Summit Learning Statement on New York Times Article

Recently, The New York Times published a story about the Summit Learning Program. The piece was misleading and in several places, factually inaccurate — including the fact that one of the students featured in the story is not in the Summit program and never has been.

Overall, we were disheartened to see the incredible hard work and dedication of our partner educators overshadowed by criticisms that don’t reflect the experience in the vast majority of Summit classrooms.

With this in mind, we wanted to directly address the key inaccuracies and misconceptions in the New York Times article:

Wellington and McPherson, Kansas are not illustrative of the national reaction to Summit

We know that parents are invaluable to a child’s education. We listen to parent feedback and take their concerns seriously. We have been working closely with school leadership in these districts to address some of the issues raised — and to support their ongoing engagement efforts with parents.

However, it is important to remember that the experience of a select number of families does not characterize the reactions of all parents in these communities or nationally. In fact, the Wellington school district recently surveyed their high school families and 80 percent showed support for Summit Learning.

In a survey carried out in March 2019 of 1700 teachers in Summit (attending teacher training), 95 percent said the program had a positive impact on their students’ experience — and 94 percent said the program helped them become better teachers.

Summit Learning is not an untested program

Summit Learning was developed in partnership with nationally-acclaimed learning scientists, researchers, and academics. It is grounded in 100 years of science about how students learn best.

Across the country, the model has shown early success. Schools are reporting academic growth, greater student engagement, increased attendance, and better behavior among their students nationwide. Students who have been the furthest behind made the biggest academic gains in reading and math.

For example, the Pasadena Independent School District in southeastern Texas started piloting the Summit Learning Program in 2015. Within just two years, seventh graders who were the furthest behind their peers made a 17 percent gain on the state math assessment — and a 20 percent gain in reading. You can read more about the impact of Summit Learning across the nation, here.

Summit Learning technology does not replace the work of teachers

Summit Learning does not replace teachers with technology as the story implied. What we hear daily from educators who are using the Summit Learning Program is that they are spending more time working with their students, know them better, and are more able to adjust their learning based on their needs. This is the part of Summit Learning that teachers crave and are seeing come to life as they bring the program to their schools.

The Summit Learning experience is made up of three essential components:

  • A focus on teaching through projects;
  • A mentoring program for every student; and
  • A drive to equip students with the skills and habits associated with lifelong learning, such as self-direction.

Students spend their time writing analytical essays, engaged in Socratic discussions, making presentations, debating, doing labs, conducting interviews, reading and discussing quality fiction and nonfiction, giving and receiving feedback, revising their work, and collaborating with peers.

And teachers who are the backbone of Summit Learning are teaching real-world skills students will need outside of school, leading collaborative projects, developing deep relationships with students, and inspiring students to achieve their own success. In Summit classrooms, students and teachers continue to work together in real time, in interactive group settings without technology.

Summit Learning students do not spend the majority of their time on screens

The broad characterization that all kids spend the majority of their time on computers is factually inaccurate — this is not how the program is designed or correctly implemented. Project-based learning is a fundamental core component of the Summit Learning Platform, and where kids should be spending the majority of their time. Project-based learning is built around the idea that students benefit by applying knowledge, skills, and habits in authentic scenarios.  

It’s also important to remember that the time students spend on the Summit Learning Platform is not the same as the time they spend in front of the television or smartphone screens. The Summit Learning Platform is an educational tool that helps students set and work toward personal goals, move at their own pace through educational content, and understand the steps involved in their hands-on projects.

In cases where students are spending the majority of their time in front of screens, we have worked with the school to resolve the issue and to ensure proper training and implementation are taking place.  

Protecting student privacy is our priority

We take the protection of student privacy very seriously. Everything we do, from the improvements we make to the Platform to how we train our staff, has privacy and security in mind. We only use student personal information for educational purposes. There are no exceptions to this. We require all the service providers who have access to student personal information to comply with strong privacy and security terms. As best practices in privacy and security evolve, we are committed to working with parents/guardians, schools, vendors, industry leaders, and partners who help us keep learning and evolving in these areas in order to help protect student personal information.

Read responses from school districts named in the article

Superintendents from both Wellington and McPherson released public statements in response to the article.

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.