Virtual School Meanderings

June 30, 2020

Evasive T.L.P. Education Response To NEPC Brief Ignores Brief’s Key Findings

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

If T.L.P. has evidence to support its claims of transparency and accuracy, it should provide it.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Publication Announcement

Neither Transparent Nor AccurateEvasive T.L.P. Education Response to NEPC Brief Ignores Brief’s Key Findings

KEY TAKEAWAY:

If T.L.P. has evidence to support its claims of transparency and accuracy, it should provide it.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Faith Boninger:

(480) 390-6736

fboninger@gmail.com

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (June 29, 2020) – On June 25, 2020 NEPC published Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms, a research brief by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Christopher M. Saldaña. Later that same day, T.L.P. Education (a/k/a “Summit Learning”) posted “Our Commitment to Transparency and Accuracy,” its response to the NEPC research brief, on its website. The response avowed T.L.P.’s transparency while evading the major findings presented in the brief.

T.L.P.’s response took up three issues: the security of student data, research support for the efficacy of its program, and the relationship of T.L.P. to the Summit Public Schools.

Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money reported that Summit Learning contracts examined by the brief’s authors left the door wide open for the use of student data by T.L.P., the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and other third parties in perpetuity. In its response T.L.P. made no reference to the carefully constructed Summit contract language pointed out in the brief. Nor did it challenge the brief authors’ assessment of the implications of that contract language. Instead T.L.P. evaded the point and attempted to obscure the serious issues raised in the brief by offering irrelevant references to the data safety guidelines it has adopted.

Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money also documented the lack of solid research evidence for the claims of efficacy made for the Summit Learning Program by Summit Public Schools or by T.L.P.. The brief further reported that what Summit Learning offered were anecdotes and snippets of findings from selected evaluations. True to form, in its response to the NEPC brief, T.L.P. offered only anecdotes and misleading snippets of findings from a selected evaluation – not solid research evidence.

Finally, Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money described how Summit Public Schools created and until the 2018-2019 school year recruited “partner” schools to adopt the Summit Learning Program and its related Summit Learning Platform. It reported further that T.L.P. was created by Summit Public schools to manage and market its Summit Learning Program. The brief also noted that the organizations continue to be intimately connected. T.L.P.’s three-person board consists of Diane Tavenner, the founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, Priscilla Chan, co-founder and co-CEO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (Summit Public Schools and T.L.P.’s long-term technology partner and major funder), and Alex Hernandez, Dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Virginia. In other words, the T.L.P. board is, in effect, controlled by the CEO of Summit Public Schools and the co-CEO of its major funder. In its response, T.L.P. did not refute any of the facts related to the relationship between Summit Public Schools and T.L.P. presented in the brief.

Until such time as Summit Public Schools and/or T.L.P. provide dispositive evidence to the contrary, the brief authors stand by the accuracy of the facts they have presented and by their conclusions.

T.L.P.’s response to Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money headlines its commitment to “transparency” and “accuracy.” That’s a nice marketing pitch. But the pitch needs underlying supports, and the response is devoid of any evidence T.L.P. may have that the facts presented in our research brief are incorrect. If T.L.P. simply has no such evidence, it should acknowledge the brief’s accuracy—as uncomfortable as that may be.

Find Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms, by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Christopher M. Saldaña, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/summit-2020

Find T.L.P. Education’s response, “Our Commitment to Transparency and Accuracy,” at:

https://blog.summitlearning.org/2020/06/our-commitment-to-transparency-and-accuracy/

Find Boninger, Molnar, and Saldaña’s reply at: https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/summit-2020

This research brief is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

June 26, 2020

The Summit Learning Program: Big Promises, Lots Of Money, Little Evidence Of Success

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Despite a lack of evidence that it is effective, the Summit Learning Program, propelled by a flood of Silicon Valley money, continues to spread.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Publication Announcement

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Despite a lack of evidence that it is effective, the Summit Learning Program, propelled by a flood of Silicon Valley money, continues to spread.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Faith Boninger:

(480) 390-6736

fboninger@gmail.com

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (June 25, 2020) – Virtual learning and personalized learning have been at the forefront of education reform discussions for over a decade. One leader of this sector, Summit Public Schools, has been backed by almost $200 million philanthropic dollars from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the Gates Foundation, and others. Summit Public Schools has aggressively marketed its Summit Learning Platform to schools across the United States since 2015. As a result, the Summit Learning Program is now one of the most prominent digital personalized learning programs in the United States.

In Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms, Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Christopher M. Saldaña, of the University of Colorado Boulder, provide a thorough analysis of Summit Public Schools, an 11-school charter network operating in California and Washington. Summit Public Schools began marketing its proprietary Summit Learning Program to potential “partner” schools in 2015 as a free, off-the-shelf, personalized learning program; it is now used in nearly 400 schools nationwide.

