Op-Ed: True Reform Means ‘Freeing Educators of Bureaucratic Constraints’


At Rocketship Education, a public K-5 charter school system for low-income students, our mission is to close the achievement gap within our lifetimes.

The three pillars of our blended learning model are: individualized learning for our students, rich professional development for our teachers and school leaders, and parent and community engagement. Our system-wide score of 855 on the 2012 Academic Performance Index (API) made us the top-performing school system in California serving primarily low-income students.  

As we continue to grow in California and prepare for national expansion (our first school in Milwaukee will open in Fall 2013), I reflect on what has allowed us to be so successful up to this point. Of primary importance has been freedom from the traditional school bureaucracies and special interests that can often handicap districts in their efforts to implement meaningful reform. We are extremely fortunate to have always been able to operate in a way that is constantly and unequivocally geared towards student achievement so that no student has to be subject to the destiny of demographics.

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This freedom has allowed us to involve our teachers and school leaders in the development of a blended learning model that individualizes instruction for students through a combination of adaptive online technology, tutoring, and direct instruction.  

It has allowed us to collaborate with teachers in creating a robust professional development model to offer them meaningful opportunities to further develop as teachers and leaders—even early in their careers. Finally, it has allowed us to partner with parents in their children’s education by inviting them to fully participate in school decisions, and encouraging them to become lifelong advocates for their children by spearheading the educational reform that our country so desperately needs.  

The next stage in Rocketship’s evolution is building a national school system in which all of our schools will produce exceptional results for some of the most underserved students in America’s neediest cities. We will face many policy challenges in the process of becoming a multi-state operator, but by offering schools replicable back-end systems and doing the upfront work to remove regulatory hurdles, our teachers and school leaders will be able to focus on educating children and partnering with families to transform their communities. In this way, Rocketship will grow to hundreds of schools, serving thousands of at-risk students, and close the achievement gap within our lifetimes.

For all of Rocketship’s current success and ambitious aims, we are certainly not alone in this movement to reform public education. Ultimately, there is no secret formula for what we do on a daily basis at Rocketship schools. We’ve simply redesigned the school model in a way that constantly puts student achievement at the forefront of all that we do, utilizing various instructional methods to meet the individualized needs of all our students.

With the necessary resolve and support, all public schools will be able to offer students a world-class education. True reform stems from freeing educators of bureaucratic constraints so they can remake their school models, holding all schools accountable for student results, and providing parents real choices in public school options for their children.  

There is no more important work going on in American society than reforming our educational system.  At Rocketship, we are committed to being at the forefront of this work and putting forth a model for reform that will help to make U.S. public education once again the envy of the world.

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John Danner, CEO of Rocketship Education co-founded the charter network with Preston Smith in 2006. Prior to Rocketship, John's experience in education ranged from serving as the Chairman of the Charter School Resource Center of Tennessee for 4 years, founding director of KIPP Academy Nashville, teaching in the Nashville public school system for 3 years, and co-founding Sacred Heart Nativity School in San Jose. Before hiswork in education, John was founder and CEO of NetGravity, an Internet advertising software company.