NewSchools Venture Fund A non-profit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children Wed, 29 Oct 2014 00:21:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Urban Learning Builds College Partnership for Teachers Mon, 27 Oct 2014 22:58:29 +0000 Concerned with the number of African American certified male teachers in our organization, and by the challenges faced by those seeking certification, we partnered with a local university to train and certify our teachers. While we’ve started small, our hope is to continually improve access to certification for more and more teachers of color, including supporting non-traditional individuals interested in education obtain certification.

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Teach for America Launched Dream. Rise. Do. Mon, 27 Oct 2014 17:56:01 +0000 Recognizing that African American men make up only 2% of the nation’s teachers, we launched Dream. Rise. Do. (DRD) to bring awareness to the need for more!  We launched, securing 20K pledges agreeing that 2% is not enough. Through DRD we will increase the number of black male teachers in the nation’s classrooms. We will build a coalition of organizations that will work together to secure more black male teachers. 

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NewSchools Invests in Fellowship for Race & Equity in Education (FREE) Sat, 25 Oct 2014 17:56:08 +0000 NewSchools invested in Michelle Molitor & her new organization FREE, which was founded to facilitate discussions about the effects of systemic racism on our schools. Michelle believes “the most dangerous conversation about race is the one we’re not having as an education community.” Through FREE, she will work with people and organizations to create learning communities that bridge difference and build confidence in talking about race so as to live, learn, and act in a democracy together.

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Ripple Effects Releases New Version of Race/Racism Tutorial Fri, 10 Oct 2014 23:20:04 +0000 […]]]> We updated our professional development software which helps teachers address race as a social construct, and how racism can be approached as a problem without blame or shame. Our aim is to create a safe space for educators to reflect meaningfully about race and racism and enable them to risk deeper levels of self-honesty, an important first step in creating needed dialogue. Internally, we are actively searching for leaders of color to join our Board.

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Philanthropy’s Essential Role in K-12 Edtech and Strategies for Impact Mon, 06 Oct 2014 20:17:55 +0000 […]]]>

Although “Record Levels of Edtech Funding” has been a recurring headline, there hasn’t been a focus on the role of philanthropy as the majority of funding is coming from the private sector. From our front line view as an active edtech seed investor, we see the need for diverse forms of capital to realize the full potential of technology to differentiate instruction and drive improved learning outcomes

With their long view of the market and a focus on student achievement, foundations are uniquely positioned to fill existing gaps in edtech funding. For example, additional sources of capital are needed to provide high quality technology tools for students with specialized needs and underserved backgrounds.  

So what is preventing foundations from funding edtech? How much money have foundations recently contributed to edtech? Which foundations are leading the way and what innovative approaches are they taking? Find out in Philanthropy’s Essential Role in K-12 Edtech and Strategies for Impact, an analysis of the current state of major foundations and K-12 edtech funding. 

We hope foundations will use this research to find ways to support the K-12 edtech ecosystem given their mission and capacity. Foundations interested in learning more and connecting with other foundations interested in funding edtech can sign up to continue the conversation- we are eager to help!

Thank you to collaborators Dan Runcie, Vivian Wu, and Chian Gong. Thanks also to Diana Barthauer for support with graphic design.

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Data Analytics Tools in U.S. K-12 Sat, 04 Oct 2014 06:38:25 +0000 […]]]> The use of data to influence decision-making isn’t new to K-12 education.  In fact, given the sheer amount of paperwork, surveys and test scores generated, education has the potential to be one of, if not the, most data-driven sector in the U.S., but too often the data that teachers and administrators are saddled with is untimely or inactionable. We’re excited to see that change.

Over recent years, a slew of next generation data analytics tools are changing the way school leaders think about data by: making achievement data more actionable (e.g. BrightBytes, Schoolzilla), providing a more holistic portfolio of students’ performance (e.g. FreshGrade, Equal Opportunity Schools) and bringing more constituent voices to bear on learning (e.g. Panorama Education).  To follow are several examples in which data tools are improving efficiency and equity in K-12.

