Rocketship Education is a non-profit corporation founded in 2006 to create a national network of outstanding inner-city college preparatory elementary charter schools. Each Rocketship school has a clear and simple goal: that its students achieve grade-level proficiency by the time they graduate from elementary school. While many charter school networks focus on college preparation for middle and high school students, we believe that the path toward college must begin much earlier. Research has shown that a child's academic achievement in third grade is highly correlated with college attendance and graduation. (Snow et al., 1998). Rocketship has an audacious goal of serving 1 million students across the country by the year 2040. We believe that through the creation of thousands of college preparatory elementary schools, Rocketship can help reverse the cycle of poverty which has blocked millions of people from realizing the American dream. Rocketship's vision of a national network of inner-city college preparatory elementary schools rises out of a crisis in the U.S. education system. Today, only 25% of Americans graduate from a four-year college. The problem is much worse in low-income areas, with 1-2% college graduation rates. Why do we call these figures a crisis? The global trend to offshore all but the knowledge-intensive jobs means that a college degree is necessary for Americans to achieve middle class status and a stable job. In addition, the United States has seen a large increase in immigration. These newest immigrants face daunting challenges to realizing the American dream of working hard and creating a better life. Since the earliest period of this country, the American dream has relied on a free, high-quality public education. Today, however, most of the graduates of our public schools do not graduate from college. Now that college graduation is a critical prerequisite to economic advancement, the 1-2% college graduation rate for high-poverty children is a failure of the American dream on a massive scale. Rocketship was founded to right this wrong.
Rocketship operates a "hybrid" school model, including an extended school day with as many classroom instructional minutes as district schools and an additional two hour practice period each day called Learning Lab, in which students work on computer curriculum, read books independently, and participate in enrichment activities. In addition to the academic benefits of additional practice time for students, Learning Lab allows Rocketship to hire one fewer teacher per grade level than a typical elementary school (because students in Learning Lab are supervised by non-certificated staff). This savings amounts to $500,000 per year for a school at full size. This savings allows Rocketship to spend significant extra resources on professional development, salaries, full-time teacher mentors at each school site, and other school-level areas to ensure we meet our academic mission. It also makes Rocketship the first charter school network which is completely scalable. All of the start-up costs associated with new schools including building facilities are covered by fees from existing schools. Rocketship has pegged a 30% annual growth rate in schools, which means that within a few years, we can serve every high-need elementary student in the cities we locate. This is a far different approach than the traditional "tipping point" theory whereby charters tried to influence district policy with a few lighthouse schools.