August 3, 2020

From what I could tell, the kids at Summit were more than awesome

Diane Ravith has a microblog post about students in Kansas who recently walked out in protest of their middle-school adoption of the Summit learning platform.

As she mentions, a similar protest happened in Brooklyn.

It stinks of union organizing, but, the fingerprints aren’t clear yet on the weird coincidence very different groups having similar organizing strategies.

Anyhoo, a few years ago I visited Sierra Summit charter school in Seattle at the invitation of a friend. I went in blind about their model and without forming an opinion ahead of time – my usual strategie.

I left a true believer.

Outside Summit is lodged between businesses in an area that – as I remember it – zoned for industrial entities. But, upon entering things got good.

It smelled good, which may seem like a trite detail but when you visit as many schools as I do you come to expect many of them to smell like adolescence, Lysol, and vegan sweat.

The ceilings were high.

I look for that. Years ago while looking into the work of Fielding Nair I read about design principles that said high ceilings increase creativity, critical thinking, and student performance.

There were other things you might expect from a newer charter school: it was colorful with modern lounging spaces that easily could be a mini version of WeWork.

Students were enjoying a day of independent study which gave them time to catch up on missed assignments. One gracious student sat with an old man (me) and walked clicked through her personal education plan on her laptop.

Things I loved:

Her entire plan was geared toward learning objectives she had set for herself. She had backward planned from her post-secondary goals and developed (with the help of educators) the academic pathway that would get her there.

I had an aha. The beauty of this program was that at no point would the question “is she on track” be a mystery to her, her parents, or her educators.

Everyone could share the same data in real time.

Another benefit was that she could paced herself, speeding up when the material was too easy, and slowing down when concepts needed more rigorous reflection.

After sitting with her I met with a group of the students. They looked like a brochure for public school integration. They were racially diverse and representative of everything from chess club to punk rock. Some traveled very long distances to get to the school they say saved them from the incredibly brutal track system of Seattle Public Schools. From what they told me, tracking in Seattle – the equity capital of the world – sorts kids in middle school and puts them on course for college or oblivion.

At Summit these kids were free of that nonsense. Several had special needs (I hate typing that because truly ALL kids have special needs) that were poorly addressed in the Seattle Public Schools.

In the end, I didn’t see the cold computerized horror story of students starring like clones at screens. What I saw was a fortunate lot of kids who escaped a overly bureaucratized system that would have chewed them up and collected their per pupil revenue.

I’ll dig more on the walk outs and report back to you later.

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