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5 Questions for...Katie Everett, Executive Director, Lynch Foundation

May 10, 2013

Headshot_katie_everettToday, as in the past, education reform tends to be politically charged and fraught with controversy. And while the needs of students often figure prominently in the debate, the devil is always in the details.

In the Boston area, the Lynch Foundation has worked to engage administrators, educators, and parents to think outside the box about how to improve the educational experience for all. In that spirit, the foundation has begun to work with educational innovator Salman Khan and Khan Academy to provide free educational materials to schools in the metro Boston area.

Recently, PND spoke with the foundation's executive director, Katie Everett, about its partnership with Khan and how new approaches to classroom instruction are making a difference in Boston-area schools.

Philanthropy News Digest: What areas of education does the Lynch Foundation fund?

Katie Everett: We fund in all areas, from early education to higher ed. We've been around for twenty-five years and have funded everything from targeted early literacy programs to comprehensive projects at Harvard, Boston College, and the University of Pennsylvania. We fund teacher training, we fund charter schools, we fund in the Catholic school sector, we fund public schools, and we fund principal leadership programs. If there's one area in which we have stopped investing, it is job training. We found it was really hard to measure the impact of those programs.

PND: Tell us about your support for Khan Academy.

KE: We had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Sal [Khan] at a couple of events a few years ago and were open to piloting an initiative that had the potential to reduce operating costs within the Archdiocese of Boston school system. Sal had already piloted programs in a handful of charter and district schools that used technology to create cost efficiencies while maintaining academic excellence within the classroom. Not by replacing the teacher, but by leveraging his or her skills to accelerate students' progress and outcomes. We launched our pilot program with Sal and his team last year, and it's been a great success. We started with two Catholic schools just south of Boston, one in Quincy and one in Milton, and families have loved it, students have loved it, the teachers have loved it. After introducing Khan classrooms in fifth and seventh grades as planned, the schools have already spread it to the sixth and eighth grades and are looking to expand it into the lower grades. At the moment, they're working alongside the Khan team to build up assessments of what's working and where challenges remain. They're getting a lot of feedback from students and from teachers. It's a wonderful partnership.

PND: Are they identifying shortcomings in the traditional curriculum and augmenting it with Khan materials? How does it work?

KE: Basically, this approach involves "flipping the classroom." The teachers give the students the assignment, and their "homework" is to visit Khan Academy online and watch a ten- or fifteen-minute video clip that walks them through the lesson or module, and then they come to school the next day and do their homework in the classroom with the teacher. It's the complete opposite of how we were taught in school, where the teacher would assign us, say, math homework, and we would go home and struggle to figure it out on our own. This is a significant shift. Now, students learn the lesson the night before from a module at Khan, and the next day they go in and the teacher actually does the exercises with them and provides as much additional help as they need. Students do exercises online, which means that they can keep practicing until they have fully grasped the concept. Teachers track this progress and provide highly individualized attention to address exactly where students may be "stuck." Some kids may be accelerated, in which case they can dive into the next lesson. Khan gives teachers the tools they need to encourage mastery of each concept, by each student, and helps them maximize the impact of their teaching time.

PND: How do you manage the risks associated with something that’s perceived to be innovative?

KE: That's a good question. We built in what we thought would be a solution to some of the foreseeable challenges, for example, pushback from teachers. Some teachers are threatened by new technology in the classroom, seeing it as something that might end up costing them their job. So it was important from the beginning of the project to include teachers in the discussions about the project and secure their buy-in. This is a teaching resource, not a replacement, and that was an important conversation to have up-front. We even flew teams of teachers out to California to meet Sal and his team and spend a couple of days learning the approach.

We also hired a consultant whose main focus is to make sure that any problem or challenge a principal or teacher may have is sorted out. In our experience, those two things are critical when it comes to launching anything having to do with technology -- or with education reform, for that matter. You need to have buy-in from all the stakeholders from the outset, and you need a dedicated person to troubleshoot problems.

PND: It sounds like it might be a difficult thing to scale.

KE: It can be scaled, but it needs to be done thoughtfully. We're pretty ecumenical about the schools we work with. Doesn't matter if you’re red, white, blue, brown, Catholic, public, charter -- we love schools. But we won't work with school leaders who aren't excited to work and partner with us. After seeing initial success with the Khan Academy pilot, we flew a Khan team in from California and invited every middle school math teacher in the City of Boston to a day of professional development. We got over a hundred teachers to join us on a Saturday in December.

So, yes, these things can be scaled, but only if there's interest at the teacher and school administration level. It has to be bottom up, not top down.

-- Matt Sinclair

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