- High school students at Brooklyn’s Secondary School for Journalism staged a walkout last week to protest perceived “wrongdoings” at the school, which include the use of an online curriculum called “Summit Learning” that stresses independent learning.
- Schools across the nation have implemented this free web-based program, which was designed with the help of Facebook engineers and funded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.
- However, students at the Brooklyn high school – and at other schools – have criticised the program for its lack of effectiveness, as well as expressed concerns over data privacy.
Students at a Brooklyn high school staged a walkout last week to protest teaching methods in their classrooms, which include a web-based curriculum program partially funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Nearly 100 students participated in the protest at the Secondary School for Journalism in Brooklyn, the New York Post reported. They complained that the online program, called Summit Learning, resulted in coursework that required students to spend much of their day in front of a computer screen, made it easy to cheat by looking up answers online, and that some of their teachers didn’t have the proper training for the curriculum.
The program emphasises students “work at their own pace” and follow “self-direction,” according to the website. Summit Learning was first designed with the help of engineers from Facebook, and gets funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a nonprofit started by the Facebook CEO and his wife Priscilla Chan.
“You have to teach yourself,” a freshman at the Secondary School for Journalism told the New York Post. “Students can easily cheat on quizzes since they can just copy and paste the question into Google.”
Students in Brooklyn protested not only the implementation of Summit Learning in their school, but also the “other wrongdoings” going on within school leadership, according to a blog post from a New York educational activist.
Students at the Brooklyn high school haven’t been the only ones to express dissatisfaction with Summit Learning, which has been adopted at 380 schools nationwide. Schools in the town of Cheshire, Connecticut – where Zuckerberg himself grew up – implemented Summit Learning last school year, but New York Magazine reported the switch was met with backlash from both kids and parents. The program was eventually shuttered at the school.
A website called “We the Parents,” made up of parents from schools in eight states who are pushing back against Summit Learning has complained that the curriculum is a “poor education product” that has been improperly implemented, alienated students, and reduced teachers to the role of “facilitators.”
Parents have also raised privacy concerns over Summit Learning’s collection of student data, especially as the platform has connections to a social media giant that itself has been plagued with concerns over its handling of personal information. However, Summit Learning has stressed that its relationship with Facebook is incredibly limited aside from its funding relationship with the Zuckerbergs.
One teacher who spoke to the New York Post, who asked to remain anonymous, complained that the Summit coursework had been prone to glitches, and that staff had run into issues supporting the online platform with its current WiFi setup.
Following the student protests, Summit Learning has recommended that leadership at the Secondary School of Journalism cease using the curriculum program for its 11th and 12th grades. According to an email between the two groups, Summit claims the school was “hasty” in rolling out the curriculum to the extent that it was “unlikely to be successful” going forward.
Read the email in full below that Summit Learning sent to leadership at the Second School for Journalism following the protest:
Dear Principal Hilaire,
This afternoon, I debriefed with my team following their visit to your school this week. I am contacting you directly with specific and strong recommendations regarding how to move forward given what we learned. Our shared commitment to students, teachers and parents requires that we work in close partnership and make decisions in the best interest of students.
As you know, the Summit Learning approach, grounded in established learning science, was created in our own schools a little over six years ago. In the years since making this change ourselves – and through our work supporting other schools via the Summit Learning Program – we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to set schools and students up for success.
We created Program Requirements to ensure every school starts this change journey with their baseline needs in place. When a school commits to these program requirements we commit to supporting the school through: ongoing coaching in the form of a dedicated Summit Learning mentor; in person professional development three times a year; and access to rigorous curriculum via the Summit Learning Platform.
We recommend that all schools who first enter the Program start small, expanding only when they’re ready and have a well-thought-out plan in place. What I’ve heard from our team is that while that was your original intention, the level of enthusiasm and passion you felt following summer training, led you to roll the Program out to all of your students without full consideration of the program requirements nor onboarding recommendations from the Summit team.
While I understand the motivation here, it’s crucial we work together to ensure that the needs of all students are being met. Based on what we’ve seen the past week, it’s clear your rollout was hasty and is unlikely to be successful should you continue down this path. It takes all core components (project-based learning, 1:1 mentoring and self-direction) working together in order to drive the outcomes we want for students (cognitive skills, habits of success and content knowledge). It is also crucial that the experience for students is consistent across all four core subjects. These conditions are not currently in place for your 11th and 12th grades. Additionally, there are infrastructure issues (not enough Chromebooks nor bandwidth for all students). Therefore, our strong recommendation is implementation in eleventh and twelfth grades should cease immediately and not be restarted unless all program requirements are fully in place. We are committed to working with you, but if you do not agree with and implement our recommendation we will need to have an immediate conversation about the status of our partnership.
If you do implement our recommendation we will continue to provide support. As a first step, we will provide additional training tailored specifically to your school for your 9th and 10th grade teams on November 15th and 16th. This will be a customised training for your teachers who have been properly trained and are committed and resourced to implement Summit Learning with fidelity.
While onsite, my team can work with you to discuss additional supports that will benefit your school, teachers and students.
Thank you for your prompt attention.
Chief Program Officer