Investment Approaches in Data

Making achievement data more actionable. The critical questions that K-12 school leaders want answered are rarely captured in a single data set.  Data on interconnected issues such as student performance, behavior and attendance are typically housed in dozens of disparate legacy data systems that have limited functionality and lack integration.  Schoolzilla addresses this problem by providing schools with a data warehousing platform that allows educators to connect and clean various data sources into intuitive, actionable visualizations.  Once the data is connected, Schoolzilla creates customizable data dashboards enabling educators to focus on their key performance indicators as highlighted in this case study and pictured below.  Schoolzilla can also help educators benchmark their school’s performance relative to other schools laying the groundwork for conversations around best practices.

Schoolzilla NWEA MAP Teacher Report 2 (drill-down)[1]

A sample visualization provided by Schoolzilla - visualizing ELA academic performance for a portfolio of schools and an interactive map showing average household income by school location

A sample visualization provided by Schoolzilla – visualizing ELA academic performance for a portfolio of schools and an interactive map showing average household income by school location

More holistic portfolio of student performance.  While test scores are an important measure of student progress and allow school leaders to better understand achievement gaps, they only capture a limited component of a young person’s academic strengths and weaknesses. We are excited about data analytics tools that humanize and provide a more holistic profile of student capability and potential.  A great example is Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), an organization which partners with high school principals and district superintendents to increase enrollment and success of underrepresented students (e.g. low-income and minority) in a school’s most challenging classes (e.g. AP and IB).  EOS makes their information actionable to school leaders by creating data-rich student profiles highlighting academic success and readiness for rigorous course content.  EOS schools have dramatically increased the number of low-income and minority students in AP and IB classes while maintaining or improving exam passage rates for these courses.

A sample student profile created by EOS which benchmarks performance relative to other AP students

A sample student profile created by EOS which benchmarks performance relative to other AP students

Elevating the student voice.  Panorama Education, a Boston-based edtech company, is helping teachers collect and analyze student feedback. Panorama’s student survey reports are elevating the student voice and providing teachers with actionable analytics to understand where there’s opportunity to improve instruction and engagement. This is one of several examples in which data analytics tools are playing a positive role in impacting change at the point of instruction.

A sample Panorama Education report used by teachers

A sample Panorama Education report used by teachers


Venture Funding for Data Tools

While a new generation of data analytics tools gain widespread adoption in schools, they’re also catching the eye of venture investors.  According to K-12 edtech venture funding data provided by EdSurge, funding for data analytics tools has steadily grown in recent years – 2014 year-to-date venture funding is already up 687% from 2012 at $58M.  For the sake of simplicity, we break data analytics edtech companies into two primary categories:

  • Learning analytics: The use of data to inform and improve instruction and learning (e.g. Ellevation Education, Panorama Education).
  • Institutional analytics: The use of data to make better decisions about how to improve operations at a school-wide or district level. (e.g. BrightBytes, LearnSprout).


The increased funding is driven by Series B funding rounds for MasteryConnect,  BrightBytes, and Series A for Clever. The enthusiasm isn’t unwarranted – according to the McKinsey Global Institute, more open data practices in education have the opportunity to unlock economic value of $800bn to $1.2 trillion annually (this figure includes higher education).  Per their analysis, the primary drivers of value include improved instructional outcomes by identifying more effective pedagogies and cost-savings through more efficient administration.

Looking Ahead

There are still a number of opportunities to more fully realize the potential of data analytics in education such as better privacy tools, greater levels of integration across a variety of systems and actionable data for parents.  Data analytics will remain a prevalent storyline in edtech, particularly as states rollout the first generation of Common Core assessments in the 2014-2015 academic year.  We expect and look forward to an influx of high-quality data tools that will help teachers and administrators answer pressing and challenging questions.

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Investment Approaches of the Seed Fund – Part III Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:18:45 +0000 […]]]> Tools to Differentiate Instruction in a One-Size-Fits-All Education System

Last weekend, I sat in a sewing class with my ten year old daughter and was surprised to learn that ⅓ of our day would be dedicated to programming our sewing machines. The room full of women, most over sixty years old, happily embraced the automation of tasks like embroidery now possible thanks to the software running their machines. Marc Andreesen is right – Software is eating the world.  

