NewSchools Venture Fund A non-profit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:26:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Education Reform Mon, 08 Dec 2014 03:51:57 +0000 Great schools matter for kids. I believe they are the most powerful force we have for reducing economic and social inequality in the United States over the long run. But it’s a mistake to work on “fixing” schools while ignoring the conditions and beliefs that make it possible for chronically underperforming schools to persist in the first place. Or the crushing realities they perpetuate in communities across the country.

Our work to improve schools will be stronger if we acknowledge and speak up about the interdependencies with other issues that affect young people and their communities. Earlier this fall, a couple of weeks after unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, our team at NewSchools used a standing all-staff meeting to talk in small groups about what had happened. Our team is not as diverse as it should be, or will be, but we tried to bring our differences to bear as we struggled to make sense of the story coming out of Ferguson. For some of us it was tough to find the right words. We tried in good faith to connect it to the work we do to support entrepreneurs working to improve schools.

I was struck again that day by something I’ve known intellectually for a long time. But it’s still emotionally jarring every time I hear Black friends and colleagues talk about it. I never worry about whether the teenagers in my family or their White friends are at risk of physical harm if they have an encounter with a police officer. Never.

On the contrary, my sisters and I still laugh warmly about the fact that when we were teenagers, our late grandma told us we each had one “get out of jail free” call if we ever ended up in the Galveston County jail. We could call her, she’d come get us, she wouldn’t tell our momma. If we were arrested a second time, she’d come get us, but she’d have to tell momma. It was a joke. A funny way of saying you crazy girls might end up in a jam running around the county with your friends, but you’ll be fine, it’s not the end of the world.

But I’m shaken every time I hear Black moms and dads share what they say to their sons, nephews, and grandsons in an effort to lower the risk that an encounter with a cop might go badly. It’s a persistent nagging fear for them, and it’s not abstract. It’s backed up by specific instances involving their brothers, fathers, uncles, and themselves. It reminds me every time of the great chasm between our experiences. In my family, the topic is a fond memory. In theirs, it’s a concrete, evidence-based concern.

I don’t think cops are dangerous. I think they are public servants who put their lives on the line to protect their communities. Like any profession, sure there are some bad ones, but I bet it’s a small fraction. This belief is reinforced by every interaction I’ve ever had with law enforcement. But I acknowledge my experience isn’t the only reality. And I know as human beings, we all have implicit biases that affect our interactions with each other in ways that can sometimes lead to tragic consequences.

We can’t pretend these realities aren’t at play as we grapple with situations like the shootings of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and the protests that followed. Or when we talk about how to “engage the community” in the work of improving schools. Or the growing conversation about aggressive school discipline policies and practices. In some instances these might be contributing to short run improvements in academic data, but might also be reinforcing implicit biases and stereotypes, shaping young people’s views of themselves, and perpetuating community mistrust of leaders and institutions.

We have to confront these issues with a courage mixed with compassion for kids and each other. We have to broaden our discourse about education reform to include factors that have made it possible for Black and Latino young people to be systemically failed not only by their schools but by other institutions and systems, and the devastating effects this has on them, their families and their neighborhoods.

]]> 1
UTRU Prepares Teachers from Diverse Backgrounds Thu, 04 Dec 2014 20:05:46 +0000 School districts that serve children in high-need communities need well-prepared, effective, and diverse educators who are ready to teach on day one. Urban Teacher Residency United launches and supports programs that prepare new teachers who themselves come from diverse racial, economic and experience backgrounds. Our programs provide the practical learning, the hands-on experience and the support network teachers need to be effective right away. Through excellent teaching, students can experience academic success.

]]> 0
The Power of Video in Education and Our Investment in Zaption Sat, 15 Nov 2014 01:54:56 +0000 […]]]> Online video is central to the way in which 21st century learners digest and share information with one another.  According to comScore, 188 million people in the United States will watch 49 billion videos in just a day.  Online video consumption from individuals ages 12 to 17 represents over 13% of total video hours and is amongst the most rapidly growing demographics.

In U.S. K-12, video has become a common modality for delivering content inside and outside the classroom.  YouTube EDU, which was first conceived in 2009, now has over 20,000 channels dedicated to Primary & Secondary Education.  Teachers are using video in a myriad of ways: to flip their classrooms, extend content beyond the textbook, and enable differentiated instruction for students in need of acceleration or remediation.

But important questions persist: Are students actually watching the video?  If so, are they engaged, actively learning, and reflecting?  Zaption helps teachers answer these questions.

The NewSchools Seed Fund is proud to announce our investment in Zaption. Zaption is a video-learning company led by CEO Chris Walsh, also the co-founder of the Google Teacher Academy and creator of the Infinite Thinking Machine, Jim Stigler, a UCLA professor and former CEO of Lesson Lab, and Charlie Stigler, the CTO and one of Peter Thiel’s 2012 batch of 20 under 20.  The Zaption team has been a member of our edtech community for a little over a year now as a member of the Learning to Teach Fund.

Zaption amplifies a teacher’s ability to utilize video content to meet learning objectives.  For example, teachers can leverage existing content from sites such as YouTube and Vimeo and insert their own reflection or assessment questions.  Within the Zaption platform, teachers can create interactive video pit stops such as multiple choice or free response questions.  Zaption allows teachers to track student responses and the portion of video watched by a student, all helpful data for teachers to evaluate the efficacy of learning from a unit of video content. Zaption is unlocking the black box of online video for many educators.

-NSVF Tour Screenshot 1

Zaption supports deeper learning: A study from SRI Education that tracked the use of Khan Academy in schools found mixed results for student engagement – 62% of students were moderately engaged and 25% highly engaged when watching the videos during class time.  Further studies in the world of cognitive science have found the human brain responds differently when engaged in active problem-solving and reflection – exercises that require greater student attention and connectivity to various concepts, improving a student’s ability to retain knowledge in his or her long-term memory.  Zaption turns video viewing into an active learning experience.  “Teachers will find that students are really engaged — it’s great that they are not just watching videos passively”, says Jennifer Lee a teacher at Bulldog Tech Middle School.

Zaption fills a market need: Zaption’s product also fills a gap in the current K-12 instructional tools market.  Last April, the Gates Foundation released the results of an extensive study surveying over 3,100 U.S. teachers on their needs from digital instructional tools to help prepare their students to meet the more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  The results highlighted a lack of high-quality digital instruction tools in several areas: middle school social studies, grades 3-8 science, and content-agnostic platforms that host or aggregate content – all areas in which Zaption’s product has a strong use case.  For example, Zaption has formed a great partnership with Facing History and Ourselves to create custom interactive lessons with FHO’s video content for grades 9-12 social studies.

Zaption goes mobile:  According to a 2013 report by Nielsen, 70% of teenagers ages 13-17 have smartphones.  As John Doerr notes in his op-ed several months back, mobile phones are central to everyday life for students.  Last week, Zaption launched their iOS app on the App Store.  Mirroring broader industry trends with mobile video consumption growing at double-digit rates and the BYOD movement in K-12 well under way, we expect to see more of Zaption’s users access homework assignments and in-class activities on their phones.

-NSVF iPhone Screenshot

 Zaption’s iOS application

Since our investment, Zaption has continued their growth trajectory and are recent winners of the Digital Innovation in Learning award for Mindful Data, recognizing the ability of their tool to deliver meaningful, actionable data.  We believe the team at Zaption is bringing teachers the tools they need to flip the classroom and use engaging multimedia to deliver deep learning.

]]> 0
Building Effective Teacher Residencies: Report from UTRU Fri, 14 Nov 2014 21:49:38 +0000 We are excited to share a newly released white paper from Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU). “Building Effective Teacher Residencies,” examines two of the residency programs in its network, Aspire Teacher Residency, operated by the Aspire Public Schools charter network, and Denver Teacher Residency, part of the Denver Public Schools.

Executive Summary

View Executive Summary: PDF

Download Executive Summary (PDF)

Research Report

View Research Report: PDF

Download Research Report (PDF)

Pages from 14102-UTRU_Building_Effective_Residencies-Full-Single_Pgs

]]> 0
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.

]]> 3
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. 

]]> 0
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.

]]> 2
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 on race and racism and enable them to risk deeper levels of self-honesty, an important first step in creating needed dialogue. We are also actively searching for leaders of color to join our Board.

]]> 0
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.

]]> 3
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.

]]> 0