Bright Spots

Unlocking Innovation

Courtesy of CommonLit

Teachers love Target Lessons, which are designed to remediate skill gaps in reading and writing through a short, engaging lesson featuring direct instruction, a video, an engaging text, and writing exercises. This improvement wouldn’t have been possible without funding from Overdeck Family Foundation.—Michelle Brown, Founder and CEO

The Problem

Eighty percent of students from low-income households are unable to read proficiently, yet 74 percent of class time is spent on busy work not aligned to grade-level expectations.

The Innovation

CommonLit is a nonprofit education technology organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, especially students in Title I schools, graduate with the reading, writing, communication, and problem-solving skills they need to be successful in college and beyond. The organization offers teachers free access to over 2,000 high-quality reading passages for students in grades three through 12, complemented by aligned interim assessments, growth-oriented data, and expert-led teacher development. Over the past year, the organization has grown its earned revenue by 66 percent, increasing its scale and sustainability.

In July 2022, CommonLit launched “Target Lessons,” which are easy-to-use, complete lessons that build off CommonLit’s comprehensive 360 curriculum and support reading, writing, and classroom discussion. These lessons focus on a particular skill, like identifying the main idea, that students use to deeply understand a text and include scaffolded Pre-Reading, During Reading, and Post-Reading questions that give students multiple opportunities to practice the skill and build comprehension.

While effectiveness data for the Target Lessons are forthcoming, use of CommonLit has been shown to improve reading and writing for students. An internal evaluation found that 63 percent of students using CommonLit achieved gains in ELA from pretest to post test, with an average +0.30 effect size improvement in reading and +0.25 in writing. The organization expects that Target Lessons will only strengthen the impact of its work going forward.

Courtesy of CommonLit

Our Catalytic Role

Overdeck Family Foundation provided funding to support CommonLit in developing and launching CommonLit 360, a full English Language Arts Curriculum that fills a unique gap in the market as the first-ever digital open education resources ELA Curriculum with an interactive student platform. CommonLit developed Target Lessons as part of this launch, providing even more wraparound offerings for educators and students.

Michelle Brown

Michelle BrownFounder and CEO

Michelle is the Founder and CEO of She is a native Spanish speaker and an experienced English teacher who has taught in urban and rural environments, and at the university level as a professor of Spanish. In 2019, Michelle was the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Mid Atlantic). She is dedicated to coaching early-stage entrepreneurs and blogs at Women@Forbes.


PortfolioInnovative Schools

Our Funding to Date$300k


HQWashington, DC

Overdeck Family Foundation was one of the first funders to believe in Khan Academy, and their support over the years has provided vital educational resources to help millions of children learn.—Sal Khan, Founder and CEO

The Problem

High-quality science education is not equitably or sufficiently available for all students, and only 35 percent of eighth graders performed at or above NAEP Proficient in science prior to the pandemic.

The Innovation

Khan Academy offers a free online platform with a comprehensive library of standards-aligned content from preschool through the early years of college. In addition to offering practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard for students, Khan Academy also provides teachers and administrators with data-driven insights on student performance coupled with targeted instructional content, freeing up teachers’ time so they can focus on quality interactions with their students.

While Khan Academy is the most popular math resource used in classrooms across grade levels, the organization lacked any science content for the middle school years. In 2022, Khan Academy launched its first middle school science content, which included Biology, Earth & Space Sciences, and Physics. This is in addition to the set of five high school science courses launched during the summer of 2021. To enhance this science content across grades, Khan Academy increased the diversity of its content creation team both “on-screen” (doing the voiceover for the videos) and behind the scenes (developing the content for videos, articles, and exercises).

Khan Academy science content provides access to science education for nearly 40 million users worldwide who spent more than 663 million total learning minutes over SY 2021-22, building content knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Courtesy of Khan Academy

Our Catalytic Role

Overdeck Family Foundation’s general operating support to Khan Academy has supported the organization in continuing to innovate and develop its product, which includes the creation of the middle school science content. In addition, Khan Academy has used grant funding to invest in validation and capacity building, positioning the organization for greater scale within school districts as a supplemental product that helps students experience personalized practice and mastery-based learning.

