Response from Summit

On behalf of Summit Public Schools, Brandon Lee (I don’t know what his role is at Summit – as far as I can tell, he’s a freelance marketing professional, but I have requested his title via email) responded to my last blog. He rightly points out that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropic organization separate from Facebook. Priscilla Chan is Mark Zuckerberg’s spouse.  I have printed Mr. Lee’s comments in full below.

But I would like to comment on Mr. Lee’s comments.

Regardless of his “corrections,” that fact remains that many parents and schools have pushed back against Summit Schools, not only because of concerns about privacy, but about the curriculum itself. I can find no third party, peer-reviewed studies or research that shows the effectiveness of Summit. In fact, the more schools that use Summit, the more there seems to be growing concern about Summit’s effectiveness.

This article from discusses the amount of money being spent and made on “personalized learning” with very little evidence of its effectiveness.

There are also continuing concerns about privacy. Some of the concerns may be found highlighted in the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy fact sheet.

The Parent Coalition fact sheet states, “Summit claims the right to collect an extraordinary amount of personal student information. Among the data points that they collect, according to their website, include student and parent names and their email addresses; student ID numbers, attendance, suspension and expulsion records, disabilities, their gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, their date of birth, teacher observations of their behavior, their grade promotion or retention, test scores, college admission, survey responses, homework assignments, and any extracurricular activities they engage in. Summit also plans to track students after graduation from high school, including college attendance and careers.

“Summit shares this data to as many as 19 corporate ‘partners’ including the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, to run their services, do research and help them improve their ‘product.’ In addition, several of the websites that students are assigned through the Summit platform track student data for marketing and advertising purposes, including YouTube. There is no independent oversight of Summit or its partner companies to ensure that they are using the data appropriately or securing it from breaches.”

The fact remains that Summit is not a resounding success in many schools and districts.  The Parent Coalition Fact Sheet says, “Parents have rebelled against Summit Learning in Boone County, in Kentucky; Fairview Park City School District in Ohio; Indiana Area School District in Pennsylvania; Clearwater County in Idaho; McPherson in Kansas and elsewhere. Because of growing parent and student discontent, some districts have completely eliminated the use of the Summit platform, including in Cheshire, Connecticut; several others have rolled back the implementation of the program or made it optional for students and parents, including in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Summit itself has reported that about seven percent of schools that have tried the platform have now dropped it, meaning at least 23 schools. Yet the actual figure cannot be confirmed, since Summit refuses to disclose which schools are using it and have offered inconsistent numbers over time about the extent of its reach.”

In addition, public schools have transparency and accountability, while the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative form of philanthropy chooses to function in a more opaque and unique way. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is an LLC, which means that it functions as a corporation, and “It privatizes the way these funds will be directed and minimizes the public’s control of how charitable dollars are spent.” Ultimately, what that means is that there is a lack of transparency and public oversight.

Here’s an interesting read on Bill Gates’ connection to Summit at Seattle Education:

With this much controversy surrounding Summit, shouldn’t parents, educators and administrators be taking a closer look at it rather than blindly accepting its marketing hype? Is it the best, most effective way to educate the next generation? Should parents and educators put blind trust in Summit, hoping for the best outcomes? Are we willing to use our children as guinea pigs?

Here are Brandon Lee’s comments:

  • In the fifth paragraph: You quote Nellie Bowles of the NYT as saying, The platform that Summit provides was developed by Facebook engineers.
    • Facebook did not develop and does not own, manage, or have any involvement in Summit Learning. Facebook has no involvement or access to the Summit Learning Program. The platform was originally developed by an engineer at Summit Public Schools, with later development support from Facebook (ending in 2017). Today, the platform is supported by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative engineers and educators. To be clear: Facebook has no involvement in the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s (CZI’s) work, nor do they have access to the Summit Learning Platform.
    • CZI was launched in late 2015, and is an independent philanthropic organization that is entirely separate from Facebook.
    • CZI is a funder of Summit and CZI engineers do support the Summit Learning Program (SLP), working with the Summit team and Summit Learning Platform teachers across the U.S.
  • In the seventh paragraph: A girl with epilepsy went from having one seizure a day to having several seizures a day.
    • The student reported to suffer from seizures, Megan Jackson, was falsely reported to be involved with the Summit Learning Platform. As The New York Times stated in their correction, this was inaccurately reported. In fact, the student (and her school) have never participated in the Summit Learning Program.
  • In the 11th paragraph: Parents also worry about data privacy. We know that Facebook doesn’t have the best reputation in that regard! No wonder they’re offering it for free.
    • Facebook did not develop and does not own, manage, or have any involvement in Summit Learning. (See ‘fifth paragraph’ correction for details.)
    • Summit Learning does not put children’s privacy at risk. It is inaccurate to say or imply such. Neither Summit nor the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative owns or sells student data, period. Nor do they have any commercial aspirations in education. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provides engineering resources and technology to Summit Learning for free, with no expectation or intention of earning a return. Summit and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are both deeply committed to protecting students’ personal information.
    • As it relates to CZI’s technical support for the Summit Learning Program, CZI complies with the privacy policy that Summit has set for all of the service providers supporting the operation and development of SLP. We are committed to safeguarding the privacy and security of students’ personal information — and we adhere to rigorous privacy policies and are proud signers of the Student Privacy Pledge.
    • Summit maintains a robust Privacy Center on their website that details all the ways they are protecting student privacy.

Brandon Lee
On behalf of Summit Public Schools

Categories: Editor’s Blog