Rocketship Lands in Milwaukee // The Progressive | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

By Barbara Miner
"Like most principals, Brittany Kinser is a cheerleader for her school. “I just want to make sure you’ll be positive,” she says when I visit the Rocketship charter school in Milwaukee. 

Looking younger than her thirty-seven years and with the physique of a long-distance runner, Kinser has a seemingly endless supply of energy and enthusiasm. It’s hard not to like her. Following one of the school’s axioms—Dress for Success—she is wearing a magenta pencil-skirt that nicely sets off her black sweater, tights, and four-inch stiletto heels. Her Dress for Success message is clear: I am competent and I am in charge.

At the same time, Kinser is nervous about my visit. It’s understandable.  For almost a quarter century, I have criticized using public tax dollars to fund private voucher schools and privately run charter schools. Rocketship, an entrepreneurial network of charter schools based in the Silicon Valley, has become a national poster child for the privatization of public education. It is particularly known for its bare-bones curricular focus on standardized test scores in reading and math, its use of computer-based “learning labs” that cut down costs, and its promotion of the Rocketship brand—including a daily pep rally where students chant that they are “Rocketship Rocketeers.”

After visiting Rocketship Southside Community Prep, as Milwaukee’s K4 through fifth-grade school is formally known, I could see why some people might react positively. Students were well behaved. Parents were welcome. The young teachers were energetic.

But as I left the school, I couldn’t help thinking: Can young students dress their way to success? Or chant their way to academic achievement? Are computerized worksheets the answer to reducing the achievement gap?

Rocketship opened its Milwaukee school in 2013, serving overwhelmingly low-income, Latino students on the city’s South side. The local chamber of commerce raised $2.5 million in private contributions to help fund Rocketship’s expansion to eight schools in Milwaukee by 2017.

Just inside the main entrance, there are banners from various universities hanging from the ceiling—part of the school’s message that students should be thinking about college. At the students’ eye level are Dress for Success posters featuring young children wearing the school uniform of khaki pants and a blue polo shirt with the Rocketship logo.


I’m not opposed to uniforms. I wore them throughout high school and appreciated that I didn’t have to figure out every morning what to wear. But the nuns never told us that our uniforms were the key to success. The policy was based more on a Catholic school philosophy that worried about the sin of pride and that discouraged too much attention to individual appearances.


At Rocketship, I couldn’t quite figure out the laser-like focus on Dress for Success. They don’t take it lightly. The school handbook notes that students who do not wear their uniform “may lose recess, lunch or other privileges.”...


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For recent news related to the illegal forced parent work policies that are central to Rocketship's parent engagement model (revealed by the Public Advocates report) please visit:


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