Photos by Scott Buschman
Discipline was an issue at Rocketship, says Ceci Carrasco, who taught STEM classes at Rocketship Los Sueños Academy in San Jose for two years. Some students reacted to the regimented environment by kicking the walls, throwing things and acting out. When she asked administrators for help, they did not respond in a timely manner.
Students had reason to be angry. Some classes were three hours long. Nearly 100 students were stuck in a “learning lab” sitting at computers for 1½ hours each day; they had to be quiet most of the time. Bathroom breaks were restricted, and several students had accidents or developed bladder infections as a result.
“There absolutely were behavior problems,” says Carrasco, who transferred in the fall to Bachrodt Academy, a San Jose Unified School District charter school, where she teaches a combination class for grades 3-4.
Because students were put into learning labs for much of the day, schools with more than 600 students could operate with as few as six teachers, plus aides. But money saved by replacing teachers with computers and noncredentialed staff resulted in test scores plummeting.
Rocketship has 13 schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tennessee and Wisconsin. From 2010 to 2013 the “nonprofit” company increased its assets from $2.2 million to $15 million — and Rocketship relies primarily on state money for its $52.6 million budget, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
A shortage of bathrooms — and emphasis on instructional minutes — meant students were restricted on bathroom breaks. A pediatrician told the Mercury News several students had urinary tract infections. Accidents were frequent, says Carrasco. Former Rocketship teacher Angela Khai, who also teaches at Bachrodt, says accidents were at times intentional, just so students could go home.
Students were not allowed to talk in classrooms and hallways and during lunchtime at Rocketship schools. They were also forced to sit in the “slant” position (feet flat on the floor, back straight, head up and hands folded on top of the desk) and to maintain this position even when writing.
Teachers typically worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and were paid according to their test scores and parent involvement. They were micromanaged by coaches on every element of their teaching and forced to administer tests nonstop. They were afraid to complain, since they were at-will employees. Turnover was rampant.
At Bachrodt, Carrasco and Khai enjoy “freedom” and a happier, less stressful environment. They also appreciate San Jose Teachers Association membership and due process.
“Sometimes I felt like I was working at a startup in Silicon Valley,” says Khai. “It was like, ‘Here’s a model, let’s try to replicate it as much as possible.’ ”
Follow the links below to see the other parts of this feature story.
Let’s Be Clear About Charter Schools
Helix Charter: Transparency Keeps Things Real
K12: Not Making the Grade
Alliance: Organizing to Have a Say
Rocketship: Failing Their Students, Educators
Livermore: A Cautionary Tale
Celerity: The Opposite of Austerity
Follow the Money
Advocating for Transparency, Accountability and Equal Access