The marketing message of Summit Learning Program trades on the alleged success of the Summit Public Schools. Summit claims to have developed a “science-based” personalized learning model of teaching and learning that results in all of its students being academically prepared for college. It further claims that its students succeed in college and are prepared to lead successful, fulfilled lives. These successes, it claims, are the result of its unique approach to personalized learning and the use of the digital platform at the heart of its approach.

None of these claims made by Summit Public Schools have been confirmed by independent evaluators. In fact, other than scant bits of self-selected information provided by Summit itself, Boninger, Molnar and Saldañafound no evidence in the public record that confirms the claims. Nor did Summit Public Schools provide the information that the authors solicited in a California public records request.

Despite the lack of evidence to support the claims made by Summit Public Schools, the Summit Learning Program has been adopted by nearly 400 schools across the country. While Summit has offered positive anecdotes and some selected data, there is no solid evidence that “partner” schools are experiencing the promised success; to the contrary, there have been a number of reported incidents of problems and dissatisfaction. Further, the student data collected pursuant to the contracts between Summit and these partner schools presents a potentially significant risk to student privacy and opens the door to the exploitation of those data by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and possibly by unknown third parties—for purposes that have nothing to do with improving the quality of those students’ educations.

Virtual education and personalized learning are at the top of the education reform agenda in large measure because of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and advocacy by philanthropic organizations (e.g., the Gates Foundation), large digital platforms (e.g., Facebook and Google), and venture capitalists anxious to access the school market.

Exacerbated by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country are struggling to find safe ways to educate their students. The rapid spread of the Summit Learning Program, despite its risks and lack of transparency, provides a powerful example of how policymakers are challenged when faced with a well-financed, self-interested push for schools to adopt digital personalized learning programs. Boninger, Molnar and Saldaña provide policymakers with recommendations to protect the public interest by establishing oversight and accountability mechanisms related to digital platforms and personalized learning programs.

Find Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms, by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Christopher M. Saldaña, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/summit-2020

This research brief is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

June 17, 2020

NEPC’s June Education Interview Of The Month: Teacher Strikes, Philanthropy, And Public Education

A podcast from the folks at the National Education Policy Center.

NEPC Education Interview of the Month is a great teaching resource; engaging drive-time listening; and 30 minutes of high-quality policy information for educators, community members, policymakers, and anyone interested in education.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Publication Announcement

NEPC’s June Education Interview of the Month: Teacher Strikes, Philanthropy, and Public Education

KEY TAKEAWAY:

NEPC Education Interview of the Month is a great teaching resource; engaging drive-time listening; and 30 minutes of high-quality policy information for educators, community members, policymakers, and anyone interested in education.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Christopher Saldaña:

(303) 492-2566

christopher.saldana@colorado.edu

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (June 16, 2020) – In this month’s NEPC Education Interview of the Month, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University and the co-founder of the Network for Public Education, about her new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.

In Slaying Goliath, Ravitch argues that the effect of the most recent teacher strikes was to change the narrative about K-12 public education in the United States. She explains that where educational policy had become fixed on the idea of high-stakes accountability and school choice, teacher strikes shifted the policy conversation toward reforms such as smaller classes that center on the needs of children.

Ravitch believes the teacher strikes, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, have highlighted the importance of K-12 public schools and the need for adequate school funding. The importance of schools, Ravitch argues, is evidenced in the role schools and teachers have played both historically and during the pandemic, from supporting parents during distance learning to ensuring that children have adequate food and shelter during the crisis. Ravitch does caution, however, that the pandemic will open policy opportunities for advocates of privatizing public schools, particularly those interested in expanding the role of technology in classrooms.

Nevertheless, Ravitch remains hopeful that K-12 public schools will come out stronger in the aftermath of the pandemic. She encourages philanthropists to shift their priorities away from funding their agendas to funding the agenda of communities – for instance, returning the arts to schools, reducing class size, eradicating the school-to-prison pipeline, and expanding mental health resources. She also encourages federal policymakers to return educational policymaking to the principles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, whose purpose was to provide additional resources for America’s most vulnerable children.

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All NEPC Education Interview of the Month podcasts are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

This concludes our NEPC Education Interview of the Month series for the academic year. Please tune in next September for more smart, engaging conversations about education policy.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2020 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

June 9, 2020

Reports Claiming Charter-School Benefits Hampered By Methodological Issues

An important review of a think tank report by the National Education Policy Center.

Analysts ask good questions but fall short in proving their claims.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Publication Announcement

Reports Claiming Charter-School Benefits Hampered by Methodological Issues

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Analysts ask good questions but fall short in proving their claims.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Bruce Fuller:

(415) 595-4320

b_fuller@berkeley.edu

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (June 9, 2020) – Two recent reports attempt to tease out some less-studied charter-school impacts. One asks whether levels of student misbehavior range lower in Pennsylvania charter schools compared with traditional public schools. The second asks whether the competitive threat from new charters alters how public school principals in Texas allocate campus budgets.

