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Brooklyn Students Protest Use of Online Learning Platform Designed by Summit Learning

Students in Brooklyn walked out of class last week to protest their high school's adoption of an online learning platform.

Nearly 100 students at New York City's Secondary School for Journalism, located in the New York city borough, protested the school's use of Summit Learning, which was formerly supported by Facebook engineers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, is still a "long-term engineering partner" on the Summit Learning Platform, according to Summit Learning's website.

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Students said the program, which is tailored for personalized learning, kept them staring at computer screens for too long, the New York Post reported.

According to Summit Learning's website, the program's learning and teaching approach relies on self-directed learning, project-based learning and weekly one-on-one mentoring with a teacher.

But at the Brooklyn school, students and teachers said they labored through glitches, system crashes and poor wifi that made it difficult for students to learn. One student told the New York Post that she couldn't log into the program for two months.

Some students complained that their teachers were not well-trained on the program, and parents at the secondary school have voiced concerns about privacy in light of recent Facebook data breaches.

Officials at the Secondary School for Journalism did not respond to a request for comment.

Catherine Madden, senior director of communications for Summit Learning, said in an emailed statement that in order to successfully implement the program, schools must provide professional development for teachers, school schedules have to be modified to accommodate students, and students need to have access to computers and reliable WiFi.

"Unfortunately, the Secondary School for Journalism failed to meet our requirements in order to successfully implement the Summit Learning model," Madden said.

Summit Learning's Chief Program Officer Andrew Goldin said in a statement that the Secondary School for Journalism's implementation was "hasty" and recommended that the school drop the program for 11th and 12th graders.

New York City's Department of Education has followed this recommendation and will end the program at those grades. The program will continue for 9th and 10th graders, but Summit Learning said it will provide additional training for teachers.

"The school is implementing some new instructional strategies and the superintendent, and school leaders met with the community this week to discuss these changes and hear their feedback," Danielle Filson, the district's deputy press secretary, said in an emailed statement. "They'll continue to be in communication with students, staff, and parents about the new strategies over the next few weeks." 

Two other NYC schools--M.S. 88 Peter Rouget and the Academy for College Preparation and Career Exploration--are using Summit Learning, while another school--Bronx Writing Academy--has already dropped the program.

Last year, a Connecticut school district also suspended their use of the platform due to issues with the content and misinformation within the community, EdSurge reported.

According to Summit Learning, there are more than 380 schools nationwide that use the program, and "90 percent have stayed in the program year on year." Nearly 70 percent of teachers who use the program recommend it to their peers, according to Summit Learning.

CORRECTION: The original version of this post misstated who designed Summit Learning's online program. Facebook originally lent engineers to work on the learning platform, but the company no longer does so. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, is still a "long-term engineering partner" on the platform, according to Summit Learning.

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