Brooklyn school students boycott self-directed learning program

Brooklyn, New York (Getty Images)

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The student body of a New York City secondary school staged a walk-out last week, partially over the school’s administration’s implementation of the Summit Learning program, a self-directed learning curriculum on a platform designed in part by Facebook engineers and funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The New York Post reported Saturday that 100 students at the Secondary School of Journalism in Brooklyn walked out in protest of the school’s implementation of the program, which has left students largely absent of any teacher-led educational direction, motivation, and in some cases, ability to complete assignments online.

The school is one of 380 in Summit Learning’s network, in addition to 11 public schools in California and Washington using the learning model.

The Summit program is based on personalized learning — at any given time, students are either self-directing their learning, collaborating on a project together or working one-on-one with a faculty or administrative mentor. Teachers walk around the classroom monitoring student progress and sign off on how far students can progress in a certain subject matter, as well as offer additional help to students struggling to master a certain area, according to a Summit spokesperson who spoke with EdScoop.

Students in participating schools do the vast amount of work on laptops via Summit’s online personalized learning platform. At the Secondary School for Journalism and elsewhere, the system has been protested by students and parents alike. The company cited that 90 percent of Summit schools stay with the program after the first year — though the Secondary School marked the first boycott of the program, according to the company. Other schools in New York, Connecticut and parents across the country have protested data privacy concerns and student data collection.

At the Secondary School, however, concerns mainly centered around in-classroom direction.

Walkout organizer Kelly Hernandez, a 17-year old student, told the Post of her Environmental Science class: “It was bad enough that we were lost, the teachers were lost. We have done absolutely nothing in that class.”

Other students cited long hours of staring at the computer, teaching themselves multiple subject areas and program glitches, as well as poor Wi-Fi connections, as issues with the program.

Not all the issues were Summit-caused — a lack of laptops and poor Wi-Fi connection seemed to have impeded the program since its implementation. The school has since been in contact with Summit, which sent a letter to school principal Livingston Hilaire recommending ceasing implementation in eleventh and twelfth grades until all program requirements are put in place, including adequate network bandwidth and devices and teachers trained in all components of the program: student-directed learning, project-based learning and one-on-one mentoring.

Schoolteachers in a Facebook group dedicated to Summit Learning voiced their concerns with the Secondary School’s implementation of the program as outlined in the Post article.

“This school is not using their training. They are using Summit as a stand-alone system, which [it] most definitely is not,” said one teacher.

The company echoed the teachers’ sentiments.

“The students weren’t being set up for success because self-direction in the way that I described it to you earlier was not the way that they were experiencing it,” the company told EdScoop. “When you would walk into their classroom, it does not look the same way that it does when you walk into an actual Summit learning classroom that is fully supported and implemented with fidelity.”

“We’ve made the recommendation to them that they scale back in those upper grades where their teachers haven’t been trained, and we will be on the ground this week with the school to do additional, personalized training specific to the Secondary School of Journalism,” the company said. “We’re going to re-train the teachers in those lower grades and continue to help support them on the ground and make sure they’re making this transition again in their upper grades in a way that makes sense for them and supports students.”

This story was updated on Nov. 15 to clarify that Facebook engineers originally helped build the platform used by the Summit Learning program.

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