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The National Education Policy Center reviewed Summit Learning Program, which has been heavily subsidized by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates Foundation, is spreading, but careful review shows no evidence for its success.


The Summit Learning Program: Big Promises, Lots of Money, Little Evidence of Success

Key Takeaway: Despite a lack of evidence that it is effective, the Summit Learning Program, propelled by a flood of Silicon Valley money, continues to spread.

Find Documents:
Press Release: https://nepc.info/node/10398

NEPC Publication: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/summit-2020

Contact:

William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058, wmathis@sover.net Faith Boninger: (480) 390-6736, fboninger@gmail.com Alex Molnar: (480) 797-7261, nepc.molnar@gmail.com

BOULDER, CO (June 25, 2020) – Virtual learning and personalized learning have been at the forefront of education reform discussions for over a decade. One leader of this sector, Summit Public Schools, has been backed by almost $200 million philanthropic dollars from the Chan- Zuckerberg Initiative, the Gates Foundation, and others. Summit Public Schools has aggressively marketed its Summit Learning Platform to schools across the United States since 2015. As a result, the Summit Learning Program is now one of the most prominent digital personalized learning programs in the United States.

In “Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms,” Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Christopher M. Saldaña, of the University of Colorado Boulder, provide a thorough analysis of Summit Public Schools, an 11-school charter network operating in California and Washington. Summit Public Schools began marketing its proprietary Summit Learning Program to potential “partner” schools in 2015 as a free, off-the-shelf, personalized learning program; it is now used in nearly 400 schools nationwide.

The marketing message of Summit Learning Program trades on the alleged success of the Summit Public Schools. Summit claims to have developed a “science-based” personalized learning model of teaching and learning that results in all of its students being academically prepared for college. It further claims that its students succeed in college and are prepared to lead successful, fulfilled lives. These successes, it claims, are the result of its unique approach to personalized learning and the use of the digital platform at the heart of its approach.

None of these claims made by Summit Public Schools have been confirmed by independent evaluators. In fact, other than scant bits of self-selected information provided by Summit itself, Boninger, Molnar and Saldaña found no evidence in the public record that confirms the claims. Nor did Summit Public Schools provide the information that the authors solicited in a California public records request.

Despite the lack of evidence to support the claims made by Summit Public Schools, the Summit Learning Program has been adopted by nearly 400 schools across the country. While Summit has offered positive anecdotes and some selected data, there is no solid evidence that “partner” schools are experiencing the promised success; to the contrary, there have been a number of reported incidents of problems and dissatisfaction. Further, the student data collected pursuant to the contracts between Summit and these partner schools presents a potentially significant risk to student privacy and opens the door to the exploitation of those data by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and possibly by unknown third parties—for purposes that have nothing to do with improving the quality of those students’ educations.

Virtual education and personalized learning are at the top of the education reform agenda in large measure because of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and advocacy by philanthropic organizations (e.g., the Gates Foundation), large digital platforms (e.g., Facebook and Google), and venture capitalists anxious to access the school market.

Exacerbated by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country are struggling to find safe ways to educate their students. The rapid spread of the
policymakers with to protect the public interest by establishing oversight and accountability mechanisms related to digital platforms and personalized learning programs.

Find Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms, by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Christopher M. Saldaña, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/summit-2020

This research brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (greatlakescenter.org).

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

The virtual charter industry is anticipating growth in enrollments and profits, thanks to the pandemic.

The largest of the virtual charters is the K12 Inc. virtual charter chain, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, whose revenues exceeded $1 billion this year.

Executives haul in big salaries (one of K12’s founders, Ron Packard, was paid $5 million a year but has since moved on to lead other charter chains). Michael Milken was an early investor in K12 and Bill Bennett was a prominent leader until he made racist remarks that caused him to be removed.

The most important thing to know about virtual charter schools is that they have dismal track records. They enroll as many students as possible through heavy advertising and marketing, but their graduation rates are low, their test scores are low, and their attrition rates are high.

Numerous studies of virtual charter schools agree that their results are very poor. A CREDO study in 2015 concluded that students in virtual charters lose ground in reading and lose the equivalent of a year of instruction in math.

While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year. This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.

The studies of virtual schools by Gary Miron and his colleagues report graduation rates of about 50%, as compared to a graduation rate of 83% in traditional public schools, as well as low performance compared to regular public schools.

