Summit Public Schools’ personalized-learning model, known as the Summit Learning Program (SLP) is replicating rapidly, I wrote in the fall 2017 Education Next. The non-profit charter network’s approach, which uses an online platform developed with engineering help from Facebook, melds project-based and self-paced learning with teacher mentoring. SLP use is continuing to spread — and at least some partner schools are reporting encouraging results.
Taking over from Facebook, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative is supporting the SLP as part of its focus on personalized learning. That funding makes it possible for Summit to continue to refine its curriculum-loaded platform and to offer it for free, along with teacher training, technical support and mentoring, to partner schools.
The Facebook/Zuckerberg connection also stokes “alarms about Silicon Valley’s growing influence over public schools” and fears that “digital devices and data-mining software” will replace teachers, as Benjamin Herold writes in Education Week.
In Summit’s personalized-learning model, students spend most of their day collaborating on projects, not starting at screens. Teachers may be “guides on the side,” but they are very important guides.
However, there’s no question that Silicon Valley philanthropists have helped fuel the growth of personalized learning.
Summit started with 19 partner schools in 2015–16 and added more than 100 new schools the following year. In 2017-18, 330 schools with 2,450 teachers, and 54,230 students are participating in 40 states.
Seventy-six percent are district-run public schools, 18 percent are public charters and 6 percent are private schools.
Ninety-three percent of last year’s partner schools stayed in the program, reports Summit. Of those with the ability to add an additional grade, 81 percent did so.
Based on the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP), which compares students who start out with similar scores, most SLP students are meeting growth projections in math and reading, Summit reports. The weakest students are making the strongest gains.
In the first year, SLP teachers must adopt project-based learning, use a new grading framework that stresses mastery of concepts and find time to mentor students, said Catherine Madden, director of communications for Summit Learning. “We expect student achievement to hold steady during the transition to personalized learning,” she said. However, some schools are reporting “gains in state test scores, greater student engagement, increased attendance, and better behavior” even in the first year.
For example, the Distinctive Schools network in Chicago reports that seventh graders’ math proficiency grew by 22 points and reading proficiency by 19 points in one year.
At Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista, California, where more than three-fourths of students are English Learners, twice as many students scored at or above proficient on state tests compared to the previous year. In addition, discipline referrals fell sharply.
An early adopter, Blackstone Valley Prep in Rhode Island introduced Summit Learning in the 2015-16 school year. Two years later, Blackstone reported that 11th-graders scored 108 points above the state average on the SAT. That means Blackstone students are nearly twice as likely to earn college- and career-ready scores as the typical Rhode Island 11th -grader.
In addition to adding SLP partners, Summit launched a personalized-learning teacher residency program this year. Twenty-four teachers-in-training are spending four days a week observing experienced teachers at the eight Bay Area Summit charters. On Fridays, the trainees do their own coursework using “a project-based curriculum that is competency-based, self-directed, and student-centered.” In the second semester, trainees will teach one class section. By the end of the year, they’re expected to earn a California teaching credential.
— Joanne Jacobs