Social Media

How Facebook Plans to Disrupt Education

Briallyn Smith 09-12-2015

Back in September, Facebook made a deal with Summit Public Schools. Don’t worry if you didn’t hear about it when it happened – it was a quiet event, without a lot of fanfare. With that being said, the implications of this partnership might change everything we know about public education.


What are Summit Public Schools?

Summit Public schools are public high schools founded in 2003 by parents and community members who wanted to re-imagine high school education in the United States.

Over the last decade enrollment has grown close to 2000 students at eleven different high schools, and Summit schools have spread from their California home to Washington state.

What Does Education Look Like at Summit?Personalized Education

Summit Public Schools believe strongly in students participating in self-directed learning. This has resulted in an education system that looks entirely different from the typical American high school experience.

The driving focus at Summit schools is to prepare every single student for college and university, no matter their background, and to ensure that their graduates will be “thoughtful and considerate members of society”.

This seems like a crazy goal, but Summit is trying some equally crazy strategies to make it happen.


There is no streaming students into separate tracks dependent on their academic achievement levels. Every student at Summit receives a personalized education plan, focusing on their past experiences, current interests, and future plans.


Learning is accomplished at an individual pace through online course content (presented in a variety of mediums including video, text, and audio), discussions with peers, and one-on-one tutoring from teachers and community mentors.

Instead of teachers acting as aloof educators, they are seen as mentors and collaborators – breaking down social barriers to facilitate learning through supportive relationships.


The other great thing that Summit is doing is placing a focus on technology and innovation. This focus may seem as natural as breathing in tech-focused Silicon Valley where the schools are based, but it’s a school model that is going to become increasingly important as our world’s use of technology continues to grow.

An interactive tool on Summit’s website may give you a better idea of what a day in the life of a Summit student is like – it’s so cool that it may leave you wanting to go back to high school! (Trust me, I never thought I’d say that either!)

Why Does Facebook Care?SummitPublic

It’s nice that there’s this crazy school happening in California, but why on earth would Facebook be interested in it?

It all started when Priscilla Chan, wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, toured the school and told her husband that he had to see it for himself.


Zuckerberg is known for philanthropy Facebook Is Bringing WiFi To The Masses With Drones Almost two thirds of the world's population lack Internet access. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg seems eager to address this very real inequality with autonomous drones that will provide free Internet access. Read More , and Summit is definitely a worthy cause. American public schools are generally only seen as average (or below-average) on a global scale, and education issues only become more pronounced in under-funded schools. Education in the United States is something that has needed reform for a long time, and Summit is demonstrating success with an approach that just might be the solution educators and policy makers have been looking for.

True to form, Zuckerberg offered Diane Tavenner (Summit’s founder) a donation for the schools. However, she replied that what Summit really needed was code to run and develop the software used for students’ personalized learning plans.

Facebook got on board.

The partnership between Summit and Facebook is small, but exciting. Zuckerberg shared the partnership on his personal Facebook with some elaboration:


The platform we’re building with Summit — called the Personalized Learning Platform, or PLP — is completely separate from the Facebook service . . . Building software that will enable personalized learning for all children is a new and exciting challenge for Facebook and we can’t do it alone. We’re committed to listening to and learning from the education community — teachers, parents and organizations that are supporting personalized learning — and we’re looking forward to opening up to more students soon.

While the partnership is still in its very early stages, Facebook hopes that in the future it will be able to offer PLP software to students across the country, for free.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Public Education?

Facebook has already changed the way that our world works with regards to communication and social media use, so its potential impact on education should not be underestimated.

Summit boasts incredible success statistics; 96% of its students are accepted to a 4-year college or university program upon graduation – much higher than Silicon Valley’s average college preparedness rate (currently less than 50%). Even students who choose not to attend post-secondary education benefit from the skills they learn about self-directed learning and technology, and are better prepared as global citizens and members of the workforce.

It’s easy to see Summit’s success stories as a phenomenon unique to Silicon Valley, and as an unsustainable model for widespread use.

However, that really isn’t the case.

To be quite frank, the education system currently in place is broken, and it needs to be fixed. Many of the resources being used in Summit’s education plans are free online resources available to anyone at any time, such as Khan Academy math videos and the Crash Course videos produced by Hank and John Green.


There is no reason that resources such as these couldn’t be implemented more widely, especially if Facebook is providing free, quality software that can make personalized learning plans for individual students a reality rather than a dream and free up time for teachers to be mentors and facilitators.

Everyone is already aware that education needs to become more tech-based as the use of technology has expanded into every sphere of our lives. Google has already introduced Google Classroom Google Aims To Make Teaching & Studying Easier As It Launches Classroom Google Classroom seamlessly integrates Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail. The new free tool should help teachers create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback, and communicate easily with their students. Read More , and there are also an incredible number of apps for students The 20 Best Apps for Students to Get Through a Day of School Whether you're in high school or college, these awesome apps should be at the top of your back-to-school to-do list! Read More , educational video games Why Games May Become the Education of the Future Parents and teachers are often wary of letting kids spend time playing video games, but a number of developers are introducing mods of popular games into the classroom and re-imagining how video games can support... Read More , and integration of technology into the classroom.

