NewSchools Venture Fund A non-profit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children Fri, 24 Jul 2015 05:39:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Growing the Nation’s Best Charter Sector Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:05:13 +0000 […]]]> In 2011, NewSchools Venture Fund launched its four-year, $12 million Boston Charter School Replication Fund. Led by Jim Peyser, the Boston Fund has helped double the size of the nation’s highest-performing charter sector: by 2020, the Boston charter sector will serve nearly 11,000 students and one in four middle schoolers. Meanwhile, we have focused on building an ecosystem that can support the ongoing growth of quality schools.

In order to capture the work we have done and the lessons we have learned – which we believe help articulate a vision for urban education reform that can inform future work in Boston and in other cities around the country – we have produced a report on the Boston Fund’s activities, results, and lessons learned.  We are appreciative to Graham VanderZanden and Tiffany Lee for their work to produce the report, and to Maura Marino, Jim Peyser, and Will Austin for their review. Below we summarize some of the findings from the report. We hope that you will read the report and share it with your networks. We look forward to hearing your reflections on our experience in Boston!

Investing in Excellence

The Boston Charter School Replication Fund (“Boston Fund” for short) invested $12M to support the growth of a group of exceptionally high-performing charter school organizations: Brooke Charter Schools, City on a Hill, Excel Academy, KIPP Massachusetts, Match Charter Schools, Roxbury Prep (Uncommon Schools Boston), and UP Education Network. In 2010, most of these organizations were single-site charter schools; today, each charter network operates three or more schools. Along with a few other single-site charter schools in Boston, these seven networks have made the local charter sector the highest-performing sector in the country, according to Stanford’s CREDO.

The Boston Fund has also helped develop an ecosystem that supports excellent schools. It has invested in key resources that are necessary for growth, such as growing the talent pipeline; supported district-charter collaboration, enabling greater enrollment equity across schools and sectors; and launched community engagement initiatives, increasing public support for policies that promote excellent schools. Collectively, these investments have positioned Boston for rapid change that benefits those students who have been traditionally most underserved within public schools.

Growth with Quality

Investments in quality schools and a supportive ecosystem have led to an intensive period of rapid growth. Support from the Boston Fund has helped add over 6,500 new charter school seats. This growth will help double Boston charter school enrollment, from about 9% of all public school enrollment in Boston in 2010, to about 18% in 2020. Simultaneous to this overall growth, high-need students are attending charter schools at increasing rates. Enrollment of low-income students, special education students, and English language learners have all increased as a percentage of total enrollment since 2010, with ELL enrollment increasing fivefold (from 2% to 10% of all charter school enrollment). 

Boston’s charter sector has grown rapidly.



High-need student enrollment has increased in all categories.


Boston’s charter schools have maintained high levels of quality throughout these changes. From 2010 through 2014, Boston charter schools have consistently outperformed local district and state averages on reading and math state assessments and in the rates at which graduates go on to college, especially 4-year college. These outcomes cannot be explained away as simple differences in enrollment between district and charter sectors. Rigorous research from MIT shows that attending a charter school actually changes the likelihood that any given student will achieve at a high level on MCAS, SAT, or AP tests, as well as improving that student’s chances of going to a 4-year college.

Student outcomes have remained strong. (Click image to enlarge)

Click to enlarge

Lessons Learned

The Boston Fund demonstrated that growing what works is an effective strategy to increase the number of high-quality seats. Philanthropic intermediaries can play an important role in helping establish the conditions for this growth with quality.  These conditions include:

  1. a critical mass of high-quality school operators;

  2. pipelines for key resources, especially talent and buildings;

  3. cross-school and -sector collaboration, to facilitate best-practice sharing and to address common needs;

  4. a policy environment that supports quality schools; and

  5. community engagement to ensure public demand for a supportive policy environment 

The Boston Fund’s experience especially highlights the importance of a strong policy environment and community support for quality schools. After the recent rapid growth of charter schools in Boston, nearly all charter school seats have been allocated under the current cap. This cap prevented Brooke Charter Schools, which operates possibly the highest-performing K-8 school in the state and has over 3,000 families on its waitlist, from receiving a charter for a fourth school in 2013. The state legislature had an opportunity to change this in 2014, but instead voted down legislation to incrementally increase the charter cap. Going forward, we believe that growing community support for quality schools and the increasing momentum among leaders at the state and local level to support quality and collaboration lends great promise to future opportunities for more charter school growth, and more students with access to high-quality schools.

If you’d like to lend your voice, funds, or time to the effort to create more high-quality schools in Boston, we encourage you to follow the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, Families for Excellent Schools, Democrats for Education Reform, and the Boston Schools Fund

Read the detailed report on the Boston Fund


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The Expectations Project Sees Power in Faith Communities Tue, 21 Jul 2015 23:35:32 +0000 Faith leaders are trusted voices who can facilitate conversations and collaboration across political, racial and socioeconomic difference. They bring a deeply rooted sense of hope that educational excellence and equity can be achieved in our lifetime. As the impact of The Expectations Project grows, more faith leaders and their congregations will convene families and raise their voices in support of policies and practices that improve educational outcomes for all our children.

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Equity Reports: Transparent Data to Spark Change Mon, 20 Jul 2015 14:12:29 +0000 […]]]> Despite major changes in DC’s education reform landscape, the black-white achievement gap remains the largest in the country. According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the gap between white students’ proficiency levels and black students’ has widened since 2007 to 55 points, representing years of difference in academic achievement. A similar gap exists between Hispanic and white students, highlighting the issue that DC has struggled to provide an equitable education to its neediest students. Achieving equity in education means that all students receive an education that meets their needs, regardless of what school they attend or their race, ethnicity, gender, family income level, special education status or other factors. Equity goes beyond ensuring that students are performing well on tests, but also looking at how students are being served in a school.

In DC, we have made great strides in creating publicly available, transparent data on equity metrics through a collaboration across multiple organizations. For a long period of time, relevant information was siloed among different education agencies. In DC, where forty-five percent of students attend charter schools, it was especially difficult to compare schools across both district and charter schools. In 2013, DC Public Schools (DCPS), the DC Public Charter Schools Board (PCSB), the Office State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Education, and NewSchools Venture Fund partnered together to tackle the task of producing equity reports for every public school in the city.

The result of this collaboration is a collection of equity reports, published for every school in the city, which compare the same data across all schools and by student subgroups.  Now in its second year, these reports are meant to capture important information that reflects how well a school is doing in providing an equitable education for its students. The reports include the following data, each of which is shown for individual student subgroups:

  • Performance: Student achievement as measured by proficiency on the state assessment, student academic growth and high school graduation rates,
  • Discipline: Suspension and expulsion rates,
  • Attendance: The average percentage of students attending school on a given day, and
  • Mobility: Month-by-month withdrawal and entry data.

This data, housed on the LearnDC website, has given educators and policymakers across the city new, more nuanced information to help shape not only our thinking about how schools are performing, but allows us to understand how different populations of students are being served. For example, our initial analysis of data from the 2013-14 school year looked at the rates at which students in different groups received one or more days of suspensions throughout a school year. In figure 1, we see that citywide, suspension rates are highest among special education students. Moreover, low-income and African American students also have higher rates compared to DC students overall.

Figure 1.


A similar analysis was completed for attendance rates by subgroup. In figure 2, the attendance rates by subgroup are shown and while the rates among all are relatively high (the overall citywide average is 90% for in-seat attendance), special education students have relatively lower attendance rates.

Figure 2.


The equity reports also show data on mobility, which measures students entering and leaving schools within the year. Figure 3 shows the change in withdrawal and entry rates of schools by sector during the 13-14 the school year.

Figure 3.


While the equity reports do not provide any information about why students are being served differently, they do provide a starting point for further reflection, potential recommendations, and goal setting. We’re hopeful that making this data transparent will help teachers and school leaders learn from the success of peer schools, and redouble their efforts to ensure equity for all DC students. 

