Future of Learning

How it works: A new report explains the research behind a school model

Summit Public Schools releases an explanation of the research behind its vision

Almost five years ago, Summit Public Schools decided that scoring high on standardized tests wasn’t enough to ensure success after high school.

Leaders at the California-born charter school network decided that students needed to have the skills necessary to understand how to survive in life after a teacher stopped holding their hand. A report they released Monday reveals the research behind the school model.

“We get a lot of questions about how do you know that personalized learning works or how do you know Summit learning works,” said Adam Carter, chief academic officer at Summit Public Schools. “It’s a compilation of the ‘greatest hits’ of research put into a school model.”

The report comes a few years after the celebrated schools began work to reinvent themselves. Summit students had scored high on standardized tests of math and English, earning the school a national reputation for success with students who typically didn’t fare well. And almost all Summit graduates enrolled in college. But then the school’s leaders discovered that about half of those students were dropping out of college. They decided to do something about it.

Their new report, The Science of Summit, explains all the research that educators there consulted when designing a new method for teaching and learning.

“It’s not even about ‘if it works.’ It’s more about ‘everything we are doing is based on evidence,’ ” Carter said. “We take the best theory and apply it in practice. We are not claiming it’s the only way. We want to put forth [that] it is our way.”

Related: Despite its high-tech profile, Summit charter network makes teachers, not computers, the heart of personalized learning

The paper dives deeply into the methods and evidence for teaching cognitive skills, content knowledge, habits of success and a sense of purpose. And the leaders at Summit have also articulated ways to train teachers, measure student progress and engage the school community in a conversation about topics such as the “habits of success” or “sense of purpose,” which are notoriously difficult to define and gauge.

The information shared in Summit’s publication is the latest example of how the West Coast charter school network is moving to expand its reach beyond its own schools. The Summit Learning Program includes 330 schools; 2,450 teachers, and 54,230 students in 40 states for the 2017-2018 school year. That’s up from just 19 school partners in 2015.

The Science of Summit paper is the first in a series of reports that will share what teachers and leaders at the school network are learning with even more educators. They don’t expect everyone will have the interest (or spare time) to sit down and read the 60-page Science of Learning report, so follow-up reports will include reports on what teachers and students are actually doing in classrooms, explaining the Summit methods from that vantage point.

“It’s just the beginning of what we hope is a conversation to explain pieces of our model,” Carter said.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, the nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

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Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo is the senior engagement editor and a writer. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic's online edition, Mind/Shift,… See Archive

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