NewSchools Venture Fund A non-profit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children Thu, 05 Mar 2015 00:43:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Announcing Summit 2015 Opening Speaker: Brené Brown Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:40:46 +0000 […]]]> We are honored to announce that Brené Brown will join us as the opening plenary speaker at Summit 2015 on May 6.  Brené has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.  Her research has helped thousands of leaders learn how to turn difficult situations into opportunities for connection and growth.  Her keynote will launch a day of conversation and exploration around how education leaders, teachers, parents and students can harness the power of vulnerability, put their creativity to work, and persevere to transform education to work better for all kids. 

brene-brownAbout Brené

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.  Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on, with over 18 million views. Brené is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012). She is also the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), and I Thought It Was Just Me (2007).  Brené lives in Houston with her husband, Steve, and their two children.  To learn more about Brene’s groundbreaking work, please visit

About Summit 2015

NewSchools Summit is an annual gathering of thinkers, innovators, and doers in K-12 public education who are working to expand opportunity for young people in the United States. Each year nearly 1000 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, public officials, policy makers, and funders come together to confront key challenges to improving public schools so that they work better for every student, in every neighborhood. Through big conversations, bold speakers and collaborative working sessions, Summit 2015 will create space for attendees to connect with each other and immerse themselves in important topics.  Read more about Summit 2015


]]> 0
UP EDUCATION NETWORK INVESTS IN ITS STAFF Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:00:23 +0000 […]]]> UP Bridge Mentoring

UP Education Network launched the first ever Bridge Mentoring Program for employees of color who have an interest in exploring career pathways in the Network. Mentees will work with mentors to identify existing leadership opportunities in line with their career goals and trajectory and participate in on-going professional development. Through this program, we will create a sense of community to ensure our staff of color know that we are invested in their development and value their contributions to our network.

]]> 0
New Talent to Support Our Strategy Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:40:38 +0000 […]]]> A couple of weeks ago we shared an infographic about our strategic direction over the next few years.

New folks are joining the team with the background and skills we need to invest in and support entrepreneurs in our priority areas. Here’s an up to date look at new members of our innovative schools and tools & services investment teams.

Innovative Schools team

Scott Benson joined us at the beginning of February to lead this team. During 4 ½ years at the Gates Foundation, he supported more than 100 teams of educators launching or redesigning schools for next generation learning. He was an early investor in some of the most innovative school models in the country and is well known and respected among entrepreneurs, other investors, and thought leaders. He also has experience in the public sector at DC Public Schools and in the private sector in the management ranks at Home Depot.

Liz Arney arrives March 1st after 11 years at Aspire Public Schools. Most recently she was the Director of Innovative Learning, supporting Aspire school teams as they transformed their traditional instructional environments to ones focused on personalized learning with blended instruction. Her book “Go Blended,” a practical guide for schools interested in learning from Aspire’s journey, was released on February 2nd. She began her career as a teacher in Washington state.

Arielle Rittvo arrives April 1st, fresh off a couple of years of independent consulting focused exclusively on supporting teams of educators launching and redesigning schools for next generation learning all over the country. After a number of years working on operations and strategy across the KIPP LA network, she joined Rocketship Learning, a pioneer among next gen schools, where as national VP of Strategy and Operations she led a team that supported schools across the network.

Alex Caram joined NewSchools last summer to work with our teacher prep entrepreneurs. As we sunset our investing in those types of organizations, Alex will continue to support our teacher prep ventures throughout 2015, while working on the innovative schools team to think about their human capital needs and opportunities we might support in the future.

Tools and Services team

Tonika Cheek Clayton joins us March 16th to lead this team. She spent 8 years at Amplify and Wireless Generation, where she most recently was Vice President of Product Management, guiding teams of product and project managers to develop and execute product roadmaps and project plans. This included working closely with clients to understand and incorporate their needs into products and establishing a network of schools to test product prototypes. She also held leadership roles in sales and account management and led a team that sold and supported more than 600 school, district, and state accounts.  

