A few days ago, I posted an article by Kristina Rizga about Summit charter schools and their online lessons. On the whole, it seemed to me, the article was admiring.

Leonie Haimson has a different view of Summit.

Haimson has played a leading role in the movement to stop data mining of students and to protect student privacy. After writing a column in The Answer Sheet Blog expressing her concerns about the Summit charter schools and their online platform, Haimson was contacted by the founder of Summit and invited to visit one of their schools.

Haimson writes here about her experience when she visited the flagship Summit Charter School in Redwood City, California.

“Summit charter schools and their online platform, now used in over 300 schools across the country, both public and charter, have received millions of dollars from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg; Zuckerberg has pledged to support the continued expansion of the online platform through his LLC, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.

“Shortly after my Washington Post piece appeared, I was contacted by Diane Tavenner, the CEO of Summit charter schools, who asked if we could meet when she was visiting NYC. I agreed. We had lunch on Sept. 15, and I handed her a list of questions, mostly about Summit’s privacy policy, most of which my associate, Rachael Stickland, had already sent to Summit staff that she had met at SXSW Edu the previous March, and to which she’d never received a response….

“During the lunch, I mentioned that I was going to be in Oakland the weekend of Oct. 14- 15 for the Network for Public Education conference, and that I would be interested in visiting some schools after that are using the Summit platform. I said I was especially eager to visit public schools, since I’d heard from many public school parents in five states who told me their children had negative experiences with the program. These parents were upset that Summit had withdrawn the right of parents to consent to the system shortly after CZI took over, and they were concerned about how their children’s personal data was being shared with Summit and then redisclosed with unspecified other third “partners” for unclear purposes.

“Diane later emailed me and said that I could visit Summit Prep charter school on Oct. 16, in Redwood City, their flagship school. An Uber would come and pick me up at my Oakland hotel, she said, and the drive would take about an hour each way…

“At Summit Prep, I was met by two school leaders, and we talked in an empty office for about a half hour, where they explained to me about the platform and how it was designed. Then we briefly toured two classrooms. In the first classroom, there were about thirty students engaged in “Personalized Learning Time”, gazing at computer screens and working on their individual “playlists.” These playlists include content in different “focus areas” delivered via various mediums, including online texts and videos. When students have learned these materials, they’re supposed to take multiple choice online tests to show they’ve “mastered” the area. In addition, in each of their courses, there are projects they are supposed to complete…

“I visited another classroom where 12th graders were engaged in peer-reviewing essays they had written at the beginning of the class, grading them according to the Summit’s complex rubric of cognitive skills. When I asked why the essays were written on paper rather than on computers, the school leaders told me that this was because they were practicing for the California state exam in which students are asked to write essays on paper.

“I noted that I had seen no classroom or small group discussions. The Summit leaders said that was because none were occurring during my brief visit. It is true that the amount of time I spent in classrooms wasn’t sufficient to make an informed judgment either way, but what I saw did not encourage me.

“When we returned to the office, I questioned why delivering content primarily online was an effective method of teaching. Shouldn’t learning happen in a more interactive fashion, with the material presented in person and then discussed, debated, and explored? Why did they have this comparatively flat, one-dimensional attitude towards content? And how could math be taught this way, given that math requires helping students learn how to solve problems in a more interactive fashion?

“They told me math is taught differently, and indeed had to be taught through teacher-student interaction, but that this isn’t true of any of the other subjects, whether it be English, social sciences or physical sciences.”

Leonie reviewed the many complaints that she has heard from parents at Summit charter schools, especially regarding privacy of student data and long hours in front of a computer.

She writes,

“Yet the juggernaut that is Summit will be difficult to stop. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation gave $20 million to Summit in 2016. The Gates Foundation awarded Summit $10 million in June 2017, “to support implementation of the Summit Learning program in targeted geographies.” In September, the day before I met with Diane Tavenner, Summit was one of the ten winners of the XQ Super High School prize, receiving another $10 million from Laurene Powell Jobs’ LLC, the Emerson Collective, to create a new high school in Oakland.”

Besides, Betsy DeVos loves Summit.