Summit (Sierra) charter school: The skinny on the Gates-backed school set for Seattle, Brad Bernatek (remember him?) and a host of others


Bill Gates will be bringing yet another grand experiment onto public school children in Seattle soon in the form of a charter school “Sierra” which is part of the Summit charter school chain.

Remember the small high school experiment that Gates subsidized? Fail.

The Common Core Standards? On the brink of a major fail.

Merit pay? Bad idea from the beginning. It didn’t work at Microsoft, why should it work with teachers?

Charter schools? Every time we hear the trumpets blow about a charter school that is successful, we find out that there was a lot of behind the scenes shenanigans going on…students being counseled out or expelled if they can’t make the grade, a demand of cash or an inordinate amount of volunteer time required of the parents (see below re: Summit), long application forms that weed out those parents who might not know English, ELL students need not apply, and other parents who don’t have the bandwidth, for whatever reason, to fill out the form.

So let’s look at Summit.

What caught my attention about Summit initially was an article in the Philanthropy News Digest that was sent to me. Here’s an excerpt:

The (Gates) foundation also awarded $4 million to Summit Public Schools and $4.2 million to Green Dot Public Schools, both California-based charter management organizations looking to expand into Washington. Both organizations have been engaging with communities in the western part of the state, where they hope to adapt their existing models to the needs of local communities.

Green Dot Public Schools, both California-based charter management organizations looking to expand into Washington. Both organizations have been engaging with communities in the western part of the state, where they hope to adapt their existing models to the needs of local communities.

So I got on the horn with my fellow edu advocates, writers, activists and educators and received a plethora of information.

These are some of the responses I received.

Regarding Bill Gates and Summit:


“Blended learning”, by the way, means putting a student in front of a computer with 40 to 50 other students and one teacher and calling it “education”. See “Online (Blended) Learning” for additional information on the subject.

According to Summit’s own report titled Washington State Fundraising Summary which was sent to me by a parent in California who has been looking into Summit:

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

Funder Information: Have funded Summit through a variety of channels over the last 3 years- $150,000 total for Optimized, $450,000 from NGLC, have requested funding for Personalized Learning and more this year.

Current Proposal: (The Gates Foundation) Have requested a proposal from Summit for $8M for 4 Summit schools in WA, as well as access to a newly formed Gates Facilities Fund.

The report goes on to mention the usual set of donors who like to fund all things ed/corporate reform including the Bezos Family Foundation.

Bezos Family Foundation

Funder Information: Run by (Amazon’s Founder and CEO) Jeff Bezos and his parents and other family members. They funded KIPP and Stand for Children, and donated $975,000 to the most recent 2012 charter school measure in WA as well as to previous attempts to introduce charter schools in WA.

Current discussion: Molly and Megan attended a breakfast with Diane and Diego, and have indicated an interest in further discussion around funding.

According to the report, Jim Spady of Seattle’s Dick’s Burgers has pledged $50,000 to the cause. Chris Korsmo with the League of Education Voters offered to connect Summit with “prospective funders in Washington”.

Connie Ballmer, whose husband was CEO of Microsoft, and Tonya Dressel with Partners for our Children were also on the list.

Regarding Meg Whitman and Summit:

From a parent in San Francisco:

El Cerrito is just north of Berkeley, which is just north of Oakland.

Summit’s petition was rejected by the local school district (West Contra Costa Unified) on August 12th so Summit submitted its petition to the county ed agency (Contra Costa County Office of Education) for approval.

In California, charter school authorizers may be 1.) the local school district, 2.) the county office of education, or 3.) the state board of education. This allows charter school operators to go from agency to agency as they seek their authorization (“authorizer shopping”).

Meg Whitman is on Summit’s board. She ran against Jerry Brown during CA’s last gubernatorial race and spent more of her own money than any other self-funded political candidate in U.S. history. She also turned down Warren Buffett when he asked her to join the Giving Pledge (billionaires commit to donating half of their money to charity).

Dell, Inc.,  Brad Bernatek (remember him?) and Summit

dell-logoYou know there was a money interest in all of this, didn’t you?