Esther Tricoche joined us on February 23rd from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in Houston, where she was the Education Program Manager for Social Innovation & Education Technology. She managed a $120 million portfolio of K-12 public education investments. Esther supported several city-wide education reform action plans in collaboration with city government, local foundations, and nonprofits across the country, including the Arnold’s first city-wide portfolio schools investment in New Orleans.

As these new investment teams come together, we are excited to begin building a portfolio of innovative schools and tools & services entrepreneurs!


]]> 1
NEW RESEARCH ON HISPANIC FAMILIES’S USE OF MEDIA FOR LEARNING FROM JGCC Tue, 24 Feb 2015 23:37:44 +0000 JGCC Hispanic-Latino Families Research

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center released three reports that explore the diverse and growing Hispanic population in the U.S. and how these families are using media to promote learning at home. Aprendiendo en casa reveals findings from a national parent survey; Connecting to Learn recommends policy solutions to improve digital equity among low-income Hispanic families; and Digital Media and Latino Families examines how technology proliferation affects family and community relationships.

]]> 0
Boston Charter Schools: Great Places to Teach and Learn Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:12:01 +0000 […]]]> In 2013, the Boston charter school sector received significant attention for its strong academic performance after the release of two important studies. A CREDO study found that students in Boston charter schools gain an additional 12 months of learning in reading and 13 months of learning in math than their district school peers. These findings were reinforced by a study from MIT, supported by NewSchools, which documented that charter students are outperforming their district peers.

These impressive findings on the quality of the charter sector in Boston led to interest in the practices that drive these great outcomes. What makes these schools so effective?  In order to help address that question, NewSchools supported TNTP to investigate how school leadership practices in Boston charter schools create environments that drive high-quality teaching. 

TNTP has developed a survey tool called Instructional Culture Insight, which measures teachers’ perceptions of their school environments.  TNTP has found that schools with strong instructional cultures – schools they have termed Greenhouse Schools – are associated with higher academic results. TNTP published a report examining the practices that contribute to strong cultures in a paper called “Greenhouse Schools: How Schools Can Build Cultures Where Teachers and Students Thrive” in 2012.

Today, TNTP is publishing a new paper, “Greenhouse Schools in Boston: School Leadership Practices Across a High-Performing Charter Sector,” that finds incredibly strong instructional cultures in the Boston charter school sector. Compared to other charter schools across the country that have participated in the Insight survey, Boston’s charter sector shines: A majority of the surveyed Boston charter schools (18 of 23) are in the top half of all charter schools that participate in this survey nationally, and all the participating Boston charters are in the top two-thirds. 


The data suggest that the Boston charter school sector has created environments that are great places for teachers to work.  When asked if their school is a good place to teach and learn, 78 percent of teachers across all the participating Boston schools agree—an agreement rate that’s comparable to just the top-performing charter schools (in terms of instructional culture) nationwide.

TNTP has identified four key practices that help create these strong instructional cultures in Boston charter schools:

1. Consistent learning environments that enable a focus on student growth: Boston charter schools have high and consistent expectations for student learning, with 84% of surveyed Boston teachers agreeing that their school implements a rigorous curriculum, compared to 67% of teachers at charter schools nationally, and they regularly measure student progress to maximize outcomes. Rebecca Cass, Managing Director of Programming for Excel Academy Charter Schools, a NewSchools portfolio member, explains: “Our systems and structure, coupled with high expectations and quality teaching, are the key levers for getting strong results for students.”

2. Teacher development through observation, feedback, and peer modeling: In the surveyed Boston schools, school leaders provide instructional leadership by frequently observing teacher practice and providing actionable feedback to drive continuous improvement in teacher practice.  Compared to their peers nationally, the Boston charter school teachers surveyed have more frequent touch points with their school leaders—a median of 18 observations throughout the year, compared to 11 elsewhere. Nearly three-quarters of surveyed Boston teachers say that feedback from observations helps them improve student outcomes. Kimberly Steadman, the co-Director of Academics at Brooke Charter Schools, a NewSchools portfolio member, explains Brooke’s investment in continuous teacher development: “We think teaching is really hard. No one will ever say, ‘I have learned everything there is to learn about teaching.’ We think that learning needs to happen on the job.”

