Let’s first discuss how cool a young person would consider it to attend a school named “Rocketship Discovery Prep.” Sure, older kids at the wizened ages of 10 or 11 might be too cool for such a thing, but kids in the first few K-12 grades would likely consider attendance at Rocketship Discovery Prep a mark of pride.
The Atlantic shined a spotlight on Silicon Valley’s Rocketship Discovery Prep school. It’s one of seven schools run by a non-profit Palo Alto-based charter school network, launched by two edtech personalities: John Danner, a Bay Area tech entrepreneur and Preston Smith who worked for Teach for America and opened a successful San Jose elementary school.
Rocketship uses the blended learning strategy, that combination of teaching and digital instruction that some educators are considering a kind of pedagogical revolution. But Rocketship isn’t interested in completely digitizing education. As Thomas Toch writes for the Atlantic after his visit to Discovery Prep,
The Internet certainly holds the prospect of tapping into the vast store of knowledge and teaching talent that resides beyond the schoolhouse door, addressing students’ varying interests and needs more fully and efficiently. But while Rocketship attracts a steady flow of visitors hoping to glimpse education’s high-tech future, I came away from my own pilgrimage to Discovery Prep believing that the school’s success proves the opposite point: the younger and more disadvantaged students are, the more they need adults supporting them in many different ways day in and day out—the more they need school to be a place rather than merely a process.”
This place to which Toch refers employs one fewer teachers per grade than most other schools do. To put it simply, because Rocketship students spend so much time in digital environments, there are less teachers needed to supervise them. Critics may scoff at this choice, but just because there are slightly less teachers doesn’t mean the kids experience a reduction in traditional student-teacher interaction. Students who struggled with concepts are given one-on-one or small-group tutoring, which is what you’d expect from an institution that uses a blended learning approach.
Blended learning is about a personal touch combined with the freedom to explore digital learning. It doesn’t mean the teacher is less present in a student’s time at school. One could mount a successful argument that Rocketship teachers are more present in a student’s time. As Toch concludes:
“It’s this human element that makes all the difference for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who, in many public schools, need far more adult support than they typically get—and certainly more than they’d get online in the digital future that many are predicting for public education.”