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2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy

Thursday, September 22, 2016

This story originally appeared on the Philanthropy Roundtable website.

Sal Khan at the 2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy. Photo by Sumit Kohli.
Sal Khan at the 2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy. Photo by Sumit Kohli.

Nearly 250 individual philanthropists, family members, private foundation leaders, and experts gathered in California’s Bay Area for The Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy. Attendees had the opportunity to tour innovative local schools in Silicon Valley that are pioneering new personalized learning models, and participate in interactive workshops with the field’s leading experts and practitioners. They also heard firsthand from visionary leaders in K-12 philanthropy.


Khan Academy was started when its founder, Sal Khan, created YouTube videos to teach his cousin math. It now has nearly 100 employees and has reached over 100 million users in just under 10 years.

“I just thought about, ‘What did I want when I was that age?’” said Khan when he addressed attendees at the Forum. 

Khan Academy, along with its independent brick and mortar counterpart Khan Lab School, is headquartered in Mountain View, California, and looks every bit like what one would imagine a virtual education platform based in Silicon Valley would look like. Dozens of computer programmers, coders and content creators sprawled across an open office space teeming with computers maintain Khan Academy’s virtual education space.

Attendees bounced from station to station, hearing Khan Academy’s growing team share what each department does and how it fits into the methodology behind its revolutionary approach to making world-class learning available to anyone, anywhere in the world.

Sal Khan’s Next Steps

Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, was the subject of the opening session at the 2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy following the site visits. Khan created his first math tutorial video for his cousin, Nadia, in 2006—the first product that would eventually become the online learning tool that would ultimately reach more 100 million students.

“In that very first upload, I actually made a mistake,” said a self-deprecating Khan.

Khan credits the authenticity in his YouTube videos as a reason why they became so popular with a wide audience in those early days. By 2008, Khan had launched his online education platform with a mission to provide a free “world class education to anyone, anywhere.” And while students were among the millions of people taking advantage of the free tutoring videos, Khan was receiving tremendous feedback from teachers who were able to use the videos to supplement their teaching.

“The virtual is not a replacement for the physical, it is to supercharge the physical. It is there to empower teachers who I would say will be even more critical in this new wave of education,” Khan said.

Khan says his academy has flipped the concept of homework and classwork, allowing students to receive daily instruction from the videos while freeing up class time for teachers to provide explanations. While it might seem counterintuitive for a virtual school to create a brick and mortar school, Khan decided to put the concepts he had advocated for years into practice and created Khan Lab School in 2014.

“I had a rising Kindergartener and some other Khan Academy parents had rising Kindergarteners…but I had been preaching these concepts for the last four or five years and it would be hypocrisy if my own child went to a more traditional model,” Khan explained.

Khan Lab School is housed in the same building as Khan Academy. The school issues three benchmark tests per year so the students can evaluate where they are strong and where they need work. Students are not assessed grades on those tests but rather are evaluated on their progress. The school also employs a mixed-age setting rather than separating the students by grade level. Khan Lab School is expected to add a high school next year.

Khan also told the audience of over 200 attendees about the other recent projects Khan Academy has initiated as well as gave an insight into what he sees as future opportunities his direct-to-learner organization can fulfill. One of those recently-launched projects is a two-month math competition for students in third through fifth grade called LearnStorm. The program was first piloted in the Bay Area, Chicago, Ireland and Idaho. 

“We hosted the kickoff event of LearnStorm in a very rural school in Idaho and the gymnasium sounded like a Notre Dame football game. The kids were going crazy,” said Jamie Jo Scott, president of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, who led the conversation with Khan.

Khan’s vision for the future sees his online learning platform reaching even more students worldwide who currently lack access to a quality education. He also believes there is an opportunity for using his platform to educate those who are in prison so they are better, not worse, off after serving time. He also underscored the critical need for more effective early learning for children—and he told of an unprecedented development that occurred just a few weeks ago that will help Khan Academy make great strides in early learning. The popular learning app service Duck Duck Moose donated its entire organization to partner with Khan Academy.

“They were leaving money on the table. They were getting offers because they are such a respected team,” Khan explained.

Khan Academy took possession of Duck Duck Moose’s full portfolio, a total of 21 apps, and made them free. It is just one step toward Khan’s ultimate goal of using his platform to discover those students from around the world who could push civil society forward but are currently facing great odds.

Read the full story here.