Some parents displeased with Summit curriculum

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

BRETZVILLE — Jeremy and Haleigh Hopf of St. Meinrad will no longer send their three children to Southeast Dubois Schools due to use of the Summit Learning platform at Cedar Crest Intermediate School.

It was a hard choice for the Hopfs who moved back to the area specifically so their children could attend Southeast Dubois, but Haleigh said she’s seen changes this year in her sixth-grader, Colton, and doubts whether he’s really learning from the online learning platform.

“He just seems really disinterested. He’s really bored,” Haleigh said. “He tells me all the time he’s just remembering enough to pass the tests.”

The Hopfs aren’t alone in their concerns. A Facebook group titled The CCI Summit Page has 45 members, all of whom share concerns with the online learning platform that stresses independent learning.

Summit Learning is an online education system that was developed with the support of Facebook and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and utilizes a technology-infused curriculum with individualized learning time on electronic devices, project-based learning activities and built-in time for mentoring and enrichment.

Both school administrators and parents say switching to Summit this school year proved challenging from the beginning. Some of the challenges cited on both sides include: a need for teachers to tweak the Summit curriculum, which is based on national Common Core standards; students adjusting to more independent learning; and additional screen time and privacy concerns.

Despite the challenges, the school corporation stands behind the platform. Earlier this month, The Herald reported that Cedar Crest teachers and some parents support the learning platform, and the school board approved using Summit again next school year.

While some parents support the program, a large group do not and cite the challenges as reasons that Summit is not a good fit for Cedar Crest.

Take the need to tweak the curriculum, for example. Sometimes, students got so far ahead in the personalized learning time — where they work on their own on their Chromebooks — that they reached content their teachers hadn’t reviewed yet. That led to parents finding links and resources in the platform they didn’t think were appropriate for their children.

“Many items were not age-appropriate,” said Casey Bettag, another Cedar Crest parent who is against Summit. “One economics course was videos from a college 40-week econ class. One link took my child to The Huffington Post as a source. I would not put the HuffPost on any list that should be used as educational.”

Bettag said other links were broken or took students to sites plagued with advertisements, some not age appropriate.

Other challenges included teaching students to be more independent learners, and part way through the year Principal Mark Jahn gave the teachers the option to mentor students every other week instead of weekly to allow more time to teach note-taking and review skills students learned in personal learning time. Bettag said that led to students getting unequal mentor time, with struggling students getting more.

“Did they have this personal time in previous years? Probably not,” Bettag said. “But one of the important concepts or ‘selling points’ of Summit is one-on-one mentoring. It does not happen equally.”

Parents said they’ve been sharing concerns with school administrators all year, but don’t feel like their concerns were taken seriously. Often, the parents said, administrators suggested they come visit the school to see what’s happening. Tara Leisman took the school up on the offer.

“There was a lot of chaos in my opinion,” Leisman said. “I just felt like there wasn’t a lot of learning going on.”

In the class she was in, Leisman said, some students were taking a test while the teacher gave a test to a couple other students, and the rest of the class worked on a project. There was a lot of chatting and playing around. Students working on the project who had questions couldn’t get them answered because the teacher was busy, Leisman said, so they were on their own.

The only part of the system Leisman saw that she liked came in another class period where a teacher was working with a small group.

“It’s a lot of Chromebook time on their own,” she said.

Like many other parents, Leisman wonders if her sixth-grader is really learning. He’s told her that he’s bored most of the time and just does enough work to pass the multiple-choice assessments in the platform, which students can take as many times as they need to pass. Leisman said her son admitted he just takes the tests without really looking at the study materials.

“It’s not what everyone thinks,” she said. “There are a lot of issues.”

Earlier this year, Leisman said, her son wrote a letter to administrators explaining that he didn’t like Summit and missed the interaction with his teachers.

Cedar Crest is the first school in Indiana to adopt Summit, although other schools are looking at online learning platforms. Barr Reeve Community Schools in Montgomery, for example, uses SuccessMaker.

Nationwide, 380 schools use Summit, according to a January article from Chalkbeat, a nationwide online education news service.

Despite Summit’s increase in use, there isn’t academic research showing its success, Chalkbeat reported. In fact, Summit backed out of a study with Harvard that would have looked at the program for unclear reasons, Chalkbeat reported, and schools around the nation are running into issues with the platform.

“I really feel like it’s just an experiment,” Hopf said. “I’m not willing to wait around a couple years for them to figure out it wasn’t beneficial. My kids’ education is more important to me than that.”

In addition to Colton, the Hopfs have two more children who would use Summit at Cedar Crest.

As far as Haleigh knows, she and Jeremy are the only ones so far who have chosen to transfer schools because of Summit, but she knows of at least seven other families who are considering it.

For the moment, Leisman is just glad her child is a sixth-grader and will leave Summit behind next year. Leisman does have a second-grader, however. Right now she would opt not to have her second child do Summit, though she said she and her husband have not decided what they’ll do if Summit is still in use when their second-grader reaches Cedar Crest.

Bettag and Hopf both stressed that their complaints are with the platform, not with the teachers at Cedar Crest. Bettag added that it was a hard decision to speak out against Summit because she didn’t want it to seem like she didn’t support the teachers.

“I love our school district and our teachers,” Bettag said. “But I’ve seen a change in my kids this year and their approach to school.”

Bettag said she chose to speak out because of a concern that Summit may be adopted at the junior high level at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School. Administrators have not said whether or not Summit will be used at the junior high level, but the school board did approve keeping Summit at Cedar Crest at its May 1 meeting. Teachers and two parents also spoke in support of Summit at that meeting. Bettag and Hopf said they would have attended that meeting, but were not told Summit would be on the agenda despite asking.

The board’s decision to keep Summit at Cedar Crest told the Hopfs they were making the right choice in transferring their children.

“I am not willing for my kids to ever do it again,” Haleigh said. “I hate that because this is where we wanted them to be. I saw them graduating from here.”




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