It’s eating education too, but not in the way critics would have you believe. Mainstream media has oversimplified edtech, too often characterizing it as apps aimed to replace teachers. In Matt Richtel’s NYT piece profiling the no-tech Waldorf School in Silicon Valley, he quotes a parent,

The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”  

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of education technology entering our K-12 schools today are tools and content designed for teachers to support their 41whHNvibTL._SY355_efforts to differentiate instruction. Those same Silicon Valley, high-tech parents would never consider going about their jobs without the latest software to give them an edge. Yet, our teachers are expected to personalize learning with primitive tools in a one-size-fits-all education system¹. (The green Ward lesson planning book is still widely used.)

The basis for starting the Seed Fund three years ago was to invest in cutting-edge tools for differentiating instruction, the other theses areas grew from there.  


Differentiated Instruction (DI) has become an education buzzword used to convey different ideas from personalized learning to student grouping. In plain language, differentiated instruction means: the methods a teacher uses to respond to individual learning needs in the classroom.

A teacher can differentiate by modifying:

  1. how they teach (process);
  2. what they teach (content);
  3. the product (evidence of learning); and
  4. the learning environment.

Teachers need tools and content to help them efficiently differentiate these four areas while managing a classroom and their overall load of students. Our investment thesis is to seed companies that can differentiate along the following dimensions:

Learning Environment Differentiation: Nearpod and Hapara are workflow or learning environment tools. Nearpod gives teachers the ability to toggle between whole class, small group and individual instruction in 1:1 learning environments while Hapara is a layer of software that helps teachers manage student work in the Google Apps for Edu environment.

Content Differentiation: Children learn in different ways and it’s helpful to present content in multiple formats to increase the odds of reaching more learners. An extreme example of how technology can enable new ways to present conceptually challenging ideas is the Solar Walk app which leverages the touch screen pinch and expand technology of the iPad to represent the scale of the Universe in a very unique way. There is credible research to show Solar Walk increases comprehension of these concepts. Not only are we seeking new, digitally enhanced content, but we also aim to fund content tools able to adapt to the needs of individual students. Companies like Blendspace, eSpark, Zaption, Zeal and Educreations enable personalized content for students thereby optimizing the path a child takes to achieve their learning goals.

Assessment and Feedback: In order to differentiate effectively, teachers need to gather information on a child’s understanding. We look for formative assessment tools that give teachers the information they need to modify their instruction as needed. Assessment and feedback go hand-in-hand; some tools combine the two. The key feature we are looking for is that the teacher has a place in this assessment/feedback loop. Mobile assessment tools like Socrative shorten the assessment/feedback cycle even enabling teachers to adjust instruction on the spot. 

We are seeing some of the strongest innovation in these categories as the tools evolve alongside mobile technology. Its important to note that DI is a foundational principle of the Seed Fund and cuts across all of our investment areas.



Blendspace is a curation tool for educators to personalize learning content for students.

Blendspace was acquired by TES Global/Wikispaces




Corespring is an assessment database.



Educreations is a unique lesson-creation tool for educators, works across platforms.




Dubbed a Pandora for Apps, eSpark enables personalized playlists of Apps in a mobile learning environment.


Hapara logo_New Tag_4C_8_2014


Hapara is a layer of software that sits on top of Google Apps for Edu designed for educators to manage their classrooms in a digital environment.




MasteryConnect is a collaborative, formative assessment platform for K12 educators.




Nearpod is an operating system for educators for 1:1 learning environments.


Socrative Logo


Socrative (acquired by MasteryConnect) is a mobile formative assessment tool for quick checks for understanding and to increase engagement.




Zaption provides advanced video data analytics for educators.


Summary of Investment Approaches in Posts I-3

  1. The STEM skills crisis
  2. Relevance matters more than ever
  3. Better communication leads to better education outcomes for kids
  4. Specialized tools can better reach children outside of the mainstream
  5. Tools to Differentiate Instruction in a One-Size-Fits-All Education System


¹120-150+ students per teacher at the secondary level, summative assessment system, limited planning time, etc

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The School Organizations in Our Portfolio are Growing! Wed, 10 Sep 2014 22:20:39 +0000 […]]]> NewSchools is celebrating the opening of new charter school campuses in Washington, DC, Newark, NJ and Boston, MA. We support the growth of entrepreneur led education organizations in each of these cities through our City Funds.