That being said, do you think Facebook and Summit are taking this kind of learning too far? Or, like me, are you ready to sign up and re-do high school in this innovative, creative, and personalized way?

Image Credit: technologies at school by Goodluz via Shutterstock

Related topics: Education Technology, Facebook.

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  1. Josh Schmidt
    December 10, 2015 at 6:55 pm


    So I am trying to understand where the claims that our education system is broken is coming from? Although I do believe educational reform is an on-going process, to say it is broken is an inaccurate representation of what is actually happening. From the NCES website that you cited: "The U.S. average science score (497) was not measurably different from the OECD average (501)." "The U.S. average score (498) was not measurably different from the OECD average (496)." The only lower than average was mathematematics.

    When we compare statistics over a period of years we see that the U.S. is gradually improving education for all. We encompass more students from a wider variety of cultures with the idea that every child can be successful; I also argue that we increase our standards regularly. To make bold claims that "everyone knows" is misguiding the public. "The media says" is a better statement.

    It is important to note that the Summit Charter Schools are a great model, but with a larger population of students implementing this model becomes extremely expensive. They are doing great things for the education of these students, and more schools should find ways to do this.

    • Briallyn Smith
      December 10, 2015 at 11:39 pm

      Thanks Josh for your comment - I really loved hearing your thoughts and appreciate you taking the time to share them!

      My comment about the education system being broken came from lots of discussions that I've had with friends who are educators, a university class on the history of education, and readings other than the one I cited.

       I *certainly* believe that the US system is doing some things right and that things could be a lot worse - I just also think that it could be doing a lot better, and I'm excited by the idea of a larger shift in how we view education (and DEFINITELY believe that individual educators are doing amazing work within the system the way it is, and that those running the system are consistently trying to make it better, as you said!)

      I also think that the failings of the current system are less with the averages and more with individual students who are falling through the cracks in a system focused on standardized education and with large discrepancies in funding for different school boards.

      I agree that putting Summit's system into action exactly as it currently is may be too expensive, but I'd like to hope that there could be lessons learned that could be implemented into the existing system :)

      Thanks again for the conversation, I really enjoyed your comment!

  2. Anonymous
    December 10, 2015 at 5:17 am

    Facebook aside tho, with 2 toddlers myself, it's an interesting concept for a school. The current school setup is broken... it's a fact. I like the concept of a personalized learning experience instead of lumping everyone together is a one size fits none classroom.

    • Briallyn Smith
      December 10, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment, Thomas!

      Facebook aside, I'm absolutely green with jealousy over the learning these students are receiving! It looks like an incredible environment to learn in and like it really values each and every student and cares about them doing their best. I also think the self-directed learning style is so very valuable, whether in preparation for university or for the workplace - both areas where you need to be able to teach yourself new skills and information without direct supervision!

    • Anonymous
      December 10, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      "I like the concept of a personalized learning experience instead of lumping everyone together is a one size fits none classroom.
      It looks like a return to the type of education I experienced in the lat 1950s, early 1960s. (lesst computers and other electronic aids, of course) We were divided into classes based on our learning ability so that all students in a particular class were able to learn at pretty much the same pace. But this was before Political Correctness and "modern" educational theories homogenized the classes into, as you say, one size fits none. It was also before politicians decided that they knew better how to run schools than the local school boards and school administrators.

      Summit Schools sound like a repudiation of the "progressive" teaching methods that so-called educators have been foisting on us for decades.

      • Maryon Jeane
        December 10, 2015 at 10:55 pm

        Agree with everything you've said here, fcd - except I'm talking about England and I think you're talking about America. We have really failed our young people with our education system here too (or rather politicians and various waves of 'innovators in education' have done so).

        • Anonymous
          December 11, 2015 at 10:28 pm

          England and US, two nations divided by a common language. :-)

          Both countries have failed their young people. Both countries have the misfortune to be infested with politicians "who know best" and "innovators in education."

  3. phillw
    December 9, 2015 at 11:41 pm
    • Briallyn Smith
      December 10, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Thanks for sharing this link, phillw! I really hope that Facebook will learn from Google's mistakes and this partnership won't result in similar breaches of privacy.

  4. Anonymous
    December 9, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    The article sounds like an infomercial for Summit Schools.

    Isn't it a bit early to canonize Mark Zuckerberg?

    • Briallyn Smith
      December 10, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      haha! I definitely do sound very enthusiastic about Summit straight through the article - I'm still a student myself, and I think it would be an incredible way to learn!

      I love that the students seem to be at the forefront of every decision they're making and that independent and individualized learning is so prominent. I'm not sure how well it would work on a larger scale, but from the results they're getting it looks like it would be worth a shot!

  5. Anonymous
    December 9, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    I think perhaps that it might be unwise to put one of the largest personal data aggregators in charge of any amount of human beings who may not be old enough, informed enough or responsible enough to decide for themselves if they would like to give Facebook and its partners access to the data it will undoubtedly collect about those people as part of this project.

    • Briallyn Smith
      December 10, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      This is definitely true! It would be interesting to know what kinds of safeguards are being put in place to prevent this – I'd like to hope that just because Facebook is helping with the software doesn't mean that this information gets sent directly to their servers, but perhaps I'm being way too naive!