University of California, Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller reviewed Are Charter Schools Safer Than District-Run Schools? Evidence from Pennsylvania and Effects of Charter School Competition on District School Budgeting Decisions: Experimental Evidence from Texas. The first report is published by the Reason Foundation, and the second is distributed by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University as part of its EdWorkingPaper series. Researchers at the Reason Foundation authored both reports.

The first study describes how rates of reported low-incidence student infractions are lower in charters, on average. Analyses that include some statistical controls continue to yield results favorable to charters. The author concludes, “The public charter school sector advantages suggest that increasing access to public charter schools in Pennsylvania could improve school climate outcomes for students.”

But the report concedes that the controls included in the regression models are limited and that the results are correlational, not causal. As Professor Fuller notes, it remains unclear whether these differences stem from selection of certain kinds of families into charters or from distinct organizational practices. The lower incidence rate in charter schools pertains to campuses in Philadelphia County, serving large shares of disadvantaged elementary and high school students, but not in other parts of the state.

The second report aims to show that competition from the opening of an imagined nearby charter school can increase principals’ preference for budget autonomy and change how they allocate campus budgets to differing positions and instructional resources. The authors assert that their study offers “experimental evidence” that “anticipated charter school competition has large negative effects on school leaders’ reported spending on certain categories of support staff.”

Yet Professor Fuller explains that few statistically significant effects, including any impact of the hypothetical “treatment,” could be discerned from the study for either of the two outcomes. In addition, generalizability of any findings from this paper is low, because only eight percent of Texas principals chose to participate in the statewide survey.

Overall, Professor Fuller concludes, the two reports pose provocative questions about the possible advantages of charter schools, worth testing empirically, while falling short in building evidence to back their claims.

Find the review, by Bruce Fuller, at:

https://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/charters

Find Are Charter Schools Safer Than District-Run Schools? Evidence from Pennsylvania, written by Corey A. DeAngelis and published by the Reason Foundation, at:

https://reason.org/wp-content/uploads/are-charter-schools-safer-evidence-from-pennsylvania.pdf

Find Effects of Charter School Competition on District School Budgeting Decisions: Experimental Evidence from Texas, written by Corey A. DeAngelis and Christian Barnard and distributed by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University EdWorkingPaper Series, at:

https://edworkingpapers.com/sites/default/files/ai20-198.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2020 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

June 5, 2020

Cutting Public Education Budgets Is A Political Choice. Bailing Out Children Is A Better Choice.

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Policy memo explains the risks of cutting education spending at a time of increasing needs for children and families.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Publication Announcement

Cutting Public Education Budgets is a Political Choice. Bailing Out Children is a Better Choice.

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Policy memo explains the risks of cutting education spending at a time of increasing needs for children and families.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Kevin Welner:

(303) 492-8370

kevin.welner@colorado.edu

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (June 4, 2020) –The aggregate cuts to education budgets currently described as inevitable are in fact a political choice being made by politicians, and they will inflict serious harm on children.

The alternatives to that choice and the looming damage are explained in Austerity, Subsistence, or Investment: Will Congress and the President Choose to Bail Out Our Children’s Future?, a policy memo released today by the National Education Policy Center. It is authored by Frank Adamson, a professor at California State University, Sacramento, Allison Brown of the Righteous Rage Institute for Social Justice (RRISJ), and University of Colorado Boulder professor Kevin Welner, who is the Director of the National Education Policy Center. The policy memo is also being released by the Schott Foundation and RRISJ.

The authors lay out the three options now facing the federal government: austerity, whereby states suffer budget shortfalls unaided by the federal government, leading to massive teacher layoffs and other resource deprivation; subsistence, whereby the federal government backfills state budgets to maintain the status quo, and investment, whereby the federal government responds to this crisis with the initiative to drive a national renewal of our public education system.

The policy memo arrives at a time of multiple calls for federal stimulus spending to support public education, and at a time when protesters across the country are marching against police violence and for equal rights for Black people and communities of color. It details why the country cannot afford to cut education spending at a time of increasing needs for children and families. It also explains how racial inequity in the system will result in further divestment from communities of color at a time when people en masse are demanding transformation of systems that have historically marginalized and failed Black, Latinx, and Native youth and families. Finally, it provides an overview of the types of investments that educators and families want in their schools, including investments in social emotional learning and restorative justice as replacements for the current over-policing of Black and Latinx bodies in schools. A clear and compelling alternative to cutting education spending exists: the historically successful approach of increased investment to fully fund high-quality public education and prepare our future generations.

In the end, the authors pose the question: If policymakers are willing and able to put trillions toward supporting wealthy investors and bolstering financial markets, how can they deny a fraction of that to our children to save their futures?

Find Austerity, Subsistence, or Investment: Will Congress and the President Choose to Bail Out Our Children’s Future?, by Frank Adamson, Allison Brown, and Kevin Welner, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/austerity

This policy memo is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2020 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

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