Tired of long-term plans to close the achievement gap?

SkyLearn promises ‘significant improvements’


By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


Minnesota’s educational disparity isn’t just a gap, it’s a chasm. Unless you’re stupid enough to believe all those children of color are that dumb, common sense dictates it is a deliberate, system-wide act of institutionalized racism, pure and simple, one that attacks Black communities in the one area that historically has strengthened us — social progress achieved by sticking your head in a book and applying what you learn to prevail, even in the face of discrimination.

Do something serious and concrete about the educational disparity and you remove a grim disadvantage that keeps our kids behind the proverbial eight-ball as would-be students shunted to society’s sidelines to become statistics for the prison system and welfare rolls.

Jesse Overton   Photo courtesy of SkyLearn, Inc.
Jesse Overton
Photo courtesy of SkyLearn, Inc.

In this light, consider Sky Learn, Inc. a resource with which to reckon in the interest of, beyond salvaging these youngsters, enabling them to empower our communities. “With 40 hours of on-line instruction, students have experienced the mastery of reading and math,” asserts president/CEO Jesse Overton in a statement at Skylearn.net, “and are able to participate at grade level with a 85 percent mastery of the basic skills.”

Quite an extraordinary claim at a time when extraordinary measures are exactly what’s called for to counteract the chronic discrimination that has educationally crippled generations. A mere perusal of the website assures that Overton is not talking through his hat. You’ll find a detailed step-by-step, reader-friendly overview of how his company does what he says it can.

The material further states, “SkyLearn is an education technology company [whose] mission is to…maximize a child’s academic performance, irrespective of geographic location or socioeconomic background. To accomplish this we identify ground-breaking, technology-based solutions in reading and math that are affordable, scalable, and can make significant improvements within a short period of time.”

Very important piece, affordability, as exorbitant tuition at private schools price the best educational opportunities out of reach for most Black families unless the student gets a scholarship. As of yet, SkyLearn is not available in Minneapolis or St. Paul public schools.

Overton reflects, “At present we have no relationship with either district. Our relationship is with Saint Thomas [University] who uses our program with students in both cities. We have a partnership with the Burns Institute.”

The Burns Institute is a national organization laboring to bring down the disproportionate representation of youth of color who land in America’s courts, funneled into its juvenile justice system. There can, of course, be no more invaluable an effort than for the institute to work with an outfit like SkyLearn, Inc. Nothing is more crucial than educational rehabilitation when it comes to salvaging lives from the dead end of prison.

Overton goes on, “Our solution is designed to serve K-12 students on a worldwide bases. We have brought to scale educational online reading and math programs that are affordable and will advance the students to mastery as opposed to [merely being] proficient.” He points to places where it has worked.

“Hamline University [Center for Excellence in Urban Teaching], Saint Thomas University [National Youth Sports Program], and the Smithson Craighead Academy are a few examples of programs that our application software changed the lives of students that were performing below grade level. In all cases the students made giant gains in reading and math skills.

“In Miami, Florida we partner with the Dade County Boys and Girls Club to provide Supplemental Services to low-achieving students [in grades] K-12. The results were one-to-two-grade-level gains in 40 hours of instruction. This success was replicated in Santa Barbara California Public Schools.”

Clearly, this program promotes prevention, even more crucial than the proverbial pound of cure. If you can intervene and head kids off early in life, you won’t have to worry about them ending up perhaps robbing you someday and more than likely bound for an existence behind bars.

Here’s how it works, taken from the SkyLearn website. After a student completes an assessment, teachers can immediately retrieve a series of reports that detail a student’s reading profile in a quantitative and qualitative fashion. Reporting also provides teachers important instructional recommendations specific to that student’s profile.

There are multiple components to the teacher reports. The first section includes a quantitative summary of a student’s performance on each of the subtests. In this section of the report, areas of low performance are flagged to make teachers aware that that a particular reading skill is high priority for that particular student.

Before founding Bloomington-based SkyLearn, Inc. in 1987, Overton was executive vice president of new business development at Honeywell Bull in Massachusetts. Before that, he was at Honeywell Information Systems in Edina as senior executive accounts manager for marketing and sales of manufacturing systems. A partial listing of credits also includes: Hamline University Center for Urban Training Advisory Board, Saint Paul NAACP past president, and former chair at Minnesota Job Skills Partnership.

So there is a qualified individual at the head of SkyLearn, Inc., a powerful resource in the imperative to set right an ongoing wrong by which students remain educationally disenfranchised.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.