Boston Fund: Four New Campuses

KIPP MA | KIPP Academy Boston Elementary | K-4
1 New Campus | Total Campuses: 5

Match EducationMatch Next Middle School | 5-8
1 New Campus | Total Campuses: 3

UP Education NetworkUP Academy Holland | K-8
1 New Campus | Total Campuses: 5

City on a HillCity on a Hill – New Bedford | 9-12
1 New Campus | Total Campuses: 3

DC Schools Fund: Four New Campuses

DC International SchoolDC International | 6-12
1 New Campus | Total Campuses: 1

KIPP DCKIPP DC Arts & Technology Academy | PK3-K
                  KIPP DC Northeast Academy | 5-8
2 New Campuses | Total Campuses: 15

Democracy PrepDemocracy Prep Congress Heights | PK3-6
1 New Campus | Total Campuses: 13

Newark Fund: Two New Campuses

North Star AcademyAlexander Street Elementary | K-4
1 New Campus | Total Campuses: 10

TEAM Charter Schools Life Academy Elementary | K-4
1 New CampusTotal Campuses: 7


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Where are K-12 Edtech Venture Backed Startups Based? Fri, 05 Sep 2014 23:58:17 +0000 […]]]> This is the first post in a series to spotlight trends in K-12 edtech venture funding data.

Advantageous location of a startup is no substitute for a great product or entrepreneur, but it may increase the odds of success. In edtech, early success for a startup often hinges on access to talent, early-stage funding, high-quality accelerators, research partnerships and innovation-friendly school districts.

According to year-to-date K-12 edtech venture funding data provided by EdSurge, the San Francisco Bay Area remains the most popular geography for both edtech entrepreneurs and investors alike. Mirroring the broader technology market, Bay Area startups have accounted for 44% of all K-12 edtech venture dollars raised year-to-date at $172M. Additionally, the Bay Area is home to edtech companies raising some of the largest rounds of venture financing this year including: BrightBytes, Edmodo, Remind, and AltSchool.

EdTech Funding by Geo v.2We continue to see strong momentum in deal activity from East Coast startups based out of New York, Boston and the Baltimore/Washington Metro area. As others have noted, these cities have particular alignment with K-12 edtech:

Angels: Early stage capital is critical to retain promising edtech startups. Local angel investors, such as Frank Bonsal (Baltimore), Eileen Rudden, Jean Hammond and Jon Sackler (Boston), Matt Greenfield and Zac Zeitlin (New York) have helped evangelize and catalyze edtech capital in their respective regions.

Community: A number of organizations are helping create the conditions necessary for early-stage edtech entrepreneurs to succeed by developing a community of practice comprised of educators, administrators and entrepreneurs. The #edtechMD, the Digital Harbor Foundation, LearnLaunch and NYC iZone are several such organizations helping develop early stage edtech activity.

Accelerators: Amongst others, Kaplan EdTech Accelerator (New York) and LearnLaunchX (Boston) incubate early-stage ventures and galvanize networks of potential funders (including the NewSchools Seed Fund).

Access to Talent: Top universities on the East Coast are producing a world-class pipeline of talent and a compelling alternative to Silicon Valley. As universities continue to better serve their local startup communities, edtech will benefit.

Research Partnerships: An analog to Stanford and UC Berkeley’s penchant for feeding research and innovation to the Bay Area exists on the East Coast where top-notch research institutions are increasingly developing partnerships with the private sector. A few interesting examples that are bridging research-based solutions with practice include: Edtechnos Evaluator / NYC iZone, Colombia Teachers College EdLab, and the MIT Sloan Edtech case competition.

Bar Graph

Our last chart examines how our own funding on the NewSchools Seed Fund compares to the aforementioned broader trends. 57% of our 45 edtech investments are Bay Area based while 30% is nearly evenly distributed across Washington DC, New York and Boston (it’s worth noting that our team is headquartered in Palo Alto). As edtech ecosystems continue to evolve, we will continue to seek out the most passionate and talented entrepreneurs no matter where they’re based.


Thanks to Diana Barthauer for visuals and the NSVF Seed team for reading drafts of this.  Data made available from EdSurge Ka’Ching Reports.


