Way of the Future: Khan Academy

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So a 33 year old hedge fund analyst has created a Youtube site to put up hundreds of discrete lessons in Math, Science, Finance and History. Khan Academy gives these lessons away for free, and there are online tests available on the site.

Here is a PBS Newshour story on Khan Academy:

So, is it just me, or could people use Khan Academy to develop low-cost and high quality private schools? Remember, you heard it here first.

14 Responses to Way of the Future: Khan Academy

  1. AFL says:

    Joanne Jacobs beat you to it, in terms of educational blogs. And Billy Gates has been name dropping him for a minute.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Ooops, I put in the wrong hyperlink at the end. Should make more sense now.

  3. allen says:

    Sorry, “Field of Dreams” wasn’t a documentary. Unless you think a political movement will be sparked by Khan Academy which is, I suppose, possible no plans for that idea have shown up on the developers e-mail list yet.

    Public education’s a political institution. You want to change political institutions? Find yourself a constituency.

    If good ideas were enough to get law enacted Greg’s good buddy, Milton Friedman, would’ve had the landscape papered with vouchers in the mid-50s.

  4. […] Way of the Future: Khan Academy « Jay P. Greene's Blog […]

  5. Matthew Ladner says:


    I am having trouble understanding your point. My point is that tools like Khan Academy could allow people to keep costs down for private schools. If people can substitute technology for labor, it could be possible to develop high-quality and low cost private schools without any public subsidy.

    • allen says:

      I’m going off the title “Way of the Future:Khan Academy”.

      It’s not the way of the future in the district-based segment of public education, the overwhelming majority of the education system, because that part of the education system has no motivation to save money or pursue educational efficacy. They don’t care because they don’t have too.

      The “Way of the Future” of the public education system’s determined by political consideration into which good ideas only play tangentially.

      Legislators might wonder why the public education system doesn’t use Khan Academy given the price and with enough smart people, and there are smart people employed by school districts, there’ll be lots at least arguably reasonable sounding excuses for not using Khan Academy. Heck, those same folks have dragged out the idea of grading teachers on their teaching skill for, oh, a couple of decades now. I don’t think they’ll have much trouble dragging out the adoption of an educational resource put together by a guy trained as an engineer whose career consisted of managing hedge funds and who developed the resource as a hobby.

      Of course the use of Khan Academy could be mandated but anyone who likes to think of themselves as a conservative ought to be repelled by that solution on an ethical basis even if the specific prescription’s a good idea.

      Khan Academy, or something very like it, will be adopted when educational efficacy and cost matter. When those considerations matter there won’t be a need to mandate the adoption of Khan Academy and until they do matter mandating adoption will guarantee failure.

  6. matthewladner says:

    I agree that the districts will likely prove glacial in using anything like Khan Academy as a labor/cost saving device. Private and charter school operators and home-schoolers however need not follow their example.


  7. Of course they don’t have to follow the example of the school districts but what will drive the school districts, the overwhelming majority of the K-12 edu-sphere, towards fiscal efficiency and educational efficacy? It’s not going to be the example set by the minority players.

    Khan Academy will be ignored, after some appropriate, insincere genuflections, as has every other substantive policy by the district-based system.

    The funny thing is, and the thing that’s so poorly-appreciated, is that ignoring Khan Academy is the proper outcome given the structure and circumstances of the district-based system. There may be local and temporary acceptance utilization of Khan Academy but really, what’s the reason for a superintendent or a school board to alter the way they run their school district to use Khan Academy? If educational effectiveness or fiscal efficiency were considerations they would’ve been considerations before now.

  8. Patrick says:

    Watch as the defenders of public schools fight free education…

  9. Matthewladner says:


    I am suggesting that tools like Khan Academy can help to substantially lower private school costs, and thus expand private school attendance. The entire schooling system is based upon the assumption that knowledge is scarce and we need to train specialists to impart it to students.

    Knowledge is no longer scarce.

    While the district system is certainly dominant today, it wasn’t a nearly so much a century ago, and it may or may not be a century from now.

    I don’t know what will be happening in the future, but I wouldn’t bet on stasis for the long run.

  10. allen says:

    Sorry, logged on in my secret identity as web master for the local church.

    I agree that Khan Academy can lower costs for private/charter schools but that’s not the only relevant consideration.

    The district-based system’s dominance makes its decisions, or lack of decisions, important beyond considerations of educational efficacy or costs. “Everyone is doing it” may be a cliche among teenagers but there’s no denying the fact that if district-based system is doing, or not doing it, that’s going to have an effect and the district-based schools will, in the main, disregard Khan Academy.

    I also agree that the district system won’t be dominant a century from now but I’ll go further and predict that the district system will be in deep trouble within five years.

    What’s always been missing from the reform side of the public education debate’s been a constituency in favor of substantive reform. Yeah Milton Friedman thought it was a good idea and he’s been, ultimately, vindicated. But his vindication comes about not because of the Dr. Friedman’s piercing insights but because there are lots of people – a constituency – who are sufficiently dissatisfied with the district-based system to be interested in other possibilities.

    That constituency grows with each charter school opening and each year every charter school is open. At some point the political deal that holds charters to a lower level of funding then district schools is going to cause light bulbs to go on in the heads of various other constituencies like anti-tax groups, municipal employee unions, politicians looking for revenue sources at a time when raising taxes is a good route back to private life for an incumbent politician. When those folks start to make common cause with charter school advocates, charter school parents and starting pretty soon, charter school graduates the district system will be facing a suddenly predatory political environment.

  11. Pete says:

    Khan Academy and others like it will not lower costs. It can make schools more efficient though. Teachers can be free to differentiate instruction and give more one-on-one instruction. They are free from having to spend time lecture prepping. They are free to do all the things they should be doing but can’t because they are so busy reinventing the wheel everyday. You can’t replace teachers with videos but to sell a concept like this you need to show teachers how to use these videos effectively and how they can keep their jobs and how students can have their lessons centered around their own unique needs and interests. And Khan Academy is just one entry, more will pop up with time and eventually teachers/students will have a cornucopia of videos to choose from. We will be able to choose the “best of” series of lectures and rate them and have comments and critiques attached.

  12. Matthewladner says:


    I’m guessing that the dominant model that will emerge will be a mixed hybrid that uses both in person instruction and technology based learning. There is the opportunity to substitute technology for labor in such a model, and it is already being done:


  13. […] both behind the curve. Nearly six months ago Matthew Ladner suggested Khan Academy may be the way of the future — suggesting “people use Khan Academy to develop low-cost and high quality private […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: