NewSchools Venture Fund A non-profit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children Thu, 28 May 2015 18:23:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Celebrating STEM Standouts in Boston: The Akamai Scholars Program Thu, 28 May 2015 18:23:12 +0000 […]]]> Tuesday was a special day in Boston.  NewSchools, in partnership with Akamai, held its annual Akamai Scholars Program to honor top 8th grade STEM scholars in high-quality charter school networks citywide.  The 12 students represent six growing charter networks in Boston that have been supported by NewSchools: Brooke Charter Schools, Excel Academy Charter Schools, KIPP Massachusetts, Match Education, Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, and UP Education Network.

These STEM scholars are impressive.  They regularly demonstrate curiosity, initiative, and hard work. Their love of learning and exploration is inspiring. Among the group are scholars who have taken independent courses to learn coding, are science fair winners, and are leaders in their schools. In the future, they aspire to be doctors, lawyers, and business owners. What a pleasure it was for NewSchools to spend the day with these scholars and celebrate their successes.

The day started at the MIT Museum, where the scholars enjoyed a robotics workshop.  Soon the scholars progressed from simple commands – like programming the robots to go forward – to whole sequences of actions, including turns. When a robot didn’t perform as planned, the scholars exhibited their scientific skills, assessing what went wrong and adjusting their code to address the problem. 

Scholars from Excel Academy Charter Schools and Roxbury Preparatory Charter School program a robot at the MIT Museum.
Scholars from Excel Academy Charter Schools and Roxbury Preparatory Charter School program a robot at the MIT Museum.

Next, we headed to Akamai’s Cambridge headquarters, where the scholars had an in-depth conversation with Ron Chaney, VP of Engineering. The scholars were especially interested in hearing about Ron’s path and about what qualifications would prepare them to work at Akamai. They were also interested in cyber security and how Akamai helps keep clients secure online.  The scholars’ great questions made for a lively discussion!

To finish the day, the group toured Akamai’s Network Operations Center, which gave scholars a good sense of the immense nature of Akamai’s operations, and the role that math plays in optimizing the company’s performance.

We were all grateful to Akamai for hosting our visit and spending so much time with us. Founded in 1998, Akamai is the leading provider of cloud services for helping enterprises provide secure, high-performing user experiences on any device, anywhere. Akamai believes in the wonderful possibilities for the future and supports math education and excellence in the next generation of technology innovators.

In honor of these scholars’ accomplishments, NewSchools presented each scholar with an iPad Air, which the students will use to help further their academic exploration and learning. NewSchools plans to follow these scholars through their bright futures – we can’t wait to see what they each accomplish as they head off to high school and beyond!

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Summit 2015: Brené Brown Delves Deeper in Q&A Tue, 19 May 2015 05:13:28 +0000 […]]]> In Brené Brown’s opening plenary talk at Summit 2015, she explained how the findings from her research into vulnerability, courage, and worthiness present an opportunity for educators to help students experience emotion fully and acquire the strength of character they need to address challenges. In the hour-long Q&A session following her talk, Brené delved deeper into questions of how teachers, administrators and school designers can build a culture of vulnerability in schools.

Brene-plenaryThe session was standing room only, and attendees were abuzz with the emotional charge of Brené’s opening talk. Many of the people who asked questions probed for advice about how to apply the lessons from Brené’s research.

One participant discussed the tension between vulnerability and the accountability inherent in K-12 education.  In some schools, he observed, practices that shame students for bad behavior or poor performance are built into the culture. He bravely asked how to get the high scores his schools needed to report success to funders and government agencies, saying, “What alternatives do I have that will still get results?” 

Brown advocated for new teaching methodologies: “We have to develop a new pedagogy that is both metrics-focused and whole-hearted,” she said. Furthermore, she challenged our sector to build new ways of thinking about school performance, saying, “the very public shaming of teachers, students, administrators and school systems is unholy.  It’s the opposite of how we should be talking about education, and it filters down to the kids.”  The solution to the problem we are facing in education, said Brown, “doesn’t exist yet. And it will only come from people like you,” she told the audience, “people who have lived it.”

Brené suggested a few ways of thinking about the problem in order to yield some solutions. First and foremost, she encouraged us to embody a sense of kindness in our interactions with others – and in our own thoughts. She suggested that when we communicate with the people around us – and when we “self-talk,” or engage in our inner dialogue, we should communicate the same way we would talk to a best friend. That kindness, said Brown, can enable the reflection people need