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Pacesetter In Personalized Learning: Summit Charter Network Shares Its Model Nationwide

How does a thermometer work? A group of 7th graders discuss their ideas.

Nearby, a student named Ferdinand is modifying a swallow so the bird can survive in the video-game fantasy world he’s designed on the computer. “I’m giving it spiked feathers,” he says with a grin. “My world has insane predators.”

Some students are working in pairs. Others are on their Chromebooks. The classroom is abuzz with activity.

“They know what to do,” says Brandy Holton, who teaches 7th-grade science, social studies, and English at the Chicago International Charter School (CICS) Irving Park, which serves grades K–8. “That never would have happened before.”

What accounts for the change? The charter’s middle school is one of 130 schools nationwide piloting the Summit Learning Program (SLP), developed—and offered entirely free—by Summit Public Schools, a high-performing charter network based in California. Summit’s eight schools, two of them in Washington State, are known for an approach that emphasizes both project-based and self-paced learning as well as the development of cognitive skills. In 2015, the network started sharing its model with schools throughout the country in an effort to improve their methods and spread their ideas.