By Jovani Alejandro Contreras
Summit Public Schools (SPS) boasts an impressive four-year college acceptance rate of 96%. Summit alumni complete college at twice the national average. On paper, Summit’s college acceptance and completion numbers look great, but the data on students who actually complete college tells a different story.
In the fall of 2021, Summit Public Schools conducted the “Alumni Pathways Project” to collect information on SPS alumni. This research project included feedback from online surveys and direct 1-1 interviews with former students. It seems that the intention of the study was not only to collect long-term data on Summit alumni but to prove the effectiveness of the Summit Learning model.
The results of the study were described as “overwhelmingly positive” The Key Findings page displayed big, flashy numbers: “71.2% of Summit Alumni respondents report high levels of overall well-being” and “77.2% of respondents are fulfilled in at least four of the five dimensions of well being” However, a deeper look into the report and the numbers that were not proudly displayed in that colorful Summit font raised some concerns.
Today, Hispanic students make up nearly 50% of the Summit Public Schools student population, and over 40% of the Summit alumni from 2007-2014 identified as Hispanic. Yet, Hispanic alumni shared the lowest completion rate of six-year bachelor’s degrees of all groups at a meager 32.3%
English language learners with a Summit education were shown to be at a major disadvantage in college. The majority of English language learners at SPS are Hispanic students who are heritage Spanish speakers; English language learners had the lowest degree completion rate of all alumni in the “special characteristics” section.
Over 300 Hispanic Summit alumni participated in the Pathways Project, it was found that less than a third of them (110) earned degrees. Of the 69 English language learners, only 10 would complete college within six years. For a school that claims to cater to underserved communities, these numbers are unjustifiable.
Summit schools are a prime example of the academic undeserving of Hispanic students. Even at a charter school founded on the basis of preparing a “diverse student population for success in a four-year college,” the steep college achievement gap between Hispanic students and their peers persists. There is no clear solution to closing this divide, but there are a few steps SPS can take to better support Hispanic students.
The first issue perpetuating this gap is the English language learners program, or rather the lack thereof a strong English learners program. SPS uses a model of self-directed learning where students guide themselves through the online Summit Learning Platform while teachers act more as facilitators. But a majority of English language learners face a language barrier at Summit and require extra support in their courses, whether that be through the help of an assistant or a bilingual speech program. Neither of which are offered at Summit schools.
SPS does not have systems in place to help these students, and the lack of support leaves English language learners isolated and alone in the environment of self-directed learning. While this is a major flaw impeding Heritage Spanish speakers, all Hispanic students at SPS face a much larger issue.
Since SPS does not believe in academic tracking, each student is pushed through the same preselected set of classes, assuming that all students are at the same academic level. This model is a pitfall for historically underserved groups.
SPS likes to peddle that it provides a “personalized learning experience,” when in reality, the Summit Learning program is a one size fits all curriculum. Students get little to no choices when choosing their schedules, and students are also forced to take the same designated advanced placement classes.
Hispanic students have historically faced barriers to higher education including resource-poor schools, parents with low-household incomes and low levels of formal education, and a lack of quality teachers. To assume that said students are at an equal level of education as their historically privileged peers is a setup for failure, proven by the unjustifiably low college completion rate of Hispanic alumni.
It’s time that SPS stops ignoring this data. It’s time to support Hispanic students. It’s time to support English language learners.
The fact that Hispanic students make up half of the student population at Summit schools but have the lowest college completion rate of all students is a grave injustice. SPS needs to implement a strong language learners program that will support heritage Spanish speakers and truly personalize education. It is not only Hispanic students who need support, it is essential for the education of all historically underserved communities that the Summit model is made equitable for all.
Featured Image (at the top of the post): A falling poster in the Summit Prep building (Redwood City, CA) reads “Compassion” PHOTO CREDIT: Jovani Contreras