WestEd Awarded Grant to Evaluate Khan Academy’s Effectiveness

The STEM program at WestEd, a national nonpartisan research, development, and service agency in San Francisco,  has been awarded a $3 million grant from the US Department of Education to evaluate the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources for improving mathematics achievement.

Khan Academy is a free, Internet-based learning environment and one of the largest online learning sites used worldwide.  Many nationwide community colleges are integrating with Khan Academy to increase course completion and achievement in mathematics courses.

“Until now, there has never been a rigorous, large-scale efficacy study of Khan Academy, in community colleges or in K-12 settings,” says STEM Program Director Steve Schneider. “WestEd looks forward to evaluating the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources in improving community college students’ algebra achievement.”

A randomized controlled trial, the study will begin in the 2015-2016 academic year.  Algebra teachers from community colleges who have used Khan Academy in a blended learning environment will be recruited.  They will then be assigned to use Khan Academy or randomly chosen to continue to run their classes as they usually do.

The STEM research team will:

- Test whether the addition of Khan Academy to their Algebra I courses improves students’ course completion and achievement.

- Identify factors which contribute to the higher quality and more effective use of Khan Academy, like teacher preparation, student characteristics. and course structure.

The STEM program offers a variety of high-profile national projects to enrich teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  The program offers research, evaluation, curriculum development, and professional development.

WestEd works with education and other communities to promote excellence, enable equity, and to enhance social and learning outcomes for children, youth, and adults.  The organization has 15 offices nationwide from Washington to Boston to Arizona and California.

Khan Academy was founded by Salman Khan, whose free online learning site has been called the future of education. It reaches 10 million students a month, but has its critics.  Tate Williams, writing for Inside Philanthropy, says that it also has plenty of friends in high places.  Some of those friends are:

- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which gave the academy $1.5 million in 2010, along with$9 million since then, in part to carry out the foundation’s spreading of the Common Core standards.

-The Broad Foundation, founded by Eli and Edythe Broad.  The Broads made a $4 million grant to analyze the academies online lessons to help students and education in general.

- Google, an early funder, gave $2 million in 2010.  Khan Academy runs the Google Cloud platform and is a participant in Google’s $50 million initiative to encourage girls to code.

- The O’Sullivan Foundation granted $5 million in 2011 to speed up the reinvention of education.

-The Skoll Foundation kicked in $1.25 million in 2012.

- The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which supports education in Idaho, gave $1 million to support the supplementing of classroom teaching with online videos.

- The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust gave $2.2 million last year to help teachers and students meet the Common Core standards.

Some of the individuals who have donated to the Khan Academy include Netflix founder Reed Hastings, Intuit founder Scott Cook, Google’s chair Eric Schmidt.  Corporate backers include Bank of America, Oracle, and tech law firm, WSGR.

The Khan Academy stats include 6,000 instructional videos; 100,000 practice problems in math, biology, chemistry, economics, and more; 350,000 registered teachers using the videos as classroom aids; several computer whizzes on staff as well as PhD-holders, and advanced education degree-holders.