Since our founding, I’m proud to say that LEANLAB Education has mobilized 28 ventures who have collectively impacted over 3 million students. Many of these ventures are solving meaningful problems in new ways; they are working on making school transportation more transparent, safe and reliable, making it easier for school leadership to make data-informed, strategic decisions, and making critical thinking and inquiry-based lessons accessible to all.
Yet, it is arduously painful to acknowledge that in our own backyard of Kansas City, not enough—quantifiably—has changed, especially for black and brown children living in poverty. It is even more daunting to note that this trend is not unique to Kansas City—it is present across the nation. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars of philanthropy and countless education reform efforts, staggering inequities in educational outcomes persist. Again, we’ve gotten good at slightly tweaking models, rather than transforming them.
Surfacing the hardest problems to solve.
Before we endeavor to fix the problems of K12 education, we have to understand what those problems are. So we asked the experts—the teachers, students, parents, and administrators that are in the classroom every day.
We conducted two extensive listening tours in 2017 and 2018, consisting of one-on-one interviews and focus groups with the education community in Kansas City. Through this work, we uncovered six critical issues that will inform the innovations we support moving forward.
There is a lack of coordination between schools, communities, service providers, and the business community.
Communication between the parent community and schools is inadequate.
Students desire more engaging learning opportunities.
Mental health and social emotional learning supports for students are lacking.
Students need to gain an advanced level of literacy.
Critical thinking and problem solving skills will be crucial to prepare students for the future.
We believe that the best solutions to our schools most pressing problems can only be achieved when those most affected—students, teachers, parents, and administrators—are active participants in the solution-making process.
That’s why we match promising, early-stage entrepreneurs with innovative public schools to work collaboratively to validate and refine their innovations in actual classrooms. With real-time feedback from students, parents and teachers, our entrepreneurs are able to make swift modifications with the goal of rapidly increasing student impact.
While our fellows work on proving and accelerating their innovations’ impact, they also receive best in class curriculum and coaching in venture development. The end goal is to leave the program with a proven, effective solution that has impacted hundreds of local students—and can be brought to scale, impacting hundreds of thousands more.
inquired and Pitcher Elementary
In June 2018, during the final stage of our selection process for the K12 Fellowship, school leaders gathered to choose the finalists for our fellowship. Among them was Dr. Karol Howard, principal from Pitcher Elementary, a KCPS school on the eastern outskirts of the district. During our listening tour Dr. Howard had been adamant about the need for students to develop critical thinking skills, “with the world changing the way it is,” she said, “they need to be able to think and to analyze to make critical decisions [...] Companies need people who can think, who are creative, who can make decisions. They don’t need people standing on the assembly line anymore.” So, it follows that Dr. Howard would choose to work with Shanti Elangovan and inquirED, an inquiry-based learning platform.
When Shanti and Dr. Howard began working together at the beginning of the fellowship, they quickly decided what they wanted to measure in the following months. First, they needed to find out if teachers with no previous training in inquiry-based learning would be able to effectively implement inquirED. Second, they wanted to find out if the platform increased student engagement. To measure this, Shanti and Dr. Howard, along with Lori Bestgen and Jeannette Ashby-Welter—Pitcher Elementary’s instructional coaching team—worked with Dr. Ebony Edwards to develop observation criteria, surveys, and focus groups.
Over the course of the next few months, Lori and Jeannette completed a total of 14 teacher observations and 14 student observations using the inquirED teaching practices observation tool. Their observations found strong evidence that students were independently learning and collaborating more than control classrooms. They also found teachers were facilitating independent learning, cultivating a collaborative community, assessing and differentiating learning, and promoting a growth mindset.
It was during the focus groups that Shanti received some of her most actionable feedback, though. They discovered early-on that the teachers didn’t have enough capacity to implement the inquiry-based science curriculum, so they quickly pivoted to their history curriculum. Along with this pivot, they made numerous changes to the platform based on teacher recommendations, including producing and embedding more professional development videos into the platform, adding even more capacity to teachers by streamlining the implementation process.
Overall, the results of the study are promising. inquirED was able to provide support for students behind grade level and they were able to develop facilitation guides for schools that are new to inquiry-based learning that they will be able to use across the country as they begin to expand nationally.
Over the course of the next 18 months, Shanti will continue their research at Pitcher Elementary through a $22,000 grant from LEANLAB. This longer study will include more students and allow inquirED to get more reliable results while providing teachers with evidence-based curriculum already shown to increase student engagement.
John Styers & Alan Fairless
After the completing the K12 Fellowship, Transportant had $11 million in pre-sales committed and closed a 785k seed round. They have completed beta testing at Seaman School District in North Topeka and Transportant will be used in six school districts starting in 2019..
Since leaving the program, Diversity Talks won grant funding from NewSchools Venture Fund’s Diverse Leaders program. They have secured partnerships with eleven organizations across six states, impacting over 1,000 students.
Healthy Hip Hop
H3 recently implemented a plan to scale their offerings through a licensed online video platform, mobile app. H3 secured a partnership with the LeBron James Family Foundation for their new school in Akron, OH. They won the $20,000 grand prize from Regnier Venture Creation Challenge, as well as a $50,000 grant from LaunchKC.
In 2018, LEANLAB fellows partnered with Crossroads Preparatory Academy, Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy, Lone Jack School District, and Pitcher Elementary to serve 1,392 students at pilots sites this Fall. Those same entrepreneurs are currently serving 19,876 students in Kansas City and 327,751 students across the United States. To-date, LEANLAB alumni have served over 1.9 million students in the United States!
Find out more about jobs created, capital raised, and entrepreneur demographics.
In 2018, we secured funding from two new partners: the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Missouri Technology Corporation, closing 2018 with a budget of $799,120. With their support, we hope to define the model for how game-changing innovations are validated and scaled.
Thank you to all the funders that believe in the work we do at LEANLAB.
Let’s stay in touch! We’re looking to build connections across the entire education ecosystem. Whether you’re an education entrepreneur, teacher, administrator, investor, or you’re just interested in the latest innovation work coming out of Kansas City sign up below to download our full annual report and receive updates pertinent to your interests.