So, if you want virtual learning at home and you don’t care if your child actually learns anything, sign up.

Sam Wineburg, an education professor at Stanford, and Nadav Ziv, his student, delved into the .org domain and explain here why it is deceptive.

Readers assume that .org implies a trustworthy site. It does not.

They write:

Dot-org symbolizes neither quality nor trustworthiness. It’s a marketing tool that relies on a widespread but false association with credibility….The dot-org domain is controlled by the Public Interest Registry, which was sold last month to Ethos Capital, a private equity firm. The three letters are marketed as “a powerful signal that your site serves a greater good — rather than just a bottom line.” It’s a claim that leads people to make errors about whom and what to trust.

Unlike dot-gov or dot-edu, which are closed to the general public, dot-org is an “open” domain. Anyone can register a dot-org without passing a character test. Even commercial sites can be dot-orgs. Craigslist — among the world’s largest ad sites — is craigslist.org. There are over 10 million dot-orgs, each of which pays roughly $10 per year to register. All you have to do to get one is fill out an online form and provide payment.

Registration fees generated $92 million in revenue for the Public Interest Registry in 2018 alone. In theory these revenues could grow much larger soon — in June, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the supervisory body that regulates the internet’s domain name system, agreed to lift price caps on dot-orgs. Still, Andy Shea, a spokesperson for the Public Interest Registry, says it plans to keep the pricing for dot-orgs low, with increases of no more than 10 percent on average a year.

In the Public Interest Registry’s latest marketing blitz, they unveiled a logo painted in “deep royal blue,” a shade they say evokes “feelings of trust, security and reliability.” They tell new customers to expect an increase in “donations, and trust for donors” when they become part of the “domain of trust.”

Noteworthy nonprofits, civic organizations and religious groups have embraced the domain — and so have a host of bad actors. All reaped the benefits of dot-org’s association with credibility.

Educational institutions unwittingly shape misperceptions around dot-orgs. Many colleges and universities, including Harvard and Northwestern, steer students in the wrong direction. They equate dot-orgs with nonprofit groups and issue no warning of the dangers lurking beneath the domain’s positive aura.

Dot-org is the favored designation of “astroturf” sites, groups that masquerade as grass roots efforts but are backed by corporate and political interests. One of these is the Employment Policies Institute, which claims to sponsor “nonpartisan research.” It was actually founded and run by the head of a public relations firm that represents the restaurant industry. Another dot-org, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, says it addresses major social problems through “broad-based grass roots outreach.” In reality, it was founded by the billionaire Koch brothers and many of its “grass roots” activists are paid.

There’s an even bigger risk to equating dot-org sites with do-gooders. Dozens of neo-Nazi, anti-L.G.B.T., anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant groups bear the dot-org seal. A random sample of a hundred organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that 49 percent carry the dot-org domain.

Reader, beware!

This is one of the most important posts you will read today, this week, this month. If you want to understand the hoax of so-called “education reform,” read this post. Share it with your friends. Tweet it. Put it in Facebook. It rips the veil away from the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Thomas Ultican has found the beating heart of the Disruption movement, the organization where plans are hatched and funded to destroy public schools. He tells the story of the NewSchools Venture Fund, where very wealthy people collaborate to undermine and privatize one of our most essential democratic institutions: our public schools.

He begins this important post:


The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) is the Swiss army knife of public school privatization. It promotes education technology development, bankrolls charter school creation, develops charter management organizations and sponsors school leadership training groups. Since its founding in 1998, a small group of people with extraordinary wealth have been munificent in their support. NSVF is a significant asset in the billionaire funded drive to end democratically run public schools and replace them with privatized corporate structures.

Read this remarkable account that ties together the masters of the universe, who have decided to rearrange the lives of lesser mortals, that is, people who lack their vast wealth and political connections.

Audrey Watters gave a talk at the Academic Technology Institute. I am always interested in her writing because she is truly an original thinker. She sees the future of surveillance, control, and loss of human agency. She is our Cassandra. Some things never change. Some things seem to change despite our efforts. Audrey gives up hope in a desperate time that we can still stop the machines that seek to own us.

Audrey Watters summarizes the present crisis that grips the nation.

Uncontainable. Inconsolable. Over the past few months, we have all experienced the grotesque failures of the state, and we’ve all lost something to the pandemic — directly or indirectly from the disease. But racism and white supremacy are the scourge that have destroyed so much more, for so much longer. “America Is Giving Up on the Pandemic,” Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer argue. But I don’t think that Americans are giving up on justice. We can’t. People will clench their fists and fight on.

“Black lives matter,” brands have all suddenly proclaimed. But we should know better than to take them seriously, particularly the technology companies who build tools and services that put Black lives at risk. It’s “Black Power-washing,” Chris Gilliard writes, “wherein companies issue essentially meaningless statements about their commitment to Black folks but do little to change their policies, hiring practices, or ultimately their business models, no matter how harmful to Black people these may be.” These companies speak, to borrow from the situationist Raoul Vaneigem, with corpses in their mouths. (And yes, that includes many ed-tech CEOs. Just because I’m silent on Twitter right now as I mourn my son, don’t think I don’t see you showing your whole ass with your “all lives matter” “let’s hear both sides” bullshit.)

Cathy Frye is a veteran journalist who worked for the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, then quit when she decided she could no longer stomach being part of the Walton Goubdation machine.

She writes here about the plan to outsource schooling this fall to a tech corporation that is under investigation.

She writes:

I got curious and took a little gander today at the Arkansas Public School Center’s website. And yep, there it was – APSRC’s latest attempt to help its digital “learning” providers by – once again – taking advantage of the pandemic’s effects on public schools.

Pay attention, folks: This partnership – announced today – involves the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, the Arkansas Department of Education and an outfit known as Lincoln Learning Solutions. This partnership will affect how public schools operate during the 2020-2021 school year.

APSRC and the Arkansas Department of Education are endorsing a digital learning provider that is currently under investigation by the Pennsylvania State Auditor General’s Office.

Why an investigation? Because a five-year audit revealed that Lincoln Learning Solutions had received more than $110 million in taxpayer dollars. Now, Arkansas’ parents and schools are about to get sucker-punched in a similar fashion.

You can also be sure that someway, somehow, APSRC Executive Director Scott Smith will also find a way to profit from this. Smith does not believe in MOUs that offer no benefit to his Walton-backed empire – er, I mean, “non-profit” organization.

I dealt with digital-provider “representatives” – not educators but salesmen – for three years. They expected free vendor booths at each APSRC conference. They also expected to be wined and dined on APSRC’s tab. Initially, they got what they wanted via a grant awarded to APSRC’s teaching and learning department. But when the money ran out, they still expected to be wooed and catered to. And Smith didn’t seem to mind, which tells me that APSRC also was making money by supporting these digital providers.

APSRC has been trying for years – well before my time there – to sell this digital-learning crap to Arkansas schools. Problem is, this crap, aside from being crap, has been too pricey even for the better-off districts.

Open the link and read the rest. The Waltons are happy to disrupt public schools at any time.

The National Superintendents Roundtable published a report calling on tech vendors to get out of the way during the pandemic and “Just Stop It.”

COVID-19 has unleashed a tsunami of work for school superintendents as they distribute food to students, implement distance learning, and prepare for a different fall school environment. What’s not helping, they say, is a flood of sales calls from technology vendors offering to help.

The Roundtable surveyed its members on this issue and the responses, in a report entitled Just Stop It!, reveal a deep vein of irritation with marketing campaigns aimed at schools during the pandemic.

A press release detailing the study’s findings was published in 142 outlets in a matter of hours, ranging from Dow newsletters and Yahoo Finance to publications from Nevada to Pennsylvania. These outlets hold a potential audience in the millions. Very detailed accounts of the study were also published by Brian Bradley in Education Week and Dian Schaffhauser in The Journal.

The complete report on the study’s findings can be found here.

A reader with the anonymous sobriquet “Kindergarten Interlude” writes:


For my kindergartners distance-learning was never fun. And Lord knows for me it is not just a challenge but truly sad. How do you connect with five and six-year-olds through a computer screen? And the parents are losing it. I give them a lot of credit!

Of course I am trying to make the best of this for my students, but gone is the essence of teaching and learning in kindergarten: The human touch, the facial expressions, the spontaneous moments, the joy – reading and singing and dancing and yoga and Simon Says and Thumbs Up at the end of the day. And Discovery Centers (my code word for play centers)- teamwork and problem-solving and using one’s imagination and learning basic social skills like taking turns and sharing. There is great satisfaction (and joy!) in learning and practicing these skills and working together as a team. It is how friendships are planted and take root over the weeks and months of working and playing and learning together. Deep feelings of security and acceptance come from belonging to a community. A REAL community, not a screen.