Sal Khan

Sal KhanFounder and CEO

Sal Khan is the Founder and CEO of Khan Academy. He is also the founder of, Khan Lab School, and Khan World School, all nonprofits focused on making personalized mastery education accessible. Sal’s interest in education began while he was an undergraduate at MIT where he developed math software for children with ADHD and tutored fourth- and seventh-grade public school students in Boston, MA.

Khan Academy

PortfolioInnovative Schools

Our Funding to Date$8.3m


HQMountain View, CA

Overdeck Family Foundation is an especially thoughtful, data-driven, and collaborative funder. They’ve taken the time to understand LENA, anticipated our needs as a grantee, and pushed us to examine and activate our larger impact within early childhood.—Dr. Steve Hannon, President and CEO

The Problem

Stable and nurturing relationships that promote a consistent serve and return between caregivers and young children are foundational to human development, but recent data show that the COVID-19 pandemic decreased vocalizations and increased levels of language isolation for babies and toddlers this past year.

The Innovation

LENA provides technology-based programs to accelerate the language development of children birth to three. Its programs improve child outcomes by encouraging essential, early adult-child interactions and relationships. LENA’s evidence-based “talk pedometer” technology measures the quantity and quality of adult-child interactions in any environment and is the backbone of adaptable programs for the adults who care for infants and toddlers.

Amidst significant pandemic disruptions to the childcare and early education sector, LENA received feedback that its in-service professional development program was a valued but time-intensive offering for educators who were already stretched thin. In response to this feedback, LENA adapted its 10-week program into two stackable five-week sessions, increasing its support for implementing partners and making it easier to both run and participate in the program. LENA’s real-time monitoring of results showed that these modifications didn’t sacrifice outcomes: teachers who participated in just one five-week session made 85 percent of the gains seen in the full program.

Research clearly links LENA’s target outcome, conversational turns, to language development, reading, IQ, socioemotional development, and executive function, and studies consistently demonstrate the trajectory-changing impact of LENA programs, even during tumultuous times. Preliminary analysis conducted by LENA’s research team showed that children participating in LENA Grow during the COVID-19 pandemic gained nearly 1.5 months’ worth of language skills in just one month’s time (1.8 months for children starting with below-average language skills), achieving developmental milestones at an accelerated rate compared to a sample of children who did not participate in the program.

By creating a more flexible model, LENA served more than 19,000 children in 2022, a 56 percent increase over the previous year. LENA also expects the cost-per-child of its model to decrease when partners are able to serve more children and find economies of scale.

Courtesy of LENA and Angelique Speight-Marshall

Our Catalytic Role

Overdeck Family Foundation has played a significant role in helping LENA scale its impact, including supporting the organization to more than triple its reach since we began funding in 2018. In addition to grant funding, we have invested in building out LENA’s innovation and research capacities and expanded the data analysis function through a Harvard Strategic Data Project Fellow who joined the team after his two-year fellowship ended in 2022. Additionally, Carly Roberts, Associate Program Director of Out-of-School Learning, has served on LENA’s Board of Directors since 2020, advising the organization on growth strategy, organizational evolution, and fundraising.

Dr. Steve Hannon

Dr. Steve HannonPresident and CEO

Stephen M. Hannon, Ph.D., is President and CEO of LENA. Dr. Hannon has steered LENA through its ambitious growth, leveraging technical and leadership skills honed over a 25-year career spanning multiple industries. His experience has provided the foundation for LENA’s unique technology to be paired with programmatic impact felt across early childhood.


PortfolioEarly Impact

Our Funding to Date$4.7m


HQLouisville, CO

Other Bright Spots

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    Unlocking Evidence

    Funding to advance field knowledge or validate program models through comprehensive studies and research.


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  • Unlocking GrowthUnlocking Growth

    Unlocking Growth

    Funding for organizations to scale, as measured by increased earned revenue and reach, improved capacities, and follow-on funding.


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    grantees increased earned revenue

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