Tang Institute Shares Insight on Education With Khan Lab School

On a recent trip to California, faculty members of the Tang Institute and the Office of Academic Resources visited the Khan Lab School, an independent school associated with the online educational platform Khan Academy. According to Michel Barker, Director of Academic Research, Andover teachers visited the Khan Lab School to learn how they are expanding the educational landscape.

Barker said, “The Tang Institute is all about bringing fresh ideas from the outside so that we stay fresh here.”

Rachel Skiffer, former Dean of Strategic Planning at Andover, is the current Head of School at the Khan Lab School. During the Andover teachers’ visit, she explained the goals and foundation of the institution.

Contrary to other schools, the curriculum of Khan Lab School is mastery-based and paced differently by each student.

Khan Lab School has no letter grades, and we are mastery-based, which means that our academic program is self-paced. In most schools, time spent learning is constant while the quality and level of content mastery varies,” wrote Skiffer an email to The Phillipian.

Because the curriculum is mastery-based, classes are not divided by age, but by ability.

Barker said, “A key component was that the classrooms actually looked more like libraries. Students of different ages are at different levels, so you might have a nine year old working on the same thing as an eleven year old, and they are both using Khan Academy to master those skills and move on to the next thing.”

Skiffer also explained the school’s support system and approach to teaching.

“We build social-emotional learning and skills-building into our program, and…we support students with weekly one-on-one sessions with their advisor in addition to group advising,” wrote Skiffer.

Barker, who was among the teachers who visited the school, said that the trip helped him in exploring methods of digital-based teaching in addition to providing potential ways to foster research skills in Andover’s education.

Barker said, “I do not teach classes, in the sense that I don’t have a classroom where I teach. But being able to see what Khan Lab School is asking about is directly beneficial to how I approach working with the library… After my visit to the Khan Lab School, I became interested in how we can deliver a lot of that online in digital ways, and we have actually developed a bunch of those things.”

Barker was also impressed by the creativity of the school’s structure as well as the demands of Skiffer’s job, since she has to incorporate the online Khan Academy curriculum with the classroom curriculum.

Barker said, “I think that [Skiffer] has done an incredible job leading [the school] forward…I think her job is about marrying those two worlds, where you have this online component, and where you have this classroom where both the online and classroom can learn from each other in different ways.”

Although Andover teachers went to the Khan Lab School to learn from their innovation, Skiffer emphasized that newer schools can also earn from schools such as Andover, and that interaction can improve current educational platforms and systems.

“As educators, we are all in the business of supporting student learning, and it’s important that we share and debate ideas about teaching and learning. Pedagogy and the science of learning is always evolving, and older schools can learn from what newer schools are doing, and newer schools can learn from schools that have decades, or centuries, of success,” said Skiffer.  

Andrew Housiaux, Currie Family Director of the Tang Institute, agreed that interactions between schools is a good way to improve the educational system. Housiaux said that organizing such visits is an important job of the Tang Institute, and that future visits are planned in the near future.

“The Tang Institute tries to connect [Andover] faculty with teachers and other schools…The more we can do this, the more we can learn from the good work being done by fellow educators, and the more we can reflect thoughtfully about the choices we are making here about how to best support student learning,” said Housiaux.