3. Early hiring with a high bar: Nearly three-quarters of newly hired Boston teachers in the participating charter schools received their offers by June 1, compared to only about 50 percent in the top charter schools nationally. And the hiring process at these charter schools usually involves having candidates teach a sample lesson and spend time interacting with current teaching staff at the school, to provide a clear picture of the candidate’s strengths and to give the candidate a clear sense of the school and its potential to be a good fit.

4. The right responses to good (and bad) performance: TNTP has conducted research that finds that teachers are more likely to stay in schools where there are high expectations for all teachers. As TNTP puts it, “Great teachers want to work in schools with other great teachers.” TNTP found that Boston charter schools prioritize retaining their best-performing teachers and developing these star instructors for leadership positions, clearly signaling to all teachers the importance of high-quality instruction.

The Boston charter sector has focused on core instructional leadership practices that promote quality teaching and create environments that are great places for teachers to work, leading to schools where students excel.  We think that these practices play a role in the academic success of the Boston charter school sector, and we encourage other schools to adopt these compelling practices.

Read the full report here.

]]> 0
NEW LEADERS PREPARES DIVERSE TOP TALENT FOR HIGH-NEED SCHOOLS Wed, 18 Feb 2015 00:01:54 +0000 […]]]> Maripossa Child Success Programs

New Leaders is committed to ensuring that all children, regardless of their background or zip code, are prepared for success in college, careers and citizenship. Children, and particularly students of color, benefit when led and taught by racially diverse educators. Over fifteen years, New Leaders has strategically recruited and developed outstanding principals and teacher leaders for America’s highest-need schools. The result is a national network of transformational leaders, 75% of whom are people of color.

]]> 0
NewSchools’ Strategy at a Glance Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:54:10 +0000 […]]]> Over the past month, we have been sharing a couple of the pillars of our strategy going forward.  The infographic below captures our vision, rationale and approach in a more visual way.  We’re excited to share it, and even more excited about the work ahead.

A quick note: in addition to these strategic focus areas, we have a continuing commitment to diversify education leadership and to generate high quality school choices in Washington, DC.  In the coming weeks, we will share more about our plans there.

 Click the image below to enlargeNewSchools' Strategy at a Glance Infographic

]]> 1
US DOE CONVENES LEADERS TO INCREASE DIVERSITY IN EDUCATION REFORM Mon, 09 Feb 2015 17:29:39 +0000 […]]]> 15831146513_cda32a4b72_z

On January 29-30, the U.S. Department of Education brought together over 50 education reform leaders for the first meeting, or “First Steps Forum” in a collaboration called, “Our Students, Our Leaders: Increasing the Diversity of Education Reform Leadership.” Participants came from education organizations across the country and left with action plans to close the demographic gap between students and leaders in education reform. At an early 2016 meeting each 2015 participant will bring an education reformer with them to assess progress and identify next steps.

]]> 0
Investing in Tools & Services that Support Innovative Schools Wed, 04 Feb 2015 18:20:40 +0000 […]]]> Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing some information about our investment strategy at NewSchools.

In a January 13 blog post about innovative school models, I acknowledged we’re at the beginning of our work as an investor in schools that put more power in students’ hands and tailor learning to their individual needs.

Then on January 26 we shared some news in EdSurge about our ed tech investing. For us, these investment areas make sense together. As innovative school models flourish, they need great tools and services that support kids and teachers. As we invest in both areas, we’ll share what we’re learning from our portfolio early and often so that the schools and tools can get better faster. These three areas combine to make up our strategy over the next few years.


In the EdSurge story, we mentioned briefly that we would also continue to make grants to tools and services providers through our nonprofit. Here’s a bit more detail about how that will work.

