Mijares: Partnership with Khan Academy will now include AP resources

Imagine being able to connect with a tutor of multiple subjects for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sal Khan did more than imagine it, launching his online library of personalized, no-cost instructional tools about a decade ago. Since then, Khan Academy has expanded exponentially, and in April the Orange County Department of Education, leading a coalition of six counties, unveiled a powerful partnership with the nonprofit that’s designed to increase student access to these resources.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresThis collaboration is being piloted as a national model — and now it looks like the potential benefits will be even greater than we envisioned.

Adding to its menu of tutorials and SAT practice materials, Khan Academy recently teamed up with the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program to become the official practice partner for AP. That means Khan Academy users will be able to find free instructional videos, articles and practice exercises that build the knowledge and skills required for rigorous AP-level classes.

Why are Advanced Placement classes important? For starters, they give high school students a preview of the demands of higher education, and they instill the skills they’ll need to thrive in college and beyond. As such, college admissions offices tend to take note of who takes these courses.

So do educational researchers, who, as a matter of equity, track access nationally.

With the availability of high-priced workshops and private tutors, equity can be a challenging standard to meet in education. Yet Khan Academy’s no-cost model helps balance the playing field, and I believe our nascent partnership will be a boon for Orange County students, particularly those from low-income families.

Starting this year, the Khan team plans to provide planning and implementation support for local schools and districts that wish to leverage its instructional resources. OCDE will assist as needed to streamline the process, contributing research and professional development.

Meanwhile, if Khan Academy’s two-year-old SAT prep materials are any indication, its new Advanced Placement materials — created by a team that includes current and former AP teachers — should prove their worth quickly.

According to a recent study, students who spent at least 20 hours with Khan’s SAT tutorials saw their SAT scores increase by an average of 115 points over their earlier PSAT/NMSQT exam scores. That more than doubles the average increase of students who did not use the Khan tutorials.

The long-term importance of all this cannot be overstressed. By forging new partnerships and using technology to make these kinds of resources universally accessible, we democratize education, we restore the promise of upward mobility, and we multiply the next generation of contributors to our economy. In doing so, we also expand the marketplace of ideas that may one day solve our greatest national and global challenges.