The five-year-old was sick in bed, a child who rarely spoke. He was shy and often repeated words softly to himself, leading the family maid to nickname him “the dopey one.” But on this day, the child’s father brought his son a toy that would change his life forever — a magnetic compass.
Later on the child, Albert Einstein, would mark that moment as a turning point — the beginning of a bubbling up of something latent inside him, a curiosity that had to know what forces drove this needle back and forth. His curiosity would change the world.
At the Charles Koch Institute we often ask ourselves how these moments happen, how children discover their unique gifts, develop them, and then deploy those talents for the sake of others. What would it look like to offer every child opportunities for an education tailored to that child’s specific potential? And how would society benefit as a result?
As we reflect on what lies ahead in 2021, we’re thankful for our partners — forward-thinking social entrepreneurs dreaming big dreams and proposing practical, viable solutions to our nation’s pressing issues. In 2020, we saw our partners respond with creativity and determination to serve families calling for a better way to educate their children in the midst of disruption.
For example, we partnered with the Walton Family Foundation to form the VELA Education Fund, aimed at empowering families and supporting their creative efforts to provide engaging, individualized education for their children. Since its launch, VELA has distributed more than 260 microgrants to families and organizations helping students learn: microschools, learning pods, homeschool co-ops, and other new models. Five key grant partners — 4.0 Schools, Camelback Ventures, Home School Legal Defense Association, National Parents Union, and Youth Entrepreneurs — gave over $2.45 million in grants, in 42 states. These grants are directly impacting nearly 225,000 people. VELA recently released a video telling the story of two of these innovators.
What have we learned from VELA? Chiefly, that students really can learn everywhere — and that there’s a growing appetite for new educational models. Families can be trusted to find the best educational options for their children: to assess local conditions, to identify a child’s needs, and to craft an education tailor-made.
There’s also a growing number of social entrepreneurs entering the educational space with innovative projects. Some of these entrepreneurs are well-established educators expanding their offerings to meet our current needs. In the wake of coronavirus we partnered with leader Sal Khan to develop Schoolhouse.world, a platform that connects students to free, small-group tutoring sessions. Since June Sal’s team has already run over 1,100 tutoring sessions for students in more than 40 countries, and unveiled a class certification process in partnership with University of Chicago. In 2021, Schoolhouse.world is partnering with the states of Rhode Island and New Hampshire to provide free sessions to high-school students.
Amir Nathoo at Outschool has similarly pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible online. A one-stop-shop for courses and classes, Nathoo started Outschool in 2017. Prior to the pandemic, 80,000 kids had taken an Outschool class. Since March of 2020, over 500,000 kids have participated. One mother in Texas describes her family’s Outschool experience as “a game-changer for us…I feel like their educational goals have hit new levels. They are learning new things that would not have been an option before.”
For teachers, Outschool offers opportunity in spades. Open to those with and without formal teaching credentials, over 10,000 educators have joined Outschool because of the platform’s flexibility. The effort also compensates educators according to their skill — in some cases teachers are paid over 6 figures for their contribution.
New ventures haven’t been limited to resources for families. Schools are benefitting, as well. In 2020 Minerva Project developed a high-school curriculum and technology platform that can be adopted by any school to help students complete the courses needed for graduation and college enrollment. “The Minerva Baccalaureate accelerates student learning, while helping high schools become more efficient, resilient, and sustainable,” the project explains.
These partners are not alone. TEL Education, One Stone School, Summit Learning, Acton Academy, and so many other organizations (and countless families) are demonstrating a new path forward for education — one that builds on the very best of our current systems and empowers families with options that bring out the gifts of each child.
We will continue to look for new partners who share this vision so that every student, no matter where they sit, can have access to an education that meets their needs.
Every single child in this country has unlimited potential and deserves to have access to an education that nurtures their individual brilliance. We will support educators and entrepreneurs committed to an education system that makes this a reality.
The Charles Koch Institute inspires and invests in social entrepreneurs developing bottom-up solutions to America’s most pressing problems. Learn more about our support for foundational education.