Reflecting on Five Years of Student Impact; Looking forward to the Next Five

It’s a hard thing to balance pride and urgency; on one hand, I am endlessly proud of my team and our community for the work that has been accomplished the first five years of our existence. At the same time, I feel more urgent than ever about realizing our vision.

I founded LEANLAB Education as an emboldened teacher, who envisioned an education utopia — a world where all children can reach their full potential, becoming free thinkers, fully prepared for the future. Yet I’ve known, quite simply, that the way our country typically approaches education change yields only incremental results. Our nation’s route to educational change has been largely defined by slightly tweaking a problematic model, rather than radically rethinking it. This approach will never allow us to achieve our vision.

I believe, then, that the first step toward radical transformation, is a radical rethinking of the innovation process. I believe staunchly that the future of education should be co-created with those most impacted by education — parents, students and educators. I started our LEANLAB journey committed to my hometown of Kansas City, and a belief that Kansas City would become a lighthouse for educational innovations — birthing game-changing solutions that would begin here and scale beyond its borders.

It was with this unwavering belief that led me to cash in my teacher retirement account without a safety net, a social network, nor any pre-committed seed capital — staples I would later learn are essential for a successful startup. Here I was, a young latinx woman in a conservative midwestern market, aiming to solve one of our city’s (and country’s) most notorious and shameful problems — how we’ve failed generations of children.

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.

However, while I reflect on the urgency of our current predicament within the current context of growing income disparity, climate change, and unprecedented technological advances; income disparity widens, the future seems growingly uncertain and divisions along race and class endure — I am sincerely hopeful.

Perhaps what inspires me most are the more qualitative achievements of the last five years, namely:

  • We’ve grown an incredible, national network of promising and inspiring education entrepreneurs, investors, and philanthropists dedicated to the future of learning.
  • We have built enduring, trusting relationships with those closest to the issues at hand — our teachers, principals, parents, and students.
  • We have made dramatic and vast improvements to our entrepreneur support programs year over year; our fellowship curriculum is one of the most rigorous in the sector and are now building an unprecedented and extensive pilot-school, partnership network.
  • We have had the unique experience of supporting entrepreneurs, while simultaneously being entrepreneurs ourselves. This meta approach has allowed us to truly empathize with the entrepreneurial struggle — the hustle, aspiration, setbacks, and comebacks that define our journeys.
Moving into 2019, we’re ready to challenge ourselves to have an unprecedented next five years. We are undeterred and are more committed than ever to conceive and launch solutions that dare to tackle our hardest challenges. We’re more committed than ever before in doing the hard work of focusing on process, of being shamelessly inclusive, and working hard to elevate the voice of educators, students and parents, while boldly designing the future.

Expect from us the following…

  • Relentless R&D for the hardest to solve problems in K12 education.
    Give us your inefficiencies, redundancies, budget shortfalls. Give us your staggering inequities, your stagnating test scores… these are the problems that we are committed to solving. Social-emotional learning, out-of-school factors, declining proficiency rates — we understand the realities of schools are complex, and we are committed to finding breakthroughs that accelerate student learning regardless.
  • Growing partnerships
    We’ve added both Missouri Technology Corporation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as funders, and with their support we aspire to write the playbook for how proven education innovations can most effectively and efficiently get into market and scale their impact.
  • Ushering game changing innovations to scale
    We’re on a mission to grow an army of visionary, innovative schools, seeking to co-design new solutions and help groundbreaking and impactful innovations achieve scale.

To this future,
Katie Boody