Table of Contents

  • Free Black Like Me

    Authored By Renée Watson

    A poem—and the history behind it—about being invisible, yet stereotyped, as an African American student bused to a predominantly white school.

  • Free Dear White Teacher

    Authored By Chrysanthius Lathan

    An African American middle school teacher calls on white teachers to think before they routinely send black children to black teachers when there is a problem.

  • Free Queridos maestros blancos

    Por Chrysanthius Lathan | Traducido por Nicholas Yurchenco

    Una maestra afroamericana de secundaria les pide a los maestros blancos que piensen antes de mandarles los niños negros a los maestros negros cada vez que tengan un problema con ellos. 

  • Teaching the N-Word

    Authored By Michelle Kenney

    A white high school teacher prepares her students to read August Wilson’s Fences by leading an exploration of the n-word.

  • Features
  • Rocketship to Profits

    Silicon Valley breeds corporate reformers with national reach

    Authored By David Bacon

    Rocketship Education, a rapidly expanding charter school chain, shows what happens when the rich control our schools.

  • “Aren’t You on the Parent Listserv?”

    Working for equitable family involvement in a dual-immersion elementary school

    Authored By Grace Cornell Gonzales

    A kindergarten teacher tries to change the power imbalance between Spanish- and English-speaking parents in her classroom and school.

  • Free ¿No estás registrado en la lista de correos electrónicos?

    Por Grace Cornell Gonzales

    Una maestra de kínder intenta cambiar el balance de poder entre los padres hispanohablantes y angloparlantes en su salón y su escuela.

  • Free The Military Invasion of My High School

    The role of JROTC

    Authored By Sylvia McGauley

    A high school teacher describes the problematic impact of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at her school.

  • Departments Free
  • Restorative Justice

    What it is and is not

    Authored By The editors of Rethinking Schools
  • The Children of Gaza

  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.
  • Good Stuff
  • When Girls Are Activists

    Authored By Elizabeth Marshall

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Rocketship to Profits

Silicon Valley breeds corporate reformers with national reach
Rocketship to Profits

Ethan Heitner

Nearly every metropolitan area these days has its own wealthy promoters of education reform. Little Rock has the Waltons, Seattle has Bill and Melinda Gates, Newark has Mark Zuckerberg, and Buffalo has John Oishei, who made his millions selling windshield wipers.

Few areas, however, have as concentrated and active a group of wealthy reformers as California’s Silicon Valley. One of the country’s fastest-growing charter school operators, Rocketship Education, started here. A big reason for its stellar ascent is the support it gets from high tech’s deep pockets, and the political influence that money can buy.

Rocketship currently operates nine schools in San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley. It opened its first school in Milwaukee last year and one in Nashville, Tennessee, this fall. Its first two schools in Washington, D.C., where almost half the students already attend charters, open next year. Rocketship plans include running eight schools in Milwaukee, in Nashville, and in D.C. in the near future.

Rocketship also proposed a charter school in Morgan Hill, just south of San Jose. But there they ran into resistance from parents, teachers, and the teachers’ union. That successful campaign to block Rocketship and protect local public schools highlights the importance of confronting charter chains as they try to infiltrate school systems across the country.

“Blended Learning”
The Rocketship Model

“Blended learning,” the hallmark of the Rocketship education model, is based on using computers more and teachers less. Its roots lie in a valley dominated by high-tech factories, where electronic assembly lines belie the hype of entrepreneurship and “creative disruption.” Education policy analyst Diane Ravitch describes Rocketship charters as “schools for poor children. . . . In this bare-bones Model-T school, it appears that these children are being trained to work on an assembly line. There is no suggestion that they are challenged to think or question or wonder or create.”

A report by Gordon Lafer for the Economic Policy Institute, Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower Quality Education than Rich Kids? examined the Rocketship model: “The ‘blended learning’ model of education exemplified by the Rocketship chain of charter schools,” it found, “often promoted by charter boosters—is predicated on paying minimal attention to anything but math and literacy, and even those subjects are taught by inexperienced teachers carrying out data-driven lesson plans relentlessly focused on test preparation. But evidence from Wisconsin, the country, and the world shows that students receive a better education from experienced teachers offering a broad curriculum that emphasizes curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as getting the right answers on standardized tests.”

The contradiction between high-tech hype and regimented reality is a hallmark of the Silicon Valley model, and is not just found at Rocketship. “Blended learning” is promoted by John Fisher, who started the $25 million Silicon Schools Fund. Fisher is the son of Gap founders Don and Doris Fisher, among the world’s wealthiest clothing manufacturers and scions of San Francisco’s elite.

On the website of Navigator Schools, for example, a video promoting its Gilroy Prep charter (at the south end of Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara County) is full of superlatives like “incredible.” It claims its 1st and 2nd graders are “engaged 100 percent of the time.” Images show youngsters, each in an identical pale blue polo shirt with the Navigator logo, chanting in unison while a teacher holding an iPad moves through the classroom.

The slick video is just one indication of the big money at stake in the expansion of corporate charter schools in Silicon Valley. Students use “the best adaptive software,” the video enthuses. On their desks are “student responders,” remote controls with buttons for answering multiple-choice questions. “Gone are the days of textbooks and endless worksheets,” the narrator boasts.

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