By Thomas Toch
Summary by PEN Weekly Newsblast
"Despite tough zip codes and challenging students, Rocketship charter schools in San Jose have turned in strong results, writes Thomas Toch in The Atlantic Monthly. The network's schools outperform nearly all their impoverished California peers on standardized tests, and many of the state's more privileged school districts as well, using "blended learning," a combination of traditional teaching and computer-based instruction. This has led many reformers to herald Rocketship as the technology-driven future of education. But Toch says he took away a different conviction from his visit to Rocketship's Discovery Prep Elementary School: The school's success shows that younger and more disadvantaged students need adults supporting them in different ways, day in and day out. In the 640-student school, personal connections between adults and students are paramount. The school organizes meetings on curriculum, instructional strategies, and student behavior to enlist parents as educational partners. They ask parents to spend 30 hours a year in their children's schools, and most do. Students have the sense that there are always adults ready to help, that their parents care about them, and that education is important. Even Rocketship's much-touted computer-based educational platform promotes stronger, rather than weaker, ties between teachers and students. Computers at Discovery Prep supplement rather than supplant traditional teaching. The school then pours instructional funds saved into higher salaries, classroom-coaching, and other teacher-centric program improvements."