Education Week - Sizing Up: Blended Learning - S28
A DAY IN THE FLEXIBLE
Rocketship is rethinking how students
experience the school day. In its new blended
model, students occupy one large classroom,
rotating among differently sized groups of
children for different learning activities.
10:50 -11:30 am
Social Studies, Shared Reading
three teachers in the room give each other
quick nods. One turns on bouncy pop music,
the soundtrack that accompanies "rotations"
in Rocketship's flexible classrooms.
Like that, all 109 children in the room are
on the move.
Within three minutes, four separate
groups of students are settled in new seats,
engaged in four very different lessons.
The seamless rotations now are a far cry
from the chaos of the 2012-13 school year,
said Principal Andrew Elliott-Chandler.
During that year, when Rocketship was
piloting its new, flexible blended learning
model, the changes at Sí Se Puede began
in 2nd grade in November. By December,
the entire school was testing an alternative
version of the model that had flexible
groups of students rotating among
separate classrooms. In April, Rocketship
changed things up again, moving the 2nd,
4th, and 5th grades to the flexible spaces
that remain in place today.
"Kids like to know the rules of the game,"
Mr. Elliott-Chandler said. "When you try
and change midyear, it's very challenging."
On paper, rapid overhauls of the basic
building blocks of school, from classroom
space to student schedules to teachers'
roles, was consistent with Rocketship's techstartup
In practice, it meant teachers had to continually
rethink their strategies for controlling
student chatter, passing out homework,
and nearly everything else-and that even
small classroom adjustments now required
consensus among several colleagues.
Making things more difficult, Rocketship
initially sought to use the new flexible classroom
model to shed professional staff.
In public, the organization has historically
characterized its schools' student-to-teacher
ratio as 27-to-1, but that figure includes tutors,
who are not required to have a college
degree and who make roughly $30,000 per
year. In reality, the network's ratio of students
to credentialed teachers is 37-to-1.
According to board documents and interviews,
Rocketship leaders initially considered
using the new flexible classrooms
to push that figure as high as 50-to-1. They
also believed one assistant principal per
school could be cut under the new model.
The result would have been $200,000 in
annual savings per school, on top of the 15
percent management fee that Rocketship
already charges each of its schools.
Mr. Smith, the CEO, acknowledged that
the organization's initial intent was to use
that money to provide startup funds for new
schools, but said that plan has since been
Gary J. Miron, a professor of education at
Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo,
who studies charter-management organizations,
questioned Rocketship's willingness
to even consider such an approach.
"It is wrong to call these schools 'charter
schools,' " Mr. Miron said. "The appropriate
name should be 'franchise schools' or 'corporate
The rocky pilot of the new flexible classroom
model also led to internal complaints.
The organization lost 29 percent of its
teachers after the 2012-13 school year, badly
missing its internal targets for retention.
Those who stayed remained skeptical, Mr.
Smith told the Rocketship board.
"There is a consensus amongst school
staff that the instructional model will not
S28 | EDUCATION WEEK: SIZING UP BLENDED LEARNING > www.edweek.org/go/blended-learning JANUARY 29, 2014
OBSERVE AND ADAPT: Mateo Sheedy
Assistant Principal Casey Rowe
sits in on a 5th grade math
lesson. "The open space
exacerbates the challenges
of a normal classroom," he said.
help Rocketship achieve its mission," he
wrote in an August 2013 memo.
Test scores plummeted in the first year of
the new model, too.
Mr. Elliott-Chandler, the Sí Se Puede
principal, summed up the problem.
"The story became about change and innovation,
which is different than focusing
on writing instruction," he said.
For critics, there are plenty of reasons to
be skeptical of Rocketship's emphasis on
quickly bringing innovation to scale, both in
California and across the country.
"It might work for developing technology,
but these are children," said Roxana Marachi,
an associate professor of education
at San Jose State University. Ms. Marachi
advocates Rocketship "halting their expansion
plans and putting more resources into
research on what they're already doing."
While that appears unlikely, the organization
has eased off the throttle.
Shortly after becoming CEO in March
2013, Mr. Smith limited Rocketship's use of
flexible classrooms to grades 4 and 5, where
the organization found the most academic
benefit. Kindergarteners remain in selfcontained
classrooms, and grades 1 through
3 continue with the station-rotation model.
In addition, said Mr. Smith, the flexible
classrooms are no longer being looked at to
generate cost savings.
And for now, the new model is also being
limited to the Bay Area: Rocketship Southside
Community Prep, which opened in Milwaukee
in September, is not using flexible
classrooms in its first year, and neither will
INDEPENDENT STUDY: Fifth grader
Daniella Castro works on a
Chromebook in a quiet corner
of the 5th grade flexible
classroom at Mateo Sheedy.
Education Week - Sizing Up: Blended Learning
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - Sizing Up: Blended Learning
Education Week - January 29, 2014
Ruling Raises Internet-Access Concerns
Cheating Case Implicates Phila. Educators
Graduation Disparities Loom Large
Business Groups Defend Common Standards
News in Brief
Common Science Standards Are Slow to Catch On in States
Surge in Charter Schools Stirs Concerns in North Carolina
Blogs of the Week
Turnaround Program Receives Makeover In Budget Deal
Some Waiver States Feeling Common-Core Test Pinch
Needy Students, Tech Disparities at Issue
Blogs of the Week
Advocates Welcome New Federal Aid Aimed at Youngest
Collective-Bargaining Case Takes Spotlight at High Court
ANNA E. BARGAGLIOTTI: Statistics: The New ‘It’ Common-Core Subject
BEN ZIMMER & DANIELLA ROHR: Funding Students, Not Bureaucracies, For Early-Childhood Education
CLARKE L. RUBEL: Talking About a Reformation
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
LYNETTE TANNIS: Twice Punished: Education’s ‘Invisible’ Incarcerated Youths
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