Mark Zuckerberg Is Trying to Transform Education. This Town Fought Back.
Last year, several classes in Cheshire, Connecticut’s elementary and middle schools switched to a new classroom model, where lessons were supposed to be tailored to every student. The kids and their parents were caught off-guard that first week of school. “We walked into math class,” recalled Lauren Peronace, now an eighth-grader, “and my math teacher said, ‘Everyone open up your Chromebooks. We’re going to go on a website — Summit.’”
Reactions were mixed. Most everyone in Cheshire, which is between New Haven and Hartford, is there for the public schools, which are among the area’s best. Some parents were skittish about the creep of more technology into the classroom, especially when they found out Facebook was behind the software and Mark Zuckerberg was spending millions promoting it. Others were at least cautiously optimistic. “My son initially thought it sounded cool,” said one parent, Theresa, who asked to have her last name withheld because of all the drama that followed. “The teachers told him, ‘You’re going to be on your own; you’ll be independent; you’re going to move at your own pace.”
The program had come with money for 130 Chromebooks, so every student could have one — courtesy of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Zuckerberg’s philanthropic LLC, and Summit’s other wealthy backers. But to hear the administrators explain it, the technology would be only one piece. The Summit Learning Program, which originated at a series of West Coast charter schools between 2012 and 2013, is conceived as a comprehensive program of “personalized learning” that promises to put students in charge of their own education. It’s now being used in some 380 districts and charter schools nationwide. Rather than having a teacher stand at the front of the room and talk, it emphasizes group projects, dialogue between students, and one-on-one time with teachers, guaranteeing at least a ten-minute “mentoring” session for each student every week. It also makes use of specialized software for regular lessons and assessments. Cheshire’s teachers had gone to training that summer in Providence, Rhode Island, at an event also funded by Summit.