The individual equity reports from each school are available on the LearnDC website at


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How to Win the Education Talent Game Wed, 15 Jul 2015 19:14:45 +0000 […]]]> Few educators would disagree with the statement that top talent is mission critical for achieving great results for students.

Yet the public education sector—school districts, charter organizations, nonprofits, intermediaries, government agencies, and foundations—chronically underinvests in developing highly effective and diverse system leaders.  With the pace of innovation increasing and complexity on the rise, why is that?  And what practical steps can organizations and leaders take to reverse the trend, build capacity, and reduce the kind of staff turnover that cripples success?

EdFuel set out recently to explore these questions with The Bridgespan Group, in partnership with The Broad Center, NewSchools Venture Fund, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and 50CAN.  We conducted a national survey of some 400 system leaders and extensive follow up interviews to get to the root of the problem.  The results are striking and the call to action is clear, but implementation will require true organizational commitment and a re-orienting of management priorities.  Read the full report here.

Survey Findings

The survey confirmed what many already suspect:  sixty percent of administrative leaders anticipate leaving their organizations within the next three years. This number is even higher at the middle manager level, with approximately 70 percent intending to leave within the next three years.

This “musical chairs” dynamic is not, however, a foregone conclusion.  Some staff report a strong affinity to their organization and a desire to continue developing in their role for the mid- to long-term.  What separates these organizational “promoters” from others?  The overwhelming answer is the amount of on-the-job career development and advancement opportunities their organization provides.  In fact, promoters are 5.5 times more likely to receive development support than their peers.


Educational organizations can stem the outflow of talented personnel by investing more in their professional growth—which builds organizational leadership capacity and promotes diversity. Our research pointed to four interlocking steps they need to take:

  • Adopt a development mindset: A talent-focused culture starts at the top and should be a stated priority of every senior leadership team and board.
  • Build muscle: Developing current and future leaders is a skill that can be learned, with practice and modest investment. Many tools and resources are available, including a set of K–12 leadership competency maps recently launched by EdFuel.
  • Prioritize diversity: Students of color constitute half the public school population, yet African American and Hispanic system eaders make up less than 25 percent of senior management roles in most systems. Closing that gap will require proactively providing development opportunities.
  • Measure, test, learn, and adapt: Leadership teams can get better over time by setting targets, tracking progress, and reflecting on results. Getting started means taking simple steps that promote learning and build a sense of momentum.   

A Path Forward

Reorienting an organization around talent development as a core competency is a long, involved, and often messy process.  But that is no excuse for organizations to delay the important work of getting started—quite the opposite, actually.

To advance this work, we outline a specific set of action steps for superintendents / CEOs, leadership teams, funders, non-profit intermediaries, and individuals to take towards a stronger talent culture and building much-needed leadership capacity.   

Please see the full report, Hidden in Plain Sight: Tomorrow’s Education Leaders Already Work for You, which captures our survey data and related recommendations.  We hope you’ll take a look, and that this work will catalyze increased commitment to develop and retain the leaders we need to achieve breakthrough student results in every school and classroom.

Jimmy Henderson is the founder of EdFuel, a non-profit that was created to address the need for mid- and senior-level education reform leaders in innovative schools and support organizations.  EdFuel’s mission is to attract, develop, and retain the next generation of education reform leaders, with an intentional focus on “beyond the classroom” roles.

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Paul Public Charter Builds A Pipeline with a Purpose Mon, 13 Jul 2015 16:04:33 +0000 At Paul Public Charter School, our coaching program for Black female school leaders enhances the likelihood that our leaders embrace challenges, stay in the struggle, and positively impact our sustainability and the college and career success of our scholars.

We support the coaching program and diversify the perspectives of our leaders by establishing a deep pipeline of talented leaders who come from the same communities as our scholars.

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Launching NewSchools Catapult: Invent 2015 Mon, 06 Jul 2015 11:00:11 +0000 […]]]> At NewSchools Venture Fund, we have always had a great affection for early-stage school entrepreneurs who are (re)imagining, (re)designing, and (re)creating the student experience and we are truly excited by all the school leaders realizing these visions in schools and getting great results for students.

One of the more famous early innovators, Leonardo daVinci, not only excelled at painting and sculpture, but was also skilled in science, mathematics, engineering, inventing, and architecture, among many other domains. DaVinci famously brought some of those skills to bear on the catapult, not by inventing it, but by seeking to improve upon the designs which already existed. We envision the imagining and launching of new schools much as daVinci approached the catapult; we already know a lot about what works for students, but there is still ample room for continued innovation and improvement.  To advance the state of the art in school design, just as in catapult design, we need to foster the imaginations of the greatest minds out there. We must partner with and encourage collaboration among ambitious innovators with diverse and varied skills and backgrounds, to put their skills to use in service of advancing student learning.

NewSchools Catapult

In that spirit, we’re thrilled to announce NewSchools Catapult, the first endeavor of our new national strategy. Its goal over the next several years is to propel successive waves of education entrepreneurs to launch new schools – the kinds of audacious, life-altering schools that can truly prepare our students to pursue their most ambitious dreams. In keeping with our mission and core values, our focus is on schools that serve significant numbers of underserved students in grades PreK-12 and will be operated by (a) early-stage charter networks for which this would be their first or second school or (b) district-operated schools with sufficient autonomy and support to realize their vision.

To help prepare school teams at similar stages to plan and launch successfully, we have separated NewSchools Catapult into two distinct phases:

  • Phase 1: Invent: A 6-10 month program designed to support school teams during the year prior to launching a new school. Teams selected for this phase will receive financial support (averaging around $100,000), targeted assistance and a cohort experience with others at a similar stage of development. All teams who participate in Invent will be working toward developing an application for Launch, though we expect that some will decide to postpone or abandon their launch plans.

  • Phase 2: Launch: A highly competitive 2 ½ year program designed to support school teams for the months leading up to launch through their second year of operation. In addition to continuing to receive ongoing assistance and a cohort experience, teams selected for this phase will receive financial support (our investments vary widely based on factors such as seat count and local funding conditions, but averaging around $400,000).

Here is a link to our Invent 2015 application and other materials which is intended only for school teams with aspirations to launch a new school in fall 2016. In the application, you’ll find an overview of our strategy, a description of the opportunity, the application and eligibility requirements, what we mean by “innovative schools” and our investment criteria.  We hope it’ll answer any questions about our work, but if you’re still left with questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to

Later this fall, we’ll release our Launch 2016 application, which would provide a larger investment to support the first two years of a new school that opens in fall 2016. Schools that receive an Invent 2015 investment will receive priority for this program.   

We’re excited to start this phase of our work and to spark the imaginations of entrepreneurs who believe in the limitless possibilities for meeting the educational needs of students.  If you meet the eligibility criteria and your vision aligns with ours, we strongly encourage you to apply.  Otherwise, please send this on to great innovators you know who are reimagining schools and together, let’s watch the inventing take place.

Apply for Invent 2015

NewSchools Catapult: Invent 2015 Application

NewSchools Catapult: Invent 2015 Budget Template

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Educate78 Launches in Oakland Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:42:15 +0000 […]]]> I am excited to introduce Educate78, an Oakland-based not-for-profit spin off from NewSchools Venture Fund.

We chose the name “Educate78” because the city of Oakland is 78 square miles, and our mission is to ensure that every student, in every neighborhood of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. We will do this through informed giving and strategic initiatives.


The time is right to focus on Oakland. The city’s robust and vibrant community of educators, innovators and social entrepreneurs is growing. We have an inspiring new leader in OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who shares our vision of putting results before ideology in service of all students. Voters have elected school board members who are open to change. We have great partners to collaborate with, like GO Public Schools, Seneca Family of Agencies, Lighthouse Community Charter School, and Youth Uprising. And we are honored to have supporters such as the Schwab Charitable Fund, Koshland Family Foundation, Irene S. Scully Family Foundation and Rogers Family Foundation.

The education environment in Oakland brings many challenges. Oakland ranked 147th of 149 among California school districts in terms of performance of low-income students, and has one of the largest achievement gaps statewide. But we see a unique opportunity here to make a real difference for students and do so in a sustainable way, by using a community-based approach. We may even provide a roadmap for similar efforts in other cities.

Our work will be driven by the needs of Oakland families, open to diverse perspectives, and characterized by the creativity that stems from collaboration. The challenges facing Oakland students and schools are complex, numerous and intractable; to solve them, we cannot be hampered by tired politics and old dividing lines.

Educate78 is about getting results for Oakland students – all of them – and we believe that the community of excellent public schools in Oakland needs to include both charter and district-run options. Accordingly, we will provide resources to replicate and expand high-performing charter schools, as a proven strategy for creating great choices for families. And, we will also invest to extend what’s working in district-run schools, and help mend what’s not working in the system, such as enrollment and Special Education.

Educate78 also seeks to develop and empower Oakland teachers and parents. We will support a survey of Oakland teachers to elevate their voices and leverage their expertise to find new ways to make Oakland a city where the best teachers want to work. We believe impactful and sustainable change must be directed by the community, so we are backing organizations that provide data to inform better local decision-making about schools, and that help develop family leadership within schools. And in order to enable families to choose schools that are the best fit for their children, we have joined a diverse coalition that includes OUSD, community organizations, and local parents to improve the enrollment process.

Uniting people and bringing different perspectives together is not always the easiest way to get things done, but we are guided by the African Proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I am thrilled that Anne Soto and Rachel Garcia James will be part of the founding Educate78 team. Every day, we are inspired by the determination, hard work and passion of Oakland students, educators and community members. We feel privileged and are energized by the opportunity to make real change for the families of Oakland. Collectively, we are forging a new path for public education in Oakland, and we invite you to join us.

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A New Way to Measure How Well We Are Supporting Students Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:02:19 +0000 […]]]> When the teachers of the year from across the country were asked in a Scholastic/Council of Great City Schools poll released recently what the biggest barriers are to their students’ academic success, it was no surprise that family stress and poverty topped the list.  Students who experience physical or emotional abuse, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, or family economic hardship can suffer from “toxic stress,” which significantly limits the amount of learning possible in a classroom without adequate supports.

As an organization committed to transforming public education so it works for the most underserved students, we constantly ask ourselves: how do we know how well we are supporting our highest need students?

Common practice across the country is to use a student’s eligibility for the federal school Free and Reduced Priced Lunch program (FRL) as a measure of student poverty. Students can qualify with a family income that is less than 185% of the poverty line.

The graph below looks at academic achievement during school year 2013-2014 on Washington, DC’s standardized assessment—the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS)—relative to the percent of students who qualify for FRL.  Here is what we and many others see in this picture (Graph 1):

  • What’s exciting: The graph shows that there are schools with high numbers of low-income students that show very high achievement.
  • What’s less exciting: The graph points out that schools with 100% FRL status students have widely different results for student achievement. Some schools with 100% FRL status students help their students achieve very high academic results, and others do not.

Graph1Last year, DC began measuring student need by a new classification called “at-risk of academic failure.” This new classification started as a way to better allocate resources to the students most in need. To qualify as at-risk, a student’s family must receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or be homeless, involved in the foster care system, or be a high school student who is over-age and under-credited.  As a result, this classification gives us a more accurate picture of which students are facing acute challenges including hunger, homelessness, grief, violence, and other physical or emotional distress. Using this definition, we can get a better picture of what is going on behind the scenes for these students, and educators can support the specific needs of each student.

The second graph below (Graph 2) compares the percentage of at-risk students at a school with the overall level of student proficiency on DC-CAS. The picture changes to a tight correlation between acute student need and academic proficiency results – that is, the more at-risk students in a school, the lower the average student achievement. When we use this more precise measure, we can see that extreme poverty is very highly correlated with student achievement results. 


This new way of measuring student need has sparked a lot of conversation in the DC education community. Are students better off in socioeconomically integrated schools?  What’s happening in schools that are “beating the odds” with at-risk students?  How do enrollment policies that vary between charter and district schools contribute to this picture? 

