Friday, December 22, 2017

PA: Another District Backs Away from Summit

Indiana, Pennsylvania schools were on the list of schools excited to be buying Summit's School in a Box and deploying it. In their case, sixth graders were going to bear the brunt of this edu-product, courtesy of the Zuckerberg-favored techno-based sort-of-personalized learning charter school chain that is diversifying itself into combo charter school and beta tester for Summit's software product.

Some summits are more beautiful than others

Now they are joining the ranks of the schools backing away from their initial decision.

Local coverage of the issue presents us with some good news and some bad news. Here's a sample:

GOOD NEWS: Perfect Terminology

Is there any better terminology for capturing the oxymoronic nature of programs like Summit than "mass customized learning program." A mass produced program scaled up to the mass market, and yet somehow customized. The term was most notably put out there in a book/ed program that actually used it unironically.

Generally, mass customized learning is a digitally framed curriculum for a class in which a teacher introduces content for students and outlines their goals, then the pupils follow online components of their course, mainly at their own pace, with the ability to complete lessons and take tests at their own pace — sometimes repeating tests until they get passing grades.

So, not personalized. Just individually paced, with students having ample opportunity to figure out how to beat the program to master the material.

I've been looking for a term to use to talk about competency based education (that isn't actually about creating competency) and personalized learning (which isn't actually personalized). Mass customized learning program is a good one, and I'm happy to see it cropping up in regular media.

GOOD NEWS: Parents Catching On

Indiana implemented Summit this fall-- "quietly"-- and parents noticed.

After just a month, "parents began telling the school board that their kids were not adjusting to the new learning style, that they found questionable and objectionable material in the recommended online resources in their classes, and that their children were spending too much time in front of computer screens."

Well, yes.  That's how a MCLP works.

The board backed away from Summit after a meeting packed with parents who wanted a change. The article suggests that the board is concerned that this is simply a loud minority-- but they are still scaling back.

BAD NEWS: Teachers Defending This Baloney

Sixth-grade teachers Linda Lansberry and Kevin Freeberg stood up for the program. I'm not impressed by their reasoning.

“This is project based learning and it is astounding. I have not one student failing,” Lansberry said. “Every one of my students feels valued."

"Not one student failing" is not a metric I'm impressed by, unless you can show me evidence that the Not Failing is linked to actual learning. Not Failing is an easy mark to hit, particularly in a system where students just sit and take computerized tests until they pass.
BAD NEWS: The Backing Is a Little Wishy Washy

Currently they're Summiting four courses. They might drop back to two, and then make it totally optional next year. They're waiting for a survey conducted by a professional survey group (speaking of wasting money-- there are 220 6th graders. Do you really need to hire someone to survey them) which will return results next moth. And de-Summiting in the middle of year-- putting the canned curriculum back in the box-- will mean some scrambling for teachers, students and parents.

Which underlines another issue of MCLPs. As a teacher, I collect feedback every single day, and I constantly course-correct. A MCLP can't. The people who wrote the program won't even meet the students, let alone collect information from them that could influence how the course unfolds. Changing directions and adapting is part of what a live teacher does; it is not something software can do.

But GOOD NEWS-- extending Summit to fourth and fifth grades is apparently now off the table.

BAD NEWS: Those Damn Tests

Part of the discussion in Indiana is centered around the question of whether Summit works or not (a question that might have been good to ask before signing up). Guess where Indiana may look for those answers.

“Is there any solid evidence that it works?” Caruso asked. “I don’t care how people feel. Is it educating kids? Are their scores and grades up or down? Is it working?”

So, we'll check test scores. Once again, some folks want to reduce "working" in a school program to "good test scores on the Big Standardized Test."

If that's your measure-- if you think a school's quality is measured by how well students do on a single narrowly-focused, poorly-constructed multiple choice test, then you are doing it wrong. 

BAD NEWS: What Nobody Is Discussing

Nowhere in this discussion do I see anyone talking about the data being collected by Summit, nor a discussion of how, where, and to what purpose that data is being stored-- nor who will ultimately have access to it/

If your school district is using software to handle instruction, you must be talking about all of these data issues.

So the conquest of the educational world by Summit is not running as smoothly as they might like, but not as poorly as some of the rest of us might like. The solution as always remains the same-- pay attention, and voice your opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Thought of your blog this morning when I posted a CGP Grey YouTube video about data bots and how they are created--it explains a lot about CBE. My favorite quote: "Teacher bots can't teach, but teacher bots can test."