A couple of days ago (4/21/19), the New York Times ran an article about a Kansas community’s rebellion against the Summit Learning platform, a controversial ed-tech initiative funded in large part by the Chan-Zuckerberg foundation.
Normally, I try to hold myself at as much of a distance as possible from the ed-tech world, but in this case, I seem to have acquired an inadvertent stake in things: last school year, while looking at my analytics (see, I’m data-driven!), I suddenly noticed that I was receiving regular traffic from summit.org and that, moreover, the number of daily referrals from that site corresponded almost exactly to the number of hits on my “how to use a dash” post.
Obviously, a link to the piece had been incorporated into the Summit platform.
When I first discovered this, my curiosity was piqued, and so I spent some time on the main Summit website trying to figure out where my blog was linked to. (Is it just me, or is the ransom-note motif not positively creepy?) Predictably, aside from a handful of vague, weak sample lessons that could be downloaded, I was unable to access anything more substantive. Still, I assumed that more real lessons—even really poorly constructed ones—had to exist…right? At that point, I didn’t really have the time or the inclination to investigate further.
Then, as I was reading the Times article, I came across this:
In September, some students stumbled onto questionable content while working in the Summit platform, which often directs them to click on links to the open web.
In one class covering Paleolithic history, Summit included a link to an article in The Daily Mail, the British newspaper, that showed racy ads with bikini-clad women. For a list of the Ten Commandments, two parents said their children were directed to a Christian conversion site.
Ms. Tavenner said building a curriculum from the open internet meant that a Daily Mail article was fair game for lesson plans.
In light of Ms. Tavenner’s comment regarding the “open Internet,” I decided to check back and see if I could take another look at those lesson samples—but, surprise, surprise, they appeared to have been removed.
And so now I wonder: Exactly how often is “often”? Does the program, despite all its lofty
bullshit rhetoric, essentially consist of nothing more than a series of links to random free articles around the web?” Given that Summit is not actually charging districts for the program (in exchange for vast quantities of student data, of course), that seems entirely plausible. Content-development costs money, after all.
If anyone has direct experience with/access to Summit and could enlighten me as to exactly how the program is (not) structured, I would very much appreciate it.
Let me be clear: while I am more than happy to have individual teachers use my free resources to supplement their curriculum as they see fit, my work is under no circumstances intended to be an easy “out” for tech billionaires too lazy and cheap to fund an actual program.
Interestingly, the lesson in question is quite far removed from the hippie-dippy, project-based, learning-about-learning rhetoric of authenticity that Summit has borrowed so beautifully from the progressive movement; in fact, it’s about as structured and didactic as these things get, and so one has to wonder what value it could possibly serve in a program like Summit at all.
So for that reason, I will be disabling the “how to use a dash” post, at least for the time being.
Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience, but I have no interest in having my work co-opted for this nonsense.