Scaling an Ambitious Vision of Student Achievement

This blog post is part of series written by participants of the Scaling in Action© session at the 2014 Conference on Scaling Impact June 18-19. Scaling in Action features presentations from the nation’s leading nonprofits, each scaling their efforts to address critical urgent issues. Here, nonprofit CEOs share more about their plans for growth and the resources needed to fund their campaigns.

I was excited to attend my first Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling Impactthis week along with a team of EL Board members and staff. It was a pivotal moment in Expeditionary Learning’s partnership with the Social Impact Exchange.

Expeditionary Learning (EL) began our partnership with the Exchange at a transformational moment in America.  Common Core State Standards – more rigorous targets for college and career readiness – have sparked a complex public dialog.  They have also yielded one point of clear consensus: we need to set the bar higher for what we expect of students coming out of our public K-12 education system.

EL knows how to do this.  For 20 years, EL has been transforming the experience of thousands of students and teachers regardless of zip code.  EL is part of a quickly growing movement to spread deeper learning outcomes for students.Our ambitious vision of student achievement goes beyond test scores to include essential skills such as critical thinking, perseverance, and what we call “academic courage.”

Historically, EL supported teachers and principals through intensive coaching, a model which does not lend itself to scale.  Two years ago we began harnessing the expertise and innovation from EL’s best classrooms to create high quality curriculum, which was commissioned by NY State and quickly endorsed by teachers, district and state officials and others.  The curriculum and supporting instructional books and videos have also provided EL with the tools and strategies we had been seeking to scale our impact beyond our network of 160 schools.

A year ago, EL was selected into the first cohort of Social Impact Exchange’s Education Scaling Marketplaceafter a rigorous vetting process. Our partners at the Exchange helped us articulate a $9.5 million growth capital plan that laid out the specific strategies needed to scale our work with quality. They also guided us through raising the initial one third of this investment, including generous lead funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

In the 12 months since we started this journey with the Exchange, EL’s work has grown exponentially:

  • Our open source, Common Core-aligned literacy curriculum has been downloaded more than 1.8 million times and is in use in at least 25 states.
  • We are engaging several large urban districts, including Hartford, Boston and nearly 300 schools in NYC, in deep professional learning that will improve student outcomes.

This explosive growth gave us a clear picture of what is possible and helped us become even sharper about our scaling plans. We have set the ambitious goal of transforming 55,000 classrooms through the adoption of our curriculum and practices by 2017.

We were honored to be invited to present at this year’s Conference on Scaling Impact. Our work with the Exchange up until this point has helped us refine our understanding of exactly what capacity we need to achieve the next level of scale and establish a sustainable new line of revenue for EL.  While EL’s exposure and credibility in the education community has skyrocketed in the past year, our visibility in the funding community has not kept pace.  Presenting at the Scaling in Action session during the conference provided EL with a critical opportunity to make our case in front of an audience of funders committed to scaling innovation.  I explained that new investments will allow us to build out our content, grow to more locations, develop our on-line learning offerings, and expand our research base.  I was both pleased and humbled by the positive feedback we received, and I am hopeful that this experience will lead to more conversations and partnerships to support EL’s ambitious scale goals.


Scott Hartl is the current President and CEO at Expeditionary Learning, and has worked for the organization in various roles for 20 years. Scott can be reached at