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John Danner shoots for the stars with Rocketship charter schools

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The net effect is that we save, with schools of about 500 kids, about half a million dollars a year, and we reinvest that then into the things we matter most for the school – training our teachers very, very well; empowering our parents; developing our leaders; paying our teachers a 20 percent higher salary than surrounding school districts. We always say if you are an educator and somebody wrote you a half-million dollar check every year and said do better things with your school, you could probably figure out how to do that.

What we’re really doing is changing the way that schools work economically. The model has been that however many kids you have at a school, you need a number of teachers equivalent to teach every one of those children.

What results are you seeing in terms of children’s learning?
It catches kids up. About 90 percent of our lowest-performing children move up, from the bottom quartile [or 25 percent in test results] up to the top or to the second quartile.
The key is, you have enormous potential to increase the amount a child can learn at a time. We get a 100 percent increase – and we’re not very good at it yet. We think we can get better.

Are there things a computer teaches better than a teacher – or things it can’t teach at all?
There are some very difficult things for computers to teach. Anything in the areas of critical thinking or social-emotional learning or written expression, those are really difficult, and at Rocketship we don’t spend a lot of time trying to get them to do that. What we think is that they’re generally almost always better at the core basic skills, like addition.

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