BOULDER, CO (September 21, 2023) – Businesses can be expected to claim success. But when children’s education and taxpayer dollars are at stake, reasonable transparency should also be expected.
Summit Public Schools (SPS), a California-based charter school network financially supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in technology-industry contributions, is widely promoted nationally as a success story to be emulated. Marketing for SPS claims that its innovative curriculum and instruction, anchored in its proprietary digital platform, leads to extraordinary percentages of its students being eligible for, accepted into, and graduating from college.
SPS’s boasts of success and its national prominence make understanding its story a useful way to gain insight into how Silicon Valley funds and markets education initiatives. To that end, Alex Molnar, Faith Boninger and Anna Noble, all of the University of Colorado Boulder, along with Meenakshi Mani of the University of Edinburgh, authored We Need Better Education Policy. Summit Public Schools Shows Why.
The research brief analyzes the documents SPS provided in response to a request for public records bearing on its reports of students’ academic success, its curriculum and instruction program, its proprietary digital platform, its protection of student data, its funding, and the validity and reliability of its assessments. The limited records SPS ultimately provided failed to support its claims of student academic success and did not demonstrate the validity or reliability of learning outcomes assessments. Nor did the records illuminate the pedagogical decisions embedded in SPS’s learning platform or its safeguards for student data and privacy. And although the financial statements SPS provided did not identify the sources of the large contributions it received, publicly available information suggests that tech industry donors provided significant funding and in-kind contributions. Such donors are likely to benefit from the development, promotion, and adoption of digital educational platforms such as that used by SPS.
Summit Public Schools provides a powerful example of inadequacies in policy related to transparency and accountability around school performance, digital educational programs, protection of student data, and school funding. For example, although California’s open records statute explicitly includes charter schools, its lack of an enforcement mechanism allows well-funded organizations like SPS to avoid meaningful compliance.
SPS’s inability to provide records demonstrating the academic success it claims suggests the need for greater oversight of performance. Its inability or unwillingness to identify key elements of its proprietary digital platform reveals inadequacies in state policy overseeing digital educational platforms and protecting student data. Its financial records indicate inadequate reporting requirements for sources and amounts of non-public funding. Finally, SPS demonstrates how nominally nonprofit charter school organizations evade public oversight and provide technology companies and their investors with both a market for their products and a continually renewing source of valuable data from young people.
The new research brief from Molnar, Boninger, Noble, and Mani provides state policymakers with recommendations for oversight and accountability to protect the public interest and to ensure the transparency of digital educational programs.
Find We Need Better Education Policy. Summit Public Schools Shows Why, by Alex Molnar, Faith Boninger, Anna Noble, and Meenakshi Mani, at: