An opinion piece by David Osborne published in U.S. News and World Report today called the Summit Charter School Network "the schools of the future," praising their innovation and their outstanding academic results:
"Summit focuses on four big things, she told me: cognitive skills, content knowledge, real-life experiences, and the 'habits of success.' Cognitive skills, such as problem-solving, effective communicating, creative thinking, writing and speaking, are taught in 'project time,' through investigations, laboratory experiments, seminars, papers and oral presentations. 'Technology doesn't do this well,' Tavenner says. 'This is what high-quality teaching does well, so this is where the teachers spend a lot of their time.'
"But to carry out projects, students need a certain amount of knowledge. So they spend 16 hours a week – half at school, half at home or after school – in 'personalized learning time.' This is what I had witnessed at Denali: students using online resources Summit's teachers had put together.
"Students worked at their own pace, and when they felt they had mastered a concept, they took a 10-question assessment. If they could answer eight of the questions correctly, they checked that off and moved on to the next topic.
"To succeed in college and life, students would also need the 'habits of success,' Tavenner says – non-cognitive skills such as the ability to set a goal and meet it, to persevere, and to work with others. Summit teachers help them develop these qualities at all times, but particularly in 'mentor time' and 'community time.' During the latter, up to 18 students gather with their mentor teacher for activities, discussions, celebrations and the like. These mentor groups are deliberately put together to maximize their diversity, and they stay together for the duration of middle or high school.
"Teachers devote at least 200 hours a year to mentoring and coaching, while also serving as college counselors and family liaisons.
"Finally, Tavenner says, 'What sets kids up for success in college and life are a series of experiences" that change their perspectives. Affluent parents make sure their children get such life-altering experiences, whether it's at camp, through travel or through volunteer work. Poor parents have a tougher time doing that. So at Summit, kids spend eight weeks a year, in two-week chunks, doing 'expeditions': visual and performing arts classes, internships, video productions, computer science or web design classes, volunteer work, even trips overseas. Our goal is for kids to have 'at least one perspective-altering experience' during their time here,' Tavenner says."
Two of the eight charter schools currently fighting for their future in the Washington State Legislature are part of the Summit network - Tacoma's Summit Olympus and Seattle's Summit Sierra. But even as the success of the model is demonstrated and lauded elsewhere, charter school opponents continue to work to suppress the innovation and greater equity the schools offer.
The Washington Education Association (WEA) has led the fight against charter schools in Washington and was instrumental in initiating the costly, time-consuming question as to the schools' constitutionality. This is but the latest in a long line of examples of the WEA clinging to the status quo in the face of evidence that students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are statistically unlikely to receive a high-quality education under the current system. Union leadership continues to make clear that it is threatened by the possibility of change and the promise of innovation.