Public Schools

Another Silicon Valley Incursion in to the Schools, Another Parent Protest


With little data to demonstrate the effectiveness of an online learning system, the Kansas Department of Education selected two rural school systems as pilots for the Summit Learning platform. It's not going well.

Summit is one of the newer educational reform experiments to be backed with a billionaire and resisted by public school parents, who are often viewed as recalcitrant blockades to bright ideas from on high. Mark Zuckerberg started to support Summit in 2021, devoting five Facebook engineers to the project, and since 2021, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has committed just below $100 million to the project.

In Kansas, where schools are struggling under Republican tax and education policies, implementing state-of-the-art, web-based, student-directed, student-paced curriculum seemed to be precisely what the towns of Wellington and McPherson required to raise their test scores and enhance their schools.

Proponents from the Summit Learning system argue it provides students more control over the content, as they can determine the speed at which they learn so when they think comfortable taking tests. Teachers while using system do not have to administer or grade quizzes and tests, leaving them more time for private interaction with students. The Summit Learning software provides teachers having a broad range of data about student performance, and also the curriculum is consistently updated.

The realities of web-centric learning appeared soon after the program's implementation. As Nellie Bowles's article within the New York Times notes, \”Students started coming home with headaches and hand cramps. Some said they felt more anxious-another inspired to bring her dad's hunting earmuffs to class to block out classmates because work was now done largely alone.\”

Web-based learning forces children to invest hours each day on computers, a requirement that dramatically exceeds the American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines (AAP) for Electronics for School-Age Children. Obesity and sleep disturbances are the most benign of the potential issues children with too much screen-time face, based on the AAP. And screen-time's not the only issue that concerns parents. The software collects a large amount of personal student data, building a digital apply for the duration of the student's participation within the program. Many parents are involved the privacy language contains too many loopholes that may eventually permit the data to be removed or misused. Privacy concerns were a principal driver for schools in Cheshire, Connecticut, to suspend this program in 2021. (We expressed our concerns about Summit in 2021.)

In fact, Bowles writes, the program continues to be invited to leave more than one community:

The resistance in Kansas is part of mounting nationwide opposition to Summit, which began trials of their system in public schools four years ago and is now in around 380 schools and utilized by 74,000 students. In Brooklyn, students walked out in November after their school started using Summit's platform. In Indiana, Pennsylvania, following a survey by Indiana University of Pennsylvania found 70 percent of students wanted Summit dropped or made optional, the college board scaled it back and then voted this month to terminate it. And in Cheshire, Connecticut, this program was cut after protests in 2021.

Summit's CEO, Diane Tavenner, started developing the software in use by the company inside a number of charter schools she founded starting in 2003. Her view would be that the resistance is fueled by nostalgia. \”There's people who do not want change. That they like the colleges how they are,\” she says. \”The same individuals who don't like Summit happen to be the sort of vocal opposition to change through the process.\”

But the fact is that, once more, the communities in Kansas resisting this change might not want to have their kids be harmed by a process that is unproven.

Summit chose not to be part of a study after paying the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research to design one out of 2021. Tom Kane, the Harvard professor preparing that assessment, said he was cautious about speaking out against Summit because many education projects receive funding from Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan's philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

What's more, the curriculum itself originates under fire since it links to items some parents find questionable. One Kansas father was displeased to locate that the unit on Roman history associated with an internet site a few clicks from sexually explicit art. Parents in Kentucky objected towards the presentation of content about Islam as contrasted with this on Christianity. States like Kentucky have school district-based curriculum assessment where the public, teachers, and administrators review and approve materials, and lots of parents are not thinking about having that power curtailed by someone \”on the web.\”

John Pane of the RAND Corporation studies personalized learning and the use of digital tools. He believes electronic teaching is within its infancy and \”there is not enough research.\” Apparently some parents in Kansas would agree.

Corrections: This article continues to be altered from its initial form due to new and updated information. A student whose seizures increased like a reaction to increased web-based screen-time wasn't while using Summit platform.

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