Ed tech innovation and investing has grown rapidly over the last few years, but there are still gaps in the market for tools and services that innovative schools need to be successful. For instance, while the availability of high quality digital math content is increasing rapidly for most grade levels, digital science content aligned to Next Gen Science Standards is lagging, as are the platform tools and assessments needed to manage competency-based progressions.

We’ll develop ongoing insights into market gaps from available research such as the Teachers Know Best report from the Gates Foundation and the work EdSurge and others are doing to create better market information. We’ll also learn a lot from educators in the innovative schools we’ll fund about content and tools they need but can’t find, and we’ll keep an eye on what is (and is not) flowing into the pipelines of our ed tech fund and other investors.

To catalyze innovation to address these gaps, we will run national Challenges to mobilize entrepreneurs to bring their best ideas forward. We’ll make grants to the most promising teams (for-profit and nonprofit) to advance their product development and test their tools with teachers and students, and we’ll share the results of those trials broadly. We anticipate running one or two Challenges a year over the next few years, always focused on areas that are important to teachers and students and where innovation is lagging.

We’ll cultivate partnerships with regional and local incubators and accelerators around the country to help generate interest from entrepreneurs and to make sure they are well supported during the challenge cycles.

Occasionally we’ll make grants outside of our Challenge efforts to a very limited number of nonprofit entrepreneurs with breakthrough ideas for tools and services that can strengthen the design and implementation of innovative school models, and who have the potential to achieve scale and sustainability.  

We anticipate announcing our first Challenge in late spring or early summer, and are excited to work together with entrepreneurs and educators to increase the availability of effective tools and services that matter for learning.

]]> 0
What NewSchools Has Taught Me Fri, 23 Jan 2015 23:26:37 +0000 […]]]> by Derrick Spencer, UNCF-Walton Ed. Reform Fellow and DCSF Intern

1e9f446About this time last year I decided to apply to the UNCF-Walton Ed. Reform Fellowship, which consequently landed me an interview with NewSchools Venture Fund. I thought the fellowship would be the perfect opportunity not only to learn, but also to actively participate in education reform.  Prior to my experience with NewSchools, I was knowledgeable of some basic pedagogical theories and classroom management skills, but I had yet to truly explore the sector beyond the classroom.

Needless to say, my experience with NewSchools has been enlightening. I have become more familiar with the language associated with education reform and major ideological frameworks. My experience has also allowed me to compare what I have learned through this fellowship to the traditional concepts I have been introduced to in my education courses at Howard University. As a result, I have been able to build my knowledge base and apply these varied perspectives and theories to education reform issues. I was also able to more thoroughly understand and appreciate the plethora of roles  in addition to instructional professional positions. Taking into consideration what I experienced at NewSchools, here are my four biggest take-aways, which as it happens are all transferable to any industry.

1. Hybrid experiences are an asset, not a hindrance.

I grew up being told to find something I was interested in and “stick with it.”  Until this past summer, I thought the fact that my college experience didn’t have a one-track career theme was a liability to my future. Despite the fact that I chose English as my major prior to college and “stuck with it,” unlike some of my peers who interned at law firms each summer or volunteered at schools every year, I was always exploring my options. My activities and interests revealed my passion for social equity in an array of arenas. I feel compelled to be an aide in the pursuit of freedom from the systematic setbacks people who are disenfranchised encounter, and I do not believe I can choose a specific path until I have explored various options.

My professional experience while in college is pretty diverse: I have worked on political campaigns, social justice initiatives, and a small business. I have also dealt with issues regarding intellectual property, allied health, and student housing. So when I interviewed at NewSchools, I was nervous I would appear unfocused, despite the fact that I had completed each program and stayed with the small business for nearly two years. However, after meeting the team at NewSchools, I realized my four-year career trajectory didn’t represent uncertainty; it showcased my willingness to try new things and explore interests above and beyond my coursework.

NewSchools taught me that people who have diverse experiences, be it work experiences or different backgrounds, inspire diverse thought partnership. The NewSchools team consists of people with backgrounds in education, business, politics, and even architecture: each individual comes from a different walk of life. My favorite thing about NewSchools is they value people’s varied experiences. And while, for example we have to use the organization’s standardized approach for many tasks, our different ways of thinking and doing are welcome and make the organization the transformative force that it is.

