Boninger, Molnar and Saldaña found that despite the Summit Learning Program’s popularity and philanthropic investment, there is a lack of clear evidence supporting its purported effectiveness.
Virtual and personalized learning programs have risen in popularity and have been a topic of education reform discussions for more than a decade. Summit Public Schools is considered a leader in this sector and is backed by almost $200 million from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the Gates Foundation and more. Summit Public Schools has marketed its Summit Learning Platform since 2015 to schools throughout the country. Because of its funding and marketing efforts, the program is one of the top digital personalized learning programs nationwide and is used in 400 schools across the country.
In its marketing, Summit claims to have a “science-based” model of teaching and learning that prepares every student for college and the success of its students stems from the program’s “unique approach” to digital personalized learning.
The claims Summit makes have not been confirmed by independent evaluators. The authors found no evidence in public records confirming the claims, and Summit did not provide the information authors requested via a California public records request. There is no evidence “partner schools” experience the success promised in Summit’s claims. In fact, there have been several reported incidents of problems and dissatisfaction with the program.
Summit’s contracts with the partner schools also pose a significant risk to student privacy. Data is open to exploitation by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and unknown third parties.
The authors found the Summit Learning Program provides an example of how policymakers are challenged when faced with a push for schools to adopt digital personalized learning programs. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this. The authors provide policymakers with recommendations to protect the public by establishing oversight for programs like Summit’s and mechanisms to hold them accountable.
Read the full policy brief on the Great Lakes Center website or on the National Education Policy Center website.