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Our Response to NPR "Hit Piece"

Last Friday, NPR’s Education blog published what many are calling a “hit piece” on Rocketship Education. As co-founder and CEO, I am used to anti-charter attacks like this. But my staff and parents are not. They flooded my inbox over the weekend with outrage over the voices missing from this story. As for the voices included in the story, 6 of the 9 named Rocketship sources contacted me to express their frustration over how NPR’s blogger mischaracterized their comments.

Former CNN and NBC News anchor, Campbell Brown, published our response to NPR on the education news site she founded, The 74 Million:

What NPR’s ‘Hit Piece’ Got Wrong in Attacking Rocketship’s ‘Impressive Results’

As our response points out, “The story did get one thing right. Our students’ “results are undoubtedly impressive.” But rather than dig in and really understand what underlies our Rocketeers’ impressive achievements, NPR’s blogger, Anya Kamenetz, went to great pains in trying to undermine our success and defend her personal anti-testing thesis.

Eliminating the achievement gap is hard work. As Paul Tough’s latest work highlights, it is particularly hard for people who have not worked or lived in low-income communities to understand the unique challenges of teaching in high-poverty schools like Rocketship. And I’m sure it was very hard for Anya Kamenetz to understand, as she herself did not visit a single Rocketship school.

If our schools are really what NPR’s blogger portrayed, the critical question she didn’t ask is: Why did 90% of Rocketship students return this year? They don’t have to enroll at our school. They have a seat at their zoned district school waiting for them. But they come back, year after year. And they tell other families to do the same . . .

To put it simply, our schools are nothing like the school portrayed in this story. If they even remotely resembled this story, why would I send my own kids to Rocketship Fuerza? Why would over 8,000 parents be sending their kids to Rocketship schools across the country next year? And where is their voice in this story? The voice of parents who show up in droves to defend our schools at reauthorization hearings? The voice of parents who drove over 100 miles every day to send their children to Rocketship, then organizedparents to open a Rocketship school in their own community? And the voice of parents who are deeply engaged in the most important decisions of our school, like interviewing teachers for our first campus in southeast Washington DC?

Those are the voices we care about at Rocketship. As long as we continue to have their trust, stories like these, while frustrating, do nothing to take away from the remarkable accomplishments of our Rocketeers. Eliminating the achievement gap is hard work — it takes grit, commitment, and a willingness to think differently; all in an effort to succeed where countless others have failed. Our teachers, parents, students, and staff demonstrate enormous courage every day as they challenge the status quo. We know we are not perfect. Rocketship is still a work in progress, but the progress we are making in communities historically left behind is nothing short of transformational.

We are working hard to set the record straight as we support our families and staff through this process. As always, thank you for all you do to support our Rocketeers, our families, and our communities. As a Rocketeer parent myself, I am humbled and inspired by the strength of our teachers, leaders, staff, supporters and collective movement.

Preston co-founded Rocketship Education in San Jose in 2006. Prior to founding Rocketship, Preston was founder and Principal of L.U.C.H.A. Elementary School, part of the Alum Rock Unified School District in San Jose, CA. After its first three years of operation, L.U.C.H.A. was the fourth highest performing low-income elementary school in California. Preston began his career in education as a Teach for America (TFA) Corps member at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School (CA). In 2003, Preston was named “Teacher of the Year” at Arbuckle and was also nominated as one of six finalists for TFA’s Sue Lehmann award, given to TFA corps members with the highest classroom academic gains in the nation. Preston is also an Aspen New Schools Fellow.

Follow Preston on Twitter: @prestondsmith

Published on June 29, 2016