Guest Post by Jennifer Brooks
(If you live in Davis School District, sign this petition: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/davis-school-district-eliminate-summit-learning)
Summit Learning Systems
How Big Tech takes control of teaching and learning in our public schools
Utah taxpayers should say “NO” to Summit Learning, here is why.
Over the past five years Davis School district has progressively mandated Summit Learning in two High Schools and three Jr. High Schools without choice or transparency to taxpayers. This year, a new cohort of seventh graders at Mueller Park Jr. High means twelve-year-old’s I dearly love, hate learning with Summit. Summit Learning has no place in our public schools.
I’m an educator with twenty-five years of experience and several degrees, I read educational research as a hobby. I knew everything that was wrong the Summit Learning model. I didn’t understand how bad Summit Learning was until recently. Much of this article is informed by the National Education Policy Center’s Report on Summit Learning.
Summit Learning – Complete capture of your public schools by Big Tech
In 2015 a few online learning charter schools named, Summit Public Schools caught the imagination and funding of Big Tech. Since 2015, Summit Public Schools (SPS) has received philanthropic funding totaling at least $177.6 million. Donors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Silicon Schools Fund, the Silicon Valley Community Fund, Meg Whitman, and the XQ Institute. The Hechinger Report shows the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) alone committed $142.1 million to SPS since 2016. CZI website reports providing $48.8 million to SPS between 2016 and 2020 and $40 million to T.L.P. Education, a non-profit which fronts Summit Learning, between 2018 and 2020. In-kind donations by Facebook developed the marketing strategy and engineered the platform for SPS to become Summit Learning.
The CZI, a for profit LLC, aggressively markets Summit Learning to public school districts through Gradient Learning, a non-profit which allows districts to bypass state privacy and curriculum adoption laws. Districts quietly “partner” with Summit Learning. In doing so they offer up control of learning and teaching to Summit Learning. Yes, District leaders are choosing this for your child. The Participation Requirements a district must accept to “partner” with Summit are staggering. https://www.summitlearning.org/join-us/program-requirements. These requirements make it clear, Taxpayers do not have local control with Summit Learning. This explains the lack of transparency when adopting Summit.
Once a “partner,” Summit Learning controls and dictates public school schedules, bi-yearly, MAP assessments (on the taxpayer’s dime). Summit requires districts use their Summit grading system for an entire Summit school or grade, making it difficult to compare Summit student achievement to traditional students within a district. Teachers are trained by Summit Learning to facilitate Summit and direct students on the platform instead of leading the classroom with proven pedagogy and instructing on content. Administrators are trained in Summit promotional rhetoric and check-in, two hours weekly with a Summit rep. All student learning is dictated, controlled and data mined by Summit including student-centered learning, project-based assignments, learning standards, content and curriculum in math, science, English and history, they call it the four-core. Summit is written from California and Oregon standards, the eighth and ninth worst schools in the nation. Utah schools are tenth best (according to U.S. News and World Report). Summit standards include the CRT, LBGTQ and social justice themes which is not core content. These social themes are driving ideals on the Gradient Learning website.
Data Privacy contracts grant Gradient Learning access and use of de-identified student data in perpetuity, which the CZI can convert to re-identifiable data. Contracts signed in 2018-2019 explicitly provide SPS to use de-identified student data “for any lawful purpose” (the same language appears in the current Data Privacy Addendum on the Summit Learning website). By extension, this means that the CZI, its technology partner, may also access de-identified student data to use in any way it wishes in perpetuity. Uses may include analyzing data for insights about student learning and psychology using big data statistical methods and selling it to third parties in perpetuity.
Reimagining education to increase control and profits for Big Tech at the cost of children’s growth and success
Summit Learning is not innovative or progressive, it is not a proven model and taxpayers are not resistant to change for rejecting its rhetoric. We know bad education when we see it. Summit Learning brings no empirical data to support its multitude of claims on student success. Summit refuses to participate in large scale educational research, a huge red flag. The “Science of Summit” document is ‘rooted in science,’ offering circular logic, rhetoric, and personal anecdotes, but no data. Most concerning for our children, Summit Learning has packaged together the least effective learning and teaching strategies for students, according to decades of mainstream research. These failed strategies posture students for the least success with learning. Learning is more difficult using Summit. If you are an underserved student, have an IEP, 405, are a poor reader or an ESL student, all the cards are stacked against your success when using Summit Learning.
Farmington High School Students claim they become expert at manipulating the platform to complete their work and receive points with little learning. Further, the lowest performing students at Farmington get all the attention from the teacher to help them pass while higher performing students are ignored. This is a poor, inequitable education model that only benefits Big Tech.
Personalized Learning adoption opens the door for Big Tech platforms
A June 2017 report to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative outlined public relations efforts to create social conditions amenable to widespread adoption of personalized learning. The report described the marketing efforts as part of a strategy to create “one consistent narrative” promoting a positive answer to the question of “Does Summit Learning work?”
Big Tech aggressively markets the ill-defined, unproven ideal of personalized learning to school district leaders, not because it is effective, but because it leads to 1:1 learning in public classrooms.
Public Schools were created to offer equitable content and skills to many children from differing backgrounds through direct instruction and quality feedback from professional educators using quality curriculum and daily practice. When public schools implement well defined, actionable, proven strategies, they can measurably improve student achievement, despite a student’s social-economic background. Summit Learning drives schools away from proven, high performing models of education, master teachers and proven curriculum.
The narrative that “Summit Learning works” is embraced by district leaders, who promote Summit Learning as an effective “whole school reform” to school board members and educators within their district. Summit’s slick rhetoric, seen in their YouTube videos, is used to train District leaders, administrators and teachers to become salesmen for Summit Learning. They no longer focus on the job of educating students in math, English, factual history, science and formal learning skills based on proven models. They are pushing Summit and endlessly trying to make it work. It does not work.
There are additional concerns with the dangers of excessive screen time to the mental and emotional health of students. Then there’s Summit’s easily manipulated computerized curriculum, that has not been adopted by state law or aligned to standards. Summit’s curriculum is governed by algorithms which are proven to reflect the bias of the creator. Summit states online tools can be, “manipulated and changed easily. We know, they can promote a narrative, or they can cancel ideas all together. There is no oversight of Summit Learning’s centrally programmed course content.
Utah Taxpayers should say “NO” to Summit Learning, Especially, Davis County taxpayers.
We can and should constantly improve our public schools by looking to proven models. Education is the great equalizer; it can lift every child. This is not the goal of Summit Learning.
Summit Learning is at the cost of educational excellence. It’s at the cost of proven teaching and learning strategies. It’s at the cost of local control. It’s at the cost of our children’s privacy. It’s at the cost of our children’s mental health. It’s at the cost of training master teachers and using proven, state vetted curriculum with oversight. It’s at the cost of student’s growth, their success and ultimately their self-esteem. It is at the cost of taxpayers.
Davis School District currently requires Summit Learning at Farmington High School, Clearfield High School, Farmington Jr. High, Centennial Jr. High, North Davis Jr. High and Mueller Park Jr. High.
Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms
June 25, 2020