Education Week - Sizing Up: Blended Learning - S29
THE TENSION BETWEEN
SCALE AND QUALITY
As the Rocketship charter
network has added schools and
students, the percentage of its
students scoring proficient on
California state tests has steadily
declined. The organization still
aims to grow aggressively, with
plans to add as many as 51
schools over the next five years.
TOTAL NUMBER OF SCHOOLS
SOURCE: Rocketship Education
Current school sites
Planned school sites
the new school set to open in Nashville next fall.
In his August 2013 memo to the Rocketship
board, Mr. Smith wrote that the rapid change
last school year "turned up pressure on schools
while reducing focus and support on academic
results" and that "underlying gaps in our academic
systems and teacher preparation became
In an interview, he said the organization has
committed to going slower with its new model.
"We stepped back and said, 'OK, we think
there's something here worth pursuing,' and
now we're doing it in a much more limited and
focused manner," he said.
But Rocketship still faces pressure of several
In Milwaukee, for example, the organization
missed its student-enrollment targets this year
by a significant margin, leaving a roughly $1
million hole in its new school's budget.
Meanwhile, blended learning enthusiasts,
undeterred by such troubles, remain eager for
Rocketship to remain aggressive.
"The advance guard in the field has to be willing
to take something of a risk, because there's
a lack of evidence that the traditional school
model has brought all of our students where
they need to be," said Mr. Calkins of Next Generation
The greatest pressure, though, comes from
within: Rocketship officials maintain a steadfast
conviction in the power of the educational
model they are developing.
Sitting in the flexible 4th grade classroom
at Sí Se Puede Academy, Mr. Elliott-Chandler
watches a teacher take six students through a
lesson on finding synonyms in a text. It's highlevel
reading instruction the children likely
wouldn't have received as the lone advanced
student in a typical classroom of 30, sitting
alongside many children still learning how to
sound out words.
Those struggling students will now get tailored
lessons, too; Rocketship's flexible classrooms
allow for daily work with small groups
of students at eight different skill levels.
Despite the painful changes of the past year,
Mr. Elliott-Chandler is optimistic about the future
and says he couldn't imagine a return to
the traditional public school where he started
"It's now 10 years since I started working
there, and they're still struggling," he said, the
old Rocketship swagger resurfacing.
"That's what incremental change will get
you: incremental growth." n
SOURCE: At the request of Education Week, the California Department of Education calculated the total percentage of all tested students in Rocketship schools who scored proficient
or above on California Standards Tests in each of the past five school years. Only those students who met all CDE criteria for inclusion in state accountability reports were included.
Rising Enrollment, Declining Test Scores
"Flexible" Classrooms: Blended Learning 2.0?
By Benjamin Herold
Look beyond the astonishingly high class
sizes and troubled rollout, say Rocketship
Education officials, and you'll see that "flexible
classrooms" are a blended learning
upgrade featuring more differentiated instruction,
increased teacher collaboration,
and better-integrated technology.
Here's how the charter operator's new instructional
model looked in action at Rocketship
Mateo Sheedy Elementary in San
Jose, Calif. on a recent chilly morning:
On one side of the large, rectangular 4th
grade classroom, teacher Juan Mateos leads
a lesson on identifying figurative language.
He projects a poem about California earthquakes
on to a screen: "Palm trees begin to
sway all by themselves / Here, the earth
likes to dance, cha-cha-cha."
Twenty-two students-grouped together
based on their similar academic abilities,
which put them in the middle of the classroom
pack-are gathered on a carpet,
reading along. At Mr. Mateos' instruction,
they turn to classmates and debate
whether the poem is a metaphor or an example
Twenty yards away, teacher Jason Colon
works with 22 of the school's most-advanced
4th graders, also grouped according to ability.
The children sit in pairs, facing each other
across their desks, binders upright between
them. To keep this ambitious lot engaged in
his math lesson about graphing coordinates,
Mr. Colon has the children create their own
x- and y-axes, plot "battleships," and attempt
to sink each other's fleets-a creative twist
on the classic board game.
And in the middle of the room, Mateo
Sheedy's lowest-performing 4th grade
students are split among several learning
stations. Twenty-five children sit in front
of laptops, while 17 others work independently
at small tables.
Michael Yeung, a 25-year-old "individualized
learning specialist," who makes
roughly $15 an hour, attempts to oversee
it all-while also working from a scripted
curriculum to help four students learn letter
Under Rocketship's old "station rotation"
blended learning model, still used in early
grades, class sizes are more traditional,
and students of mixed abilities rotate from
regular classrooms to stand-alone "learning
labs," where they receive computer-assisted
instruction. Rocketship officials say that
under that model, it's difficult to address
the needs of top- and bottom-performing
students-a challenge many schools face.
With the new flexible classrooms, the
goal is to do a better job of providing personalized
instruction to students at all
levels. As a result, teachers' duties have
Mr. Mateos is now a specialist, focused on
teaching each reading and language arts
lesson in three different ways.
He's also become a salesman, helping persuade
worried parents to embrace the idea
COLLABORATION: Rocketship Mateo Sheedy
4th grade teacher Juan Mateos says
sharing a classroom with his colleagues
is making him a better teacher.
ing at Mateo Sheedy, one child working in
the online learning station neglected to log
in to his computer, sitting for 15 minutes before
anyone noticed, while another pulled his
arms inside his shirt and drifted off.
"Keeping track of what's happening and
classroom monitoring has been a struggle,"
said Mr. Yeung, the classroom aide.
Still, the organization is bullish about
its new blended learning model, said Lynn
Liao, Rocketship's chief programs officer.
"We think this is a path for thinking more
openly about technology, teaching, and
instructional time, and the fundamental
structure of schooling," Ms. Liao said. n
EDUCATION WEEK: SIZING UP BLENDED LEARNING > www.edweek.org/go/blended-learning JANUARY 29, 2014 | S29
When the children rotate stations, Mr.
Mateos adapts his lesson to push the moreadvanced
students to write their own figurative
language, while Mr. Colon shelves
the Battleship activity in favor of reteaching
struggling students an earlier lesson on
converting fractions to decimals. The middle
performers now work on computers.
"The biggest difference," said Mr. Mateos,
a 27-year old Teach For America alum, "is
how targeted our instruction is."
of a single class with 92 students.
And as the grade-level lead in the
school's flexible 4th grade classroom, Mr.
Mateos has become a quasi-administrator,
helping support the two colleagues with
whom he now shares his workday.
"It's intense," he said.
Challenges remain: It's been difficult to
regroup the students more frequently than
every six weeks, limiting the personalization
that can take place. During the recent morn
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
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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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