Khan Academy

At our year’s first Principal’s Coffee, parents expressed a number of concerns about why Ridgeview would advocate using Khan Academy to supplement its courses in mathematics. First, would Ridgeview or Khan Academy be collecting data on individual students? Second, was this the beginning of a trend to move away from textbooks and towards an ever increasing amount of screen time? Finally, were students being required to complete work on Khan Academy?

Given the nature of Ridgeview’s curriculum and its classical pedagogy, it was good for us to hear our parents express concerns about the content of the curriculum. As I explained to parents at that meeting, there are many strengths to Singapore Mathematics in terms of its ability to help students understand mathematical principles in a conceptual way; however, its primary deficiency is that it does not emphasize drills or the cumulative retention of material. This was something that we addressed a number of years ago by hybridizing Singapore with some elements from Saxon Math, but another challenge remained. When a student encountered something they did not understand in math, they hit a wall, got frustrated, and many who struggled with math came to resent the subject as a whole. Whereas other resources existed for them to get help with other subjects, many of which were online, little existed until recently for math, but over the past few years many of our parents have found Khan Academy’s website to be transformational. Instead of stopping in the middle of the homework, many students are eager to complete it and ask better questions of their teachers as a result. As Salman Khan has insisted, his website is intended as a tool for classrooms and homes, not as a replacement of more traditional paths.

In our commitment to a traditional, liberal arts, classical education that places a definite emphasis on primary sources and talented faculty, we cannot succumb to the temptation to be reactionaries. We cannot reject technology because it is technology. This has never been what has defined Ridgeview’s sometimes acrimonious relationship with the modern world. Instead, we have tried to be cautious and deliberate adopters of advancements that complimented our curriculum, served our mission, and enhanced our pedagogy. There are no perfect partners though, and some concerns about Khan Academy are legitimate. As we have all learned over the past five years, there is nothing we do online that is not tracked, and whatever information, personally identifying or otherwise, that can be associated with it, will be sold for advertising, research, and market-related reasons. Khan is no different, but we can all take certain precautions. The data Ridgeview collects is strictly limited to helping our students succeed in math. It is not handed off to the District or the State or to a corporate third party. The information that Khan can glean from our students is limited because we have not used student’s actual names in creating their logins. Rather, we have used truncated versions of their names so that they can be remembered by the students, but logins will be largely useless to data aggregators. Parents may, however, eventually be asked for an e-mail when they complete a year in math in order to transfer the account to a new math teacher. They are free to decline. Secondly, this is not the beginning of a trend to move away from teachers, textbooks, and human interaction. It is merely supplementary and intended to spare students any unnecessary frustration in a subject that tends to claim too many early victims. Finally, this initiative is voluntary – not required. If students or their parents do not find that this is a valuable or worthwhile tool, students will not be penalized, and if they still wish to compete for class prizes, they may continue doing so on paper as they have in previous years.

D. Anderson


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