So no, this was never fun and it is an untenable way to teach kindergarten and I imagine pretty much every grade.

Because at the end of the day, it is all about that beautiful community that is established. That’s the essence of successful teaching and learning in kindergarten.

This is the incredible but true story of the improbable rise and precipitate collapse of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which sucked nearly $1 billion out of public schools in Ohio over nearly 20 years. It was written by James Pogue and published by Mother Jones in 2018.

Read this article in full.

Pogue describes ECOT’s founder William Lager as a “washed-up lobbbyisr” with big dreams, scribbling on napkins in a Waffle House in Columbus, Ohio. He succeeded in creating a virtual charter school that soon became the largest charter school in Ohio. He created related businesses to supply the goods and services for his growing business. He gave generous sums to politicians. Governor John Kasich loved ECOT. He was a commencement speaker.

So was Jeb Bush, who saw ECOT as the future of American education. He was a commencement speaker too. The state auditor gave ECOT an award for the quality of its audits.

However, as ECOT’s enrollment grew, so did its problems. Its attrition rate was staggering. Only 40% of its students graduated. Parents complained to state officials that their kids weren’t learning anything. But state officials, most of whom received donations from Lager, didn’t listen.

Classes began in September 2000, and by the end of the school year ECOT had 3,000 students and had become the state’s largest charter, bigger than many of Ohio’s public school districts, according to Lager. “We were given five months from the day that our charter was approved to the first day of school,” he wrote. “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t plan a wedding in that period of time (and given my track record with marriages, probably shouldn’t!).”

It soon became obvious there were problems. Jim Petro, then the state auditor, issued a brutal assessment of the school’s first year, finding that “ECOT did not have any written policies or procedures for enrolling students,” that it exhibited an “inability to provide computers to students at the beginning of the school year,” and that in two months there were “106 instances in which the reported student was either less than 5 years old or greater than 21 years old, contrary to legislated age requirements.” It also found that the school received almost $1 million in the month of September 2000 as payment for the students it claimed to be educating, although that month “only 7 students logged-in to one of the available computer-based instruction systems.” In other words, during the first month of operations, only about 1 of every 300 ECOT students managed to access Lager’s revolutionary new online education program.

Astonishingly, and despite the auditor’s conclusion that the school was paid an additional $1 million the following month for students it couldn’t account for, ECOT was allowed to carry on…

By 2006, ECOT was growing into a behemoth, and Lager was growing rich. His private companies eventually billed ECOT for at least $153 million, most of it taxpayer dollars. These companies were largely insulated from state oversight. In 2002, a law put forth by Republican legislators had given oversight authority of certain charter schools to chartering agencies, like Lucas County ESC, which were left largely responsible for monitoring the schools that paid them. Charter management companies like Altair weren’t—and still aren’t—required to report what percentage of the state funds they received was paid out in individual salaries. But two early state audits show that at least in the first two years of ECOT’s operation, more than $1 million in fees paid to Altair went to Lager personally.

He began to pour that money into politics, donating $1.9 million over the course of 18 years, mostly to Republican candidates. Some high-level ECOT or Altair employees also frequently donated to pro-charter candidates, according to one former ECOT administrator and state records. “I was bothered by it, to a degree, but I stayed out of the politics and just did my job,” he said. “That was what I was getting paid for, and I didn’t care about getting involved with Mr. Lager or any of that other stuff.”

In one instance reported by the Akron Beacon Journal in 2006, Lager gave $10,000 over a four-day period to the gubernatorial campaign of the former auditor, Jim Petro, who had since been elected as the state’s attorney general. Four ECOT or Altair employees, along with their spouses, each donated $5,000 to Petro during the same four-day span—totaling at least $50,000 from ECOT and Altair staff during a primary campaign. One couple that contributed $24,500 had never donated to a state or federal campaign until that year. Petro lost but remained the attorney general. And soon, despite his lacerating assessment of ECOT’s first year, he gave the commencement address at the school’s 2006 graduation ceremony…

Across the country, many state legislatures were increasingly permissive of charter schools, and their enrollments were skyrocketing. From 2006 to 2016, they would nearly triple their enrollments nationwide, from 1.2 million students to 3.1 million. In Ohio, the system had grown from almost nothing to 70,000 students in just 10 years, and the charter lobby was becoming one of the most influential in the state. “There were a lot of powerful lobbies in Columbus,” Stephen Dyer, who was elected to the Ohio House in 2006, told me. “You had coal, you had general energy companies, you had nursing homes. I never saw any sector get everything they wanted except charters.”

