps Up 181

Milwaukee Gets a Shakeup 183

Stretching to Lure Top Charters: The San AntonioStory 187

Smith’s Worst Monday Ever 193

Exactly What Kind of a Difference Can a Fibonacci SchoolMake? 199

Milwaukee Looking Up (a Bit) 201

Two Charters Make the Top Five List 205

If Rocketship Is the Digital Future Why Do Its Schools Look SoOrdinary? 207

Fibonacci Developments in Massachusetts 211

More Progress in Milwaukee 213

A Day in the Life: Rocketship’s Flagship School, MateoSheedy 215

Fresh Turbulence in Milwaukee 225

Surprise Shift on TFA 233

Milwaukee Parents Name Their School: Southside Prep 237

Rumor Just In: Rocketship Falls through the Ice 241

A Fibonacci Charter Group Is Honored 243

Build, Measure, Learn, Rinse, Repeat 245

One Month before Southside Prep Opens 251

How Many Sharon Kims Are out There? 253

Eva Makes Life Hard for Her Many Critics 263

Opening Week at Southside Prep 265

California Test Scores Released 267

Part V: The Future for Rocketship and Other HighPerformers

Answering the Fibonacci Question: Will Rocketship Make ItBig? 271

Fibonacci Charters Summoned to Memphis 279

Houston’s Spring Branch Schools: The Future? 287

Where’s the Tipping Point? 293

The Tennessee Launch 299

Conclusion 301

Acknowledgments 311

About the Author 313

Epilogue 315

Index 319

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