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation paid for a glossy report on online learning, oop’s, “Blended Learning”, and Summit is a  featured school.

Michael Dell is founder and CEO of Dell Inc. Dell, Inc. is a multinational computer technology company based in Texas where the foundation is located. Dell, Inc. “sells, repairs and supports computers and related products.”

Oh the web of edu/corporate reform.

Adding another string to the web is Brad Bernatek’s involvement with the report. (His name is on the cover of the report.) Remember him? He was the Broad graduate who our former Broad superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, brought in as a “Broad Resident” to watch over the hen-house as Director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation. He was also put in charge of implementing the MAP test for the superintendent who was on the NWEA board that produces the MAP test.

Brad played around with some numbers for Goodloe-Johnson. Those numbers were used to push the Broad agenda for Common Core Standards, a review of the teachers’ contract and ultimately charter schools.

To follow is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Seattle Times, The Truth Needle | False: Seattle Public Schools underestimated students’ college-readiness:


“In a presentation used at community meetings in 2008, for example, the district said only 17 percent of its graduates “met the entrance requirements for a four-year college.”

It’s unclear whether district staff oversimplified the explanation, misunderstood what Bernatek was trying to do or misused it in their zeal to convince the public and potential funders of the need for the changes outlined in the five-year plan.

What is clear: At least one School Board member raised questions about the figure from the beginning. And the district didn’t publicly correct it, even after it pulled the figure from some of its own reports.”

The percentage was actually 46%

For more on Bernatek, see Oops, I Did It Again! and Seattle Schools data guy has resigned – a casualty of 17 Percent-Gate?

Now back to Summit charter schools.

What Summit demands of parents: (Which probably weeds out a lot of students. This is called “cherry picking”.)

According to the Everest Parent Organization website which is the parent organization associated with Summit-Everest, it is required that parents or guardians put in 30 hours of volunteer time with the school each year, 50 hours if you have two students attending the charter school. That’s a lot of time if you’re working full-time or holding down two jobs as many are doing to make it through these difficult financial times. It also helps keep the school’s cost down. Yes, parental involvement is important and ideal but many parents hardly have the time to work, return home, make dinner and help with homework. As a working single mom while my daughter was in school, I know what that’s like that firsthand.

Along with volunteer time, they ask that parents “donate” $500 for each student attending this charter school.

I truly wonder what the Charter School Commission was thinking when they approved this school for Seattle. Did they actually read the website?

The Summit charter school in Seattle is to be located in the south end of Seattle and supposedly drawing on minority students who live in the area.

How many parents do you think in the low-income area will be able to  come up with $500 per student and at least 30 hours of volunteer time?

And they call themselves a “public school”?

What this does is eliminate impoverished families and families who are holding down two or more jobs. This is termed “cherry picking” and one way to ensure high test scores, a qualification for a charter school to remain open.

About Summit’s AP classes:

From a parent in Oakland:

Summit claims that all its students take several AP classes. Since AP classes are designed for exceptional students only, of course their claim is that they’re taking a full cross-section of students and turning them into exceptional students. Since that’s obviously not possible in real life, either their selection process is screening for students capable of taking AP classes or they’re watered-down AP classes, in name only. Or the whole thing could be a lie, of course — that’s always possible with the ever-slippery charter sector. 

Summit’s attrition rate:

Summit Prep lost 18.86% of its class of ’13 between freshman year and the beginning of senior year — I don’t have information on the number who graduated. It lost 26% of its Latino students (the most significant nonwhite group) in that time. Again, we don’t know how many graduated.

Standard charter practice is to push out the less successful students before graduation and then tout the percentage of the remaining number who graduate and go to college, so even though not all of them presumably do that, those claims have no credibility whatsoever and should just be shrugged off.

Also, by the way, when “Waiting for ‘Superman'” trashed Woodside High School (with a false portrayal) to aggrandize Summit Prep Charter, there was HUGE pushback from Woodside parents. They bought a big banner and put it across the outside of the school — I’ll have to go look at the wording, but it was something like “We love our teachers — man, you’re super!” It was there for a long time and may still be. 

