In 2005, Ken Price was hired by the Marsing School District in rural southwest Idaho to develop and manage a new after-school program for more than 200 at-risk K–12 students. Before he began using Khan Academy, Ken and his staff of 30 struggled to identify and address students’ individual needs. “In an after-school program, staff members don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of all the kids in the program,” he explained “I saw that Khan Academy could give the staff the ability to know what the students needed, and to give students material to work on that’s appropriate to their level.”
Another challenge was keeping students interested in learning. “The kids have been in school all day,” Ken recalled. “They’re mostly low-income and generally have low academic achievement. We needed to get these kids excited to learn on their own. Teachers in our program liked that the students could personalize their learning, and that Khan Academy could really help keep students on task.”
For Ken, one story of a student’s transformation stuck out in particular. “We have a fourth-grade student who has been in the program since first grade,” he said. “He’s an English learner, and his mom isn’t in the picture. He hated school, but once he started using Khan Academy on the Chromebook, he started to like school. He became engaged. English learners are able to get on Khan Academy and do the videos and tutorials, stop it and listen to it in English again.”
A number of preexisting elements contributed to Ken’s success. In particular, he had the support of school leadership, the excellent work of a few “catalyst” teachers and an overall inclination to innovate. “We had three new principals and a new superintendent,” he said, “so we had a unique confluence of events where people were open to something new and drastic—a window to bring about change. We started with three classrooms. Then, after we saw what Khan Academy could do, the district expanded access to Khan Academy to all third through tenth graders during the regular school day and after school. The after-school teachers were some of the strongest in the building, so they were able to help lessen other teachers’ concerns about technology.”
To be sure, Ken faced some major challenges, such as the need to boost wireless capacity in the building and the reluctance of some teachers who preferred to continue working the way they had for years. In spite of those obstacles, however, Ken concluded that Khan Academy offered tremendous benefits for his students, particularly those without access to the best resources. “We believe Khan Academy works well with rural districts because if you have access to dependable, high-speed Internet, you have access to the same resources as an MIT research scientist,” he said.
Ken’s story is one of many that my FSG colleague Jeff Cohen and I heard while researching for the case study Learning Gets Personal: How Idaho Students and Teachers Are Embracing Personalized Learning through Khan Academy. The case study tells the story of how the nation’s first statewide pilot of Khan Academy came to be in Idaho. The pilot, funded by the Boise, Idaho-based J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, has garnered widespread interest around the country for its innovative change management approach. Through the case study, we highlight 5 lessons from the pilot for others who are thinking about adopting personalized learning approaches and taking them to scale.