The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—famous for its annual $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education award to innovative districts—has awarded $1 million to Rocketship Education, a small nonprofit elementary charter school operator based in San Jose, Calif. The funding, in addition to $6 million recently awarded by the nonprofit venture capital firm Charter School Growth Fund, will help Rocketship expand from the three San Jose "hybrid" charter schools it now operates (with two more slated for fall 2011) to 30 nationwide by 2015.
Rocketship's hybrid model combines instruction from certified classroom teachers with instruction from Web-based software in a learning lab each day, as well as one-on-one tutoring. The software emphasizes basic skills, allowing teachers to focus on critical and higher-order thinking skills. "Our strategy is to augment great teaching with technology, not replace teaching with technology," says Judith McGarry, vice president of marketing and development at Rocketship.
"Hybrid models like this are certainly worth a look," says Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education. "It's encouraging to see a model evolving that incorporates the strengths of both face-to-face instruction and online learning. I think it's a promising first step toward a future where there will be multiple schooling models available to choose from, so we can best reach a variety of students."
John Danner, a former Internet entrepreneur and previously the director of the KIPP Academy charter school in Nashville, Tenn., and Preston Smith, a former San Jose principal, founded Rocketship Education in 2005. The organization claims that its hybrid model saves an estimated $500,000 per school annually in human resource costs, funds that are instead redirected to tutoring and paying teachers 20 percent higher salaries than surrounding districts do.
The organization is exploring options for new locations in cities including Denver, Chicago, Tulsa, Houston and Phoenix, and will announce two new partner cities sometime in early 2011.