Summit’s rollout plan for Washington State:

In a field report titled “Greenlighting 2015” that was sent to me regarding Summit’s plan for our children’s future and was discussed at a Summit board meeting, their plan is to establish four schools in seven different districts in Washington State, two in the fall of 2015 and two in 2016.

The facilities will be paid for by Gates through the Washington State Facilities Fund and leased to Summit at “sustainable rates”.

Eric Premack
Eric Premack

Eric Premack with the Charter School Development Center is being funded by Gates “to look at Washington State and prepare the groundwork for entry”.

According to this field report, Summit has questions about how much of the Seattle  school levy budget they will receive. “The thinking is that the first charters approved will be the first ones to get access to the levies.”

Bill Gates is spending $8-$10 million on bringing charter schools to Washington state per the report and the Washington Charter Schools Association has paid for “all trips”, approximately $3.75M, to fly charter groups into our state to check out the terrain, and Premack is the main figure in all of this.

They see Teachers United as helping the cause of establishing charter schools in our state. (Long story about Parents United. For now, know that it was established with Gates money, is anti-union and they are all about all things ed/corporate reform.)

The Charter School Commission didn’t do their homework on vetting Summit charter schools but maybe that isn’t the point of the commission.

Submitted by:

Dora Taylor with a lot of help from Parents Across America members and other education advocates.

Post Script: Please read the first comment below written by a Summit charter school parent. It is very revealing.

14 thoughts on “Summit (Sierra) charter school: The skinny on the Gates-backed school set for Seattle, Brad Bernatek (remember him?) and a host of others

  1. As a parent of a Summit Public Schools charter school student (north of San Jose) I strongly caution any parent considering sending their child to a Summit high school as things currently stand. If you are hoping to transfer in to a junior or senior opening (there are likely plenty of openings due to attrition), for the sake of your student, find a predictable school with a stable teaching model where your student can focus on studying without having to learn how to overcome all the challenges of the “Blended Learning System”.

    To clarify “Summit Public Schools” (SPS) is the independent overseeing organization which manages/presides over the (currently) 6 charter high schools, include Summit Public High School, Everest Public High School, Rainer,… It decides the overlying initiatives, infrastucture and lay of the land for the individual charter schools.

    The blended learning environment suggests a variety of learning or teaching approaches and is largely a misnomer. The core academic teaching curriciulum is delivered in all on-line media at my child’s school, i.e. slide presentations (like a PowerPoint), Google docs to read, YouTube video’s, and links to other web-sites for further research. A more honest name would be “online multimedia learning system”.

    We were told the radical drive toward this new revolution since the previous years (my child had solid grades from the prior 3 years) was due to students leaving high school without being four-year college ready. Sanity check: this Blended Learning Environment is perfect prep for an online degree, but not for a four-year college.

    Granted, there are some good things happening. These are mostly exceptions to SPS’s wishes. One teacher bravely delivered in-person lectures, workshops, etc. in my child’s entire academic career this subject has been an ongoing struggle until this year. Now this subject is by far my teenager’s favored and most successful subject. We applaud the teaching model demonstrated by this fearless teacher. Another teacher returned to giving in person lectures/workshops (as in a traditional high school class) a few months ago; after 5-10 of these, they’re back to the blended learning system again for that subject. The other subjects are all ‘taught’ 100% via the ‘blended’ learning system.

    The basic publicized philosophy behind charter schools is valid and good: challenge the traditional public high-school status quo by offering a high quality educational alternative to classic (large) public high schools. The intent was to raise the bar on education standards on offer to the public introducing healthy competition for regular public high schools to encourage positive change.

    However, prior to the advent of this new system, the students loved their schools their teachers, and had a real sense of ownership in their school.

