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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?
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?
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, 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, and there are also an incredible number of apps for students, educational video games, 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