The Benefits of A “High-Touch Culture”
Rocketship Education, a charter school network, has been a pioneer in so-called “blended learning,” a combination of traditional teaching and computer-based instruction. Many school reformers herald Rocketship as the technology-driven future of education. But when Thomas Toch visited one of the schools, Rocketship Discovery Prep in San Jose, CA, that’s not what struck him, as he writes in TheAtlantic.com:
“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.
Each morning at Discovery Prep and the rest of the Rocketship network, everyone gathers on the playground for announcements and a sing-a-long. Students receive recognition and rewards for outstanding behavior and achievement and teachers and students (the oldest are 5th graders) sing and dance to songs by Michael Jackson and other pop stars, surrounded by parent-volunteers. In the same spirit, teachers greet every student by name as they enter their classrooms, a routine that Rocketship calls a “threshold invite.” Personal connections between adults and students are paramount.
Parents are everywhere in the life of 640-student Discovery Prep. The schools organize meetings on curriculum, instructional strategies, and student behavior to enlist parents as educational partners. They take students and parents on bus trips to Stanford, Berkeley, and other local colleges and universities to get them invested in higher education. And they ask parents to spend 30 hours a year in their children’s schools and most do. As a result, students have the sense that there are always adults ready to help, that their parents care about them, and that education is important.
Nearly every aspect of Rocketship’s model, it seems, contributes to a high-touch culture. At nine and a half hours, the standard Rocketship teacher workday is about 25 percent longer than the norm in public education. Rocketship’s classrooms are well-appointed, warm, and welcoming (75 percent of the organization’s teachers are current or former Teach for America recruits). And a uniform and a deeply engrained behavior-management system creates clear expectations for students along with lots of positive reinforcement.” Read more here.
In other words, it’s people, not machines, that make this school a success. The students at Discovery Prep are mostly poor, and many don’t speak English, but they’re getting the benefits of involved parents and dedicated teachers that affluent students often take for granted. And as a result, they’re learning. It’s not (forgive the pun) rocket science.