    Some key changes you need to know about when the Blended Learning Environment was introduced:
    -There are three types of work to be done: 1. Basic curriculum modules (“Power Focus Areas”, all content (playlists) are delivered online, and an online assessment taken to ensure understanding); 2. Project work (often group-based); 3. Additional curriculum modules (“Additional Focus Areas”, same as basic but more challenging content)

    The ways this actually plays out is the student must pass all Basic content assessments at 70%. This is mandatory and half of the requirement to achieve a C- grade. This means re-doing playlists and re-taking the assessment for the same module over and over again, until they achieve a 70% passing grade. If your child passes on the first or second attempt, it is productive and reasonable. However, if your child is passing after between 4 to 10 attempts (common) it is taking them 3 to 4 times as long to achieve that most basic of passing grades.

    Projects are supposed to take up 70% of the students’ time, but with so much effort required to pass the basic modules there is little time to do this. Projects must also be passed at 70% as the other half of the requirement to attaining a C- grade for the subject for the year. For some it is taking 70% of their time to pass the content assessments for the Power Focus areas alone.

    Additional focus areas also have assessments and contribute toward raising your grade off the C- floor. A higher than 70% score on a project also contributes to a higher than C- grade.

    The “pioneering” CEO of SPS is dangerously out of touch with reality, out of touch with what our students at the schools governed by SPS have gone through this year, and engaged headlong on a mission which correlates less with the success of the SPS schools’ students and more with her own political success. She is absolutely resolute and unwavering from her vision. Distraught students, high attrition numbers, letters of complaint, student petitions, innumerably parental visits with principles, and student’s failures and need to repeat a year cannot sway her.

    Shenanigans? Advertising for the forthcoming year’s freshman intake has been focussed on the more prestigious neighboring cities of Menlo Park, Palo Atherton and Atherton, and Portola Valley, while ominously avoiding the less affluent Redwood City, East Palo Alto.

    SPS’s CEO visit’s each school to meet with parents. The school’s each have tremendous challenges with the delivery of the new curriculum, delivery systems, and the challenge of how to learn from the new system. Each school is painted as the “only school” under the SPS umbrella with any issues. All the others are fine, why are you having problems.

    Most revealing of all. SPS’s CEO told my sons school that she had a child at the SPS charter school called Summit Public High School. She did not tell us that her child’s school had only a partial “light version” of the Blended Learning System and was significantly supplemented by classic teaching, and that our school had the full on no-warning full Blended Learning System implemented.

    Most distressing of all for the future of the schools and it’s current students who will return next year… My child’s school has the most amazing and credentialed teaching faculty you ever saw in a public high school, with 75% of the teachers having graduated from Ivy Leagues schools. Until this academic year, the teaching quality was absolutely amazing, inspired, and the administration had proudly told students and parents alike how idyllic and forward looking their teaching model was. Last summer almost everything changed. Does this mean that everything they had believed they were working toward prior was wrong or misguided? We’re just not understanding. Teachers seemed active, engaged and engaging ir not a little overworked with the high demands of their jobs. Now most of their in-class time seems to be spent ushering and ensuring people are on the expected web-page. If I had a $150k student loan hanging over me from my Ivy League education, I would probably want to be putting my abilities and experience to better use, more actively engaging in teaching my students than this. How much attrition of these excellent teachers should we expect at the end of the current school year?


    A now struggling parent–previously blissfully happy with the prior three years at the same SPS school.

  2. As a student at summit charter school in san jose, it is terrible the things we go through. All unseasoned teachers. I have started losing my education since they rolled out the “go at your own pace” learning last year. Terrible things.

      1. Yes. “Go at your own pace”, means go through the online material as fast or as slow as you would like.

        The notable anonymity of my post and those mentioned therein is due to the general lack of trust of those in power at SPS, and the stark “at any cost” pursuit of “success” regardless of the effect on individual students. The cognitive dissonance is startling.

    1. Me too. We don’t need them or want charter schools.

      If Gates wanted to make a positive impact on our schools, he would have listened to the local educators to understand what was needed and donated his millions to what really works or needs improvement.

      Privatizing k-12 education is not the answer.


  3. I remember Brad Bernatek and Maria Goodloe Johnson creating the 17% figure. It will be interesting to watch the data that comes out of Summit. Legislators spouted this false figure on the House floor.

    It will be interesting to watch the “data” that comes out of Summit.

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

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