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Investment Approaches of the Seed Fund- Part II Wed, 20 Aug 2014 03:52:01 +0000 […]]]> Last week I shared some of our thinking behind our investments in STEM, relevance and communication, found here. With this post, I’ll share our approach for investing in special education and english language learning.

Specialized Tools Can Better Reach Children Outside of the Mainstream 

While traditional venture capital has backed consumer-oriented english language learning tools like Rosetta Stone, Livemocha and more recently, mobile apps like Duolingo, we take a very different approach. We target tools for educators in schools serving these students.

Our school system is undergoing a long, slow shift from a mass-production model of instruction to a more differentiated model. This is a good thing and will be better for both the educators and children within the system. While we’re excited that new blended models are pioneering the way for whole school change, their numbers are tiny at less than 1% of US schools. We need to accelerate this shift because achievement data makes it clear that children from less privileged backgrounds and those with particular learning needs have the most to lose from a one-size-fits-all approach to schooling.

As this systematic shift lumbers on, teachers are driving change in their own classrooms. For more than a decade, differentiated instruction has been the #1 topic of interest for professional development. Teachers have long believed they needed more arrows in their quiver to teach the range of learners in their classrooms. And now, with the ubiquity of technology devices and the content ecosystems that come alongside them, teachers are actively adopting tools and content to teach diverse learners — despite the many constraints imposed by a system designed for mass-production.


The demand for educator-focused specialized learning tools and content is strong. Because technology offers unique and easy ways to differentiate curriculum and instruction, our baseline approach across all investment areas is to find products that build these features from within – it should be the norm of all education technology products¹. Newsela, mentioned previously as a tool to promote relevance, is one of the best examples with a built-in lexile leveler to reach beginning and advanced readers alike.

We have narrowed our criteria to areas with: a) high need b) an over-representation of poor and minority children² and c) opportunities to build a scalable and sustainable business. Given limited follow-on funding options, we invest in areas with Federal and State categorical funding available so the company can become cash-flow positive quickly. This space is primed for impact investors and Foundation mission-related investments (MRI’s). Our investments are focused in:

English Language Learners (ELL)

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

The fastest growing sub-population of students in the US is English Language Learners, currently at about 11%. Thirty percent of schools have more than a quarter of students from an immigrant background. PISA data shows that students in the US with an immigrant background³ more often attend schools with a) more children from a socio-economically disadvantaged background, b) have lower quality of educational resources available and c) have fewer staff per students, among other disadvantages (see table ii.4.9).

Special Education (SPED)

About 12% of US students have identified special learning needs. Special education teachers have some of the toughest jobs and the poorest tools available. It is an area virtually devoid of innovation and yet these teachers have some of the greatest needs for personalized learning tools. After all, differentiated instruction began in special education classrooms. Faced with the reality of a classroom of diverse learners, special education teachers adapted their instruction and developed new pedagogical strategies.

In both ELL and SPED, we look for tools and curriculum to help educators support the learning needs of their students while efficiently meeting compliance demands for categorical funding. We would like to do a lot more investing in this category and are researching needs for rural children and early-diagnostic tools for classroom teachers to screen for learning disabilities so those children can get help sooner. We are at the tip of the iceberg in understanding how technology can positively impact the lives of children with special learning needs — and we are keen to invest in entrepreneurs who are leading this innovation and will equip our educators with the best tools possible.


LocoMotive Labs designs exceptional assistive and play-based learning applications to empower kids with special needs to be independent learners.



Goalbook creates research-based resources that empower teachers to design rigorous and engaging instructional plans for diverse student needs.


ELEV tagline logo cmyk

Ellevation is exclusively focused on the needs of English Language Learners and the educators who serve them.



PresenceLearning makes online 
speech therapy and occupational therapy practical, affordable and convenient for special needs children while providing an extraordinary therapy experience for each child.

¹Stanford professor Jo Boaler calls differentiated learning tasks, “low-floor, high ceiling” – we look for products similarly designed.

²The overrepresentation of certain ethnic groups in special education programs (and underrepresentation in AP and gifted programs) has been a recognized problem for 30+ years.

³Among OECD countries, only Luxembourg, Switzerland, Australia, new Zealand, Canada and Israel show a higher concentration of students with an immigrant background in schools (the OECD average is 14%).

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