Achieving a 5.5 Percentile Point Gain in 16 Weeks
Rocketship Education, a national, non-profit elementary charter school network, is on the cutting edge of school innovation with a hybrid school model and an operational approach that combines classroom and online learning to create high-performing low income elementary schools. In the 2010 – 11 school year, three Rocketship schools served more than 1,300 students — over three-quarters of whom qualify for free or reduced price meals and are learning English as a second language.
Rocketship schools couple an extended day and rich classroom experiences with a “Learning Lab” where every student receives two hours of daily individualized instruction. The result is an environment where students learn many of their foundational math skills through DreamBox Learning’s intelligent adaptive software, enabling classroom teachers to focus more time on critical thinking instruction. It’s an approach that moves beyond merely integrating technology into the curriculum to actually transforming the educational structure of schools.
Increasing school productivity despite shrinking dollars
As the co-founder and CEO of Rocketship Education, John Danner says Rocketship was built on the idea that “there would be less, not more, money in public education over the next 20 years, yet there is a demonstrable need to vastly improve results. We set out to accomplish two things that were thought to be mutually exclusive — make schools more efficient and productive.” To do this Rocketship needed to accelerate student progress and learning, particularly for students performing below grade level. “The only way students below grade level can make up time is by accelerating progress,” says Danner. “Unfortunately, there is very little chance that they’ll receive instruction that is at their ‘just right’ developmental level in a traditional classroom.”
Initially Rocketship used tutoring as the core of its individualized program because most of the instructional software available was what Danner calls “electronic babysitters”. He says, “Kids were just parked in front of computers without real objectives. What we needed was an impactful individualized instructional program that enabled students to learn a similar amount online to what they could learn in the classroom. When we found DreamBox we became true believers in the power of online learning.”
Charlie Bufalino, Rocketship’s Online Learning Specialist, evaluates various online programs that Rocketship uses in the Learning Lab. “DreamBox establishes foundational math skills,” he says. “There are a lot of programs that are good at generating practice problems, and that can be effective but we don’t consider that a teaching tool. What separates DreamBox is that it’s able to take the constructive strategies that a good teacher would normally employ in the classroom and use them online.”
Daily online individualized instruction
As part of its innovative 21st century education model, Rocketship leverages DreamBox technology to provide each student with daily individualized instruction at his or her “just right” level. By combining DreamBox’s adaptive online program with outstanding classroom instruction, Rocketship has accelerated student learning and providing the foundation for academic success.
“We wanted to find a solution that really allowed students to learn a similar amount online to what they’re learning in the classroom. That’s when we became true believers in DreamBox.”
— John Danner, CEO Rocketship Education
An extended-day block schedule means students spend 200 minutes daily in an English, language arts, and social studies block; 100 minutes daily in a math and science block; and 120 minutes in the Learning Lab where students learn much of their basic skills through intelligent adaptive software. Carefully selected teams of tutors, lab monitors, and program providers from community-based organizations take on a variety of different roles in the school to address student needs and enable teachers’ new roles. This engaging method for addressing higher order thinking skills is helping students develop basic foundational methods and increase conceptual understanding in a truly cost-effective way.
Accelerated student progress and learning per hour engaged
Bufalino says what Rocketship cares about above all else is what’s most effective for students. “What Dream- Box demonstrated from the outset and what separated it from others was its adaptivity,” he notes “It’s not only the way DreamBox gathers information, it’s the way that information is used to adapt learning paths. DreamBox makes the fact that over the last five years, 90 percent of the students that we had in the bottom two categories in California (far below basic and below basic) have moved up to basic or above within the first year of getting to Rocketship. Secondly, there are tremendous cost savings associated with the Learning Lab — about half a million dollars a year — because students are coached by community members rather than teachers, allowing us to run our schools with fewer teachers. That’s money that can be reinvested on the classroom side to make it better.”
“DreamBox establishes foundational math skills. There are a lot of programs that are good at generating practice problems, and that can be effective but we don’t consider that a teaching tool. What separates DreamBox is that they’re able to take the constructive strategies that a good teacher would normally employ in the classroom and use them online.”
— Charlie Bufalino Online Learning Specialist Rocketship Education
The facts underscore Danner’s premise. Today, Rocketship’s schools are among the very highest-performing among high-poverty schools in California — so much so that their results even exceeded the highest income school district in California in 2009 –10. Danner says, “Racial and socio-economic disparity of educational outcomes and opportunities remain our country’s greatest injustice. At Rocketship we are striving to eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetimes, so that no student’s life is subject to the ‘destiny of demographics’.” As part of this mission, Rocketship plans bring the model of coupling outstanding classroom instruction with the most effective adaptive instructional technology to the 50 largest cities across the United States in the next 15 years. Danner is convinced of DreamBox’s role in making Rocketship’s vision a reality.