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CZI Takes Over Building Summit Learning Platform

SEND IN THE ENGINEERS: It’s not how foundations usually work, but then again, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative aims to do things differently. Take last October, when CZI announced it had hired Brian Pinkerton away from Amazon to serve as chief technology officer. Although many foundations have leaders knowledgeable about tech, few have active CTOs.

Now CZI’s thinking is becoming more clear. The mission-focused organization announced today it’s taking on the job of building out the Summit Learning Platform, a free online personalized learning tool that allows students to set and track customized learning goals. 

Summit first conceived of the idea that evolved into the platform more than five years ago when school founder Diane Tavenner decided to make the school more student-centric. School leaders quickly realized that trying to glue together existing software to support that kind of learning was difficult, and so they began building software of their own. 

That work got a big boost in September of 2015 when Facebook said it would take over the task of building the platform. Since then, the Summit Learning Platform has grown from a tool used in only a few schools to one used by over 20,000 students. According to a spokeswoman for CZI, the new engineering support is a meant to “deepen the partnership with Summit and help more teachers bring personalized learning into their classrooms.”

Turning over the Summit platform to CZI creates a clearer distinction between the company that Zuckerberg heads and the mission-driven organization that that he funds. For one, Summit Public Schools continues to own the platform. And according to the announcement today, the software will continue to be free for all educators. 

“Our approach is to use engineering to create social change,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook last October. "This is different from most philanthropy. Lots of people invest capital and hard work, but when you can also do engineering to build tools to empower people to make changes themselves, that's when social change can really scale.” 

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