The History of KnowledgeWorks

Since our founding in 2000, KnowledgeWorks has evolved first from an involved philanthropy focused exclusively in Ohio to become an operating foundation and finally a social enterprise engaged in work across the United States. We think about our history in three periods, each marked by its own organizational approach and program emphasis.

Ensuring Access (2000-2003)

We knew that even the best educational system is limited in its impact if it doesn’t reach large numbers of students. So we started there. We worked to ensure access to quality education for all students, no matter where they lived or how much money they had. We created and networked college access programs so that more people could realize the lifelong benefits of continuing their education beyond high school.

We also focused on low-wage workers and other adults who could use education as a springboard to better jobs. Our workforce development included the reorganization of adult education in Ohio so it became easier for workers to acquire new skills, as well as the creation of career pathway programs that points workers toward fields with growing demand.

We fostered community involvement in the planning of new school facilities to ensure that designs for new buildings would use the best research and apply community priorities to all decisions. Most critically, we ensured longevity by building critical expertise in supporting policy changes to sustain these initiatives.

Creating Better Schools (2004-2008)

Access is critical. But access alone isn’t enough. It doesn’t ensure the level of opportunity and accomplishment that we envisioned for every student. It was obvious that the quality of schools was a tremendous barrier to success. So we focused on improving urban high schools, with a special emphasis on creating small learning environments.

In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others, starting in 2004 we created 35 small high schools in eight urban school districts and opened six early college high schools in partnership with universities.

These efforts touched 50,000 students and trained more than 2,000 teachers in Ohio’s urban school districts. And the results have been dramatic – increasing graduation rates, improvement on test scores and students earning large numbers of college credits while still in high school.

KnowledgeWorks optimized the school improvement models behind this success by providing curriculum and instruction, supportive high school culture, aligned assessments and comprehensive student support.

At the same time, we focused on the need to create school systems that supported students from birth to career and created our community-based subsidiary StrivePartnership.

College and Career Readiness (2009 - )

You can’t prepare students for college and the careers of tomorrow without understanding what the future will require from our children. Since 2006, we have been engaged in a disciplined study of the trends shaping the future of education. We developed the 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning to help anticipate and prepare for change.

We came to see that our factory-era education system had to be turned on its head. Instead of focusing on the needs of the institution and handing down information from on high, schools needed to respond to the needs of the learner and allow them to discover knowledge through hands-on experiences.

We began working to transform our outdated system of schooling into what we call the world of learning – a place rich with opportunity for every student and capable of fostering the creativity and critical thinking that a fast-changing global society demands.

As our forecast and high school work began to garner national attention, we began to expand our thinking and work nationally to become the national organization we are today. 


Key accomplishments over the past ten years in Ohio and across the nation include:

  • Creation of 34 college access programs serving 150,000 students annually.
  • Convening of 55 adult career center superintendents and 23 community college leaders, to establish the Ohio Skills Bank.
  • Launch of a statewide Ohio P-16 council leading to the development of StrivePartnership, which aligns 300 regional partners. StrivePartnership-like partnerships now exist in over 65 communities across the country.
  • Convening of leading education players in Ohio to develop the Transformational Dialogue for Public Education.
  • Development of the “Ohio 8,” a lasting collaboration of the superintendents and teachers’ union presidents from the eight largest cities in the state.
  • Funding of Project GRAD’s first replication sites. Project GRAD is now in 13 cities across the country. 
  • Partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Ohio that successfully built over 70 small schools, raising graduation rates by over 30%.

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