Amid the national wave that overturned the GOP majority in 2006, Ted Strickland, a Democrat who wanted to get a handle on charters, was elected as Ohio’s first Democratic governor in 25 years. But a sudden flood of almost $900,000 in campaign cash from a group headed by Betsy DeVos, who long before becoming Trump’s education secretary was active in pushing the most radical approaches to school deregulation, helped to keep Ohio’s House of Representatives in Republican hands. Over the four years of Strickland’s tenure, charter industry allies in the Legislature blocked many of the governor’s attempts. “I don’t think all political contributions are efforts to do something nefarious,” Strickland told me. “But in this case, I think it was so obvious that these schools were so bad and were failing and had such lax oversight. I cannot give the Republican Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say that they did not know.”

“When you have a situation where public moneys are used to enrich individuals,” he added, “who then in turn support the politicians that support the policies that enrich them—it may not be illegal, but I think that fits the definition of corruption…”

In June 2010, Jeb Bush flew to Columbus to give the commencement speech at ECOT’s graduation. It was just one among several efforts to boost Lager’s business. The next year, Bush would push for increased funds for e-schooling in Ohio—never mind that ECOT’s test scores were some of the worst in the state, worse than those in all but 14 of 609 Ohio school districts. And in the months following his commencement address, Bush would convene a Digital Learning Council with support from major tech companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The council—which Lager sat on—contributed to laws in Florida, Utah, and Wisconsin that helped steer public money to online education companies. Nationwide, online charters would soon educate an estimated 200,000 students a year, even as one study of their performance compared the educational shortfalls they produced to a student losing “72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math” out of a normal school year. “The US education system currently operates as an eight-track tape in an iPod world,” Bush said, after Gov. John Kasich signed a 2011 bill encouraging e-learning in the state. “Ohio is on a path to transform education for the 21st century…”

“You will have had no other speaker more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich,” Lager told the crowd as he introduced the governor in 2011. “With his help, we see nothing but clear sailing.”

ECOT was a huge financial success but an educational failure. Students were counted as enrolled if they logged in for only one minute in a day.

Students, in fact, weren’t required to participate in online classroom learning at all, according to another ECOT official’s testimony regarding the 2015-16 school year. (Educational requirements could be satisfied through field trips or homework.)…

Only in recent months [2018] have Ohio politicians begun to distance themselves from the school. Last August, the state Republican Party returned $38,000 in donations from Lager and another $38,000 from his lieutenant at Altair, Melissa Vasil. Yost put Lager on warning in January by publicly suggesting that the ECOT founder, who over the years has purchased a $3.7 million home in Key West, Florida, along with a lakeside retreat and properties around Columbus, could be expected to personally repay some of the tens of millions of dollars ECOT owes the state. A few days later, a framed photo of Yost was reportedly removed without explanation from the lobby at ECOT’s headquarters.

“I don’t think there’s any conscionable reason why Lager should make the profits that he makes off of educating kids in public schools,” a former ECOT administrator told me. He defended his accomplishments at ECOT and said that for many children he worked with, online schooling really was the best option—safer for kids who had been bullied or threatened by gangs, and more flexible for students whose families might be transient.

But those successes came at the cost of more than $1 billion in public funding, much of it diverted from better performing Ohio schools, and at least 15 percent of that money—about $150 million—was paid to Lager’s private companies, subject to almost zero oversight or transparency. In 2017, Columbus’ public schools posted a four-year graduation rate of 74 percent. ECOT’s was 40 percent. Nevertheless, that year Columbus schools sacrificed $11 million in funding—about 3 percent of their total state allocation—to ECOT.

In January 2018, ECOT collapsed, owing the state $80 million.

Betsy DeVos is still promoting virtual charters like ECOT, where students learn nothing.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, virtual charters are promoting their inferior product to gullible parents.