We’ll keep sharing what we’re learning here, and we’d love to know what other cities learn as they seek more precise measures to understand student achievement for our most vulnerable students.

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Achievement Prep Invests in African American Male Leaders Tue, 16 Jun 2015 17:27:41 +0000 […]]]> At Achievement Prep, 22% of leadership positions in our network are held by African American men.  We hear a consistent message from our African American male leaders that they strive to be examples of positivity for our scholars, despite a pervasive public message to our children about the dubious position of African American men in our society.  These gentlemen provide our predominately African American scholar population with real and varied models of leadership within our community.

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Innovative Schools Need a Thriving Ecosystem of Digital Tools and Services Mon, 15 Jun 2015 14:12:00 +0000 […]]]> Innovative schools working toward an expanded definition of student success – in which ALL students graduate with a mastery of academic and critical life skills to achieve their most ambitious dreams – require sophisticated tools and services to help deliver personalized learning experiences for students and effectively leverage teachers’ time and talent.  Without the latest technological innovations in education, it would not be feasible for teachers to efficiently personalize each student’s learning in a class of 20+ students given the wide range of students’ individual needs in most K-12 classroom scenarios.  As more schools implement school designs that incorporate blended instruction, educators will seek effective edtech tools and services that support efforts to deliver personalized learning and promote student ownership of their own learning.  

Over the last few years, edtech innovation and investment has grown rapidly; however, 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 steadily for most grade levels, digital science content aligned to Next Generation Science Standards is lagging, as are the platform tools and assessments needed to effectively manage competency-based progressions at scale. A key pillar of our strategy for 2015 and beyond is to highlight these and other important market gaps and use grant dollars to mobilize entrepreneurs to tackle these gaps.

Video: NewSchools Entrepreneurs Celebrate Our Work Together in This Holiday VideoWith our Tools & Services strategy, we intend to build on and extend the success of our Seed Fund, which over a three-year period invested in 40+ early-stage tools and services and helped catalyze growth in the availability of edtech investment dollars overall. We wound down the Seed Fund in April 2015 and helped create a new entity called NewSchools Capital which makes equity investments in for-profit edtech companies through its new fund called Reach. We own 50% of NewSchools Capital, and it is run by team members of our former Seed Fund.

Our Tools & Services philanthropic capital makes us a unique player in the edtech tools and services sector, since we use philanthropy to make grants to catalyze development in market segments where innovation is lagging. This is different from venture capitalists who take equity stakes in entrepreneurs who are likely to generate financial returns for their investors. Our goal is to generate more great choices among tools and services that matter most for teachers and students, not to create financial returns for ourselves.

We will do this by continuing to support for-profit and nonprofit entrepreneurs developing solutions that drive better results for students, specifically in areas where there are market gaps in the tools and services that schools need. We will do this through market gap challenges and direct investments in a limited number of service organizations annually. We believe that the accessibility of these critical tools and services will make it easier for schools to successfully adopt innovative models to positively impact student learning.

Beginning in Fall 2015, our Tools & Services team – Cameron White, Esther Tricoche, and myself – will launch a series of national challenges open to for-profit and nonprofit entrepreneurs working to address the most pressing gaps in K-12 education technology. Challenge topics will be chosen based on market research including input from a diverse group of educators and edtech decision-makers from districts and schools. For each challenge topic, we will select 8-15 of the most promising entrepreneurs and connect them with each other and the NewSchools network of experts and innovative schools as part of our challenge cohort program. By providing winning teams with educator feedback, research evaluations, strategic guidance and grant funding through our cohort program, we seek to cultivate high-impact, sustainable and scalable innovations that will improve academic and social outcomes for millions of children nationwide.  

Over time, we believe these challenges and our investments will spur a more robust edtech ecosystem that will help educators, entrepreneurs, researchers and funders better understand what it takes to develop high quality tools and services that benefit students across the U.S.

For more information on our investment strategy, please visit the Tools & Services webpage.


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