2. Entrepreneurship is not always about capital gain.

Prior to joining the NewSchools’ team, my idea of an entrepreneur was limited to people who created innovative inventions for profit. It had never occurred to me that those individuals who created enterprises for the betterment of society were also entrepreneurs—that is, it never occurred to me until helping with the due diligence process for a NewSchools’ investment.

Over the summer, I helped research and create an investment proposal that resulted in a $200K investment. The investment was from NewSchools’ EDge Fund, a fund specifically created to look around the corner at up and coming ideas and to help social entrepreneurs achieve them. The social entrepreneur NewSchools was considering making an investment in was Michelle Molitor. Michelle is an education entrepreneur who is based in Washington, DC, and a founding member of E.L. Haynes, a high-performing public charter management organization. Her dedication to high-quality education for all children is evident in over a decade of experience as a traditionally-trained teacher and as the elementary school principal of Haynes. It was at Haynes where she began to respond to the drastic need for change in education as it relates to racial equity. Initiating an uncomfortable—but necessary—dialogue around racial equity in education, Michelle launched the Fellowship for Race and Educational Equity (FREE).

FREE is a nonprofit that aims to create equitable educational spaces by building communal will to ignite collective anti-racist action. In her own experience as one of only a few African American founding members of an organization that serves a largely black and Hispanic population, Michelle was able to conceptualize the benefits of conversations about race. She realized remaining silent about the “elephant in the room” only reinforced tension and ultimately was a disservice to the students. So Michelle created and implemented a series of Race and Educational Equity Seminars (REES) to have conversations addressing differences about race and equity. Michelle has played a vital role in creating structures to continue conversations beyond the seminar and embed race and equity work in the school community for multiple organizations, even outside of the metropolitan area. 

Michelle’s story inspired me. It helped me realize I can be an entrepreneur—AND I don’t have to give up my passion for social justice. I can remain true to myself and my core values, all while leading an enterprise.

3. Race is a hard topic to talk about, but a necessary one—even at work.

Where there is a diverse pool of people, there will be a need for discussions about diversity and inclusion. More specifically, given our nation’s history, race is a contributing factor in our perceptions of others. The discomfort that far too often accompanies talking about diversity makes race a taboo topic for the workplace, especially for minorities. In fact, research shows women and minorities are more likely to be perceived as self-serving when promoting diversity. However, I could not avoid the topic, no matter how uncomfortable.

My primary project at NewSchools was to research diversity and inclusion strategies. From solutions like covering the names on resumes to alleviate bias against ethnic names, to the use of a Presidential Executive Order as a template for organizational documents, my job was to explore race in education reform and help find salient solutions for NewSchools. I also had to make sure I followed news and collected data on race and educational mistreatment in Silicon Valley in the IT sector, especially since NewSchools makes investments in education technology. 

The most difficult part of researching diversity and inclusion was processing facts that were disturbing to me as an educated black man. However, being able to provide my input during critical moments in the organization’s steps toward greater equity and remembering the ideals stated in the NewSchools’ Statement of Diversity helped keep the bigger picture in mind.

4. Mentors make life easier, much easier.

This is a pretty self-explanatory lesson. If I did not have Deborah “Debbie” McGriff as a mentor, my experience, especially upon my arrival over the summer, would have been completely different. Debbie played an integral role in making my experience at New Schools a positive one.  Her constructive criticism and nods of approval helped me enhance my knowledge and professionalism. If not for my mentor, my experience working with education reformers may have even been overshadowed by some of the sector’s hiccups.

My experience with NewSchools has been a great one! I have traveled places I had never been, learned to play (and dominate in) foosball, and gained vital life skills. However, the most valuable lessons NewSchools has taught me include the necessity of hybrid experiences, social entrepreneurship, talking about race in the workplace, and the importance of mentorship. Thank you, NewSchools. I am exceedingly grateful.

]]> 0