2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Anne Welsh McNulty: The School of the Future

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Anne Welsh McNulty

Anne Welsh McNulty

A charter network models a  marriage between technology  and traditional teaching

The united states faces a major education challenge. Millions of students need personalized instruction to identify their learning issues and work successfully. Yet we lack the means to provide a teaching workforce equal to the task.

Fortunately, the past decade has brought a solution in the form of new online teaching and learning programs that generate real-time information about what students understand in their daily work.

In 2007 Rocketship Education, based in California’s Silicon Valley, opened the nation’s first blended-learning charter school, employing technology of this kind. Today, Rocketship is a national network that each year opens additional schools in San Jose and other cities. Rocketship students—most of whom come from low-income families—spend significant time in the school’s Learning Lab, where they access curricula through adaptive online technology that tracks their growth. The students also work intensively in small, tutor-led groups to master core reading and math skills. Rocketship teachers thus are freed to devote classroom instruction time to teaching critical, higher-order thinking skills.

Rocketship schools rank in the top 1 percent of all public schools in California serving low-income students. They even outperform wealthier school districts in Silicon Valley. The Rocketship model also saves $500,000 per year for each school in the charter network—money that is reallocated to higher teacher salaries, a full-time academic dean at each school and a three-year leadership development program that provides a career ladder for teachers. Consequently, Rocketship is able to attract, mentor and retain talented teachers and academic leaders.

I am proud that in 2010, the Aspen Institute awarded the John P. McNulty Prize to Rocketship Education and its cofounder John Danner. The award celebrates the spirit of my late husband, a man who regularly dared those around him to think in terms of higher orders of magnitude. Danner, who was honored for his audacious vision of giving underserved kids across the nation access to a top-tier education, was chosen by a jury that included Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin; former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; and Olara Otunnu, President of the Uganda People’s Congress and former United Nations Under-Secretary General.

When such distinguished experts concur on a solution to a complex problem, it’s clear that something is working. Creating Rocketship Education took a lot of hard thinking. Recognizing that it can serve as a national model shouldn’t require rocket science.tc


Anne Welsh McNulty is co-founder and Managing Partner of JBK  Partners, with businesses including investment management and  a private philanthropy foundation.


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