A Funder Helps Bring a Web-based College and Career Readiness Platform to Philly's Schools

Public school education in Philadelphia has been deemed a critical need by philanthropists around the city. And here, as elsewhere, there's keen interest in using technology and data to help students succeed, both in K-12 schools and later in college. Local philanthropy giant, the William Penn Foundation, is among those funders interested in new tools that can help students. 

Related: Read IP's Profile of the William Penn Foundation 

Penn recently awarded a $100,000 grant to help cover the cost of the $1.5 million, five-year Naviance tool contract. The Philadelphia School Partnership also contributed a $650,000 to help fund the five-year Naviance contract. So what’s Naviance, you ask?

It’s a web-based college and career readiness platform that has been used by wealthy school districts across America for years. Students enter their interests and abilities into the Naviance website, which uses an algorithm to suggest higher education options that might be a good fit for them. Essentially, it’s a high school guidance counselor in website form.

"It will give parents an opportunity to sit down with their children and get a much better understanding about what colleges are open to them, best for them, available for their particular interests," said Karyn Lynch, Philadelphia School District’s chief of student services.

Dozens of other schools in the area, including the Science Leadership Academy and Franklin Towne Charter, are already very familiar with the Naviance name. In yet another attempt to give public school students a fighting chance in the real world, this platform also allows students to take free standardized preparatory tests. But interestingly, it also tracks what students do after they get high school diplomas to see what's working and what's not. 

But in the era of privacy hacks and online security uncertainty, this type of technology isn’t welcomed by everyone in the Philadelphia School District with open arms. After all, Naviance is a third-party company, and we’ve all seen how unsafe our personal information can be at Target, Sony, and Home Depot. But despite the anti-privacy cries, the Naviance contract prohibits data sharing among third parties and has been widely successful as a college prep tool around the country.

The Penn Foundation regularly commits grants to closing the achievement gap. Approximately 82 percent of public school students in the city are considered “economically disadvantaged,” and Philadelphia students score consistently lower than students in many other large cities. Penn's K-12 grants are generally focused on expanding and replicating school-based strategies, improving teachers and principals, advocating for funding, and making data and research increase student success.

Penn has not focused explicitly on bringing new technologies or blended learning strategies to Philadelphia's schools, which is quite popular with many funders these day. But Penn is definitely interested in another hot trend, which is using research and data to boost student achievement, as well as to understand how well students do later, in college.

So you can see how Naviance would appeal to Penn, with its capacity to track students after they've left high school. Of course, also, helping more students navigate their way to the right college is a goal embraced by a great many funders these days.