Rocketship on PBS

In February I shared three interesting blogs written by Larry Cuban. They were about Rocketship. That's a network of high-performing charters in California. It's growing. I just read a story by PBS's John Merrow about Rocketship. There's a 9 minute video here, plus a transcript. It mostly follows Cuban's narrative, but Merrow unearthed something I had not heard.

JOHN MERROW: The learning (computer) lab saves schools a lot of money, but there's just one problem: They're not really working.

JUDY LAVI: There's definitely an aspect of us kind of not knowing enough about what's going on in learning lab to be able to use that in our classrooms.

ANDREW ELLIOTT-CHANDLER: We don't yet get data that says, OK, teach this differently tomorrow because of what happened here. And that is -- that is a frustration point.

JOHN MERROW: A problem we saw is that some students in the lab do not appear to be engaged. They sit at their computers for long periods of time, seemingly just guessing.

JUDY LAVI: That's definitely not the ideal situation. The ideal situation would be that they'd get help from somebody in the learning lab who would explain the concept to them. Then they would go back and practice it.

JOHN MERROW: Rocketship says it's about to make a big change to its model.

ADAM NADEAU: If I had to guess, I would say you come back in a year, you won't see a learning lab.

Emphasis mine.

If it's not working, change it. Good for Rocketship!

The story brought me back in time to 2000. The original name for our school was the "Media and Technology Charter High School." The idea was to use kid-created technology projects to supplement regular instruction. The goal of the technology wasn't to save money (it actually required additional labor, and therefore $), but to improve outcomes.

Our version of "using technology" didn't work very well, either.

Here's a painfully earnest interview I did in 2000. Plenty of dumb ideas in there. I'd forgotten how much I'd hoped to attract and deploy volunteers as a key part of the model. There was Ann S and Chris R -- thank you! -- but that was probably in spite of me, not because of me.

In 2004, after a few years of trying different versions of "media and technology", we fundamentally changed the school. Kept the acronym MATCH, the proactive phone calls to parents, and the college success mission. Jettisoned the media and technology. Added Advanced Placement classes and the Match Corps tutors.

That's worked a lot better.

Now we're cautiously revisiting the ed tech opportunity, in designing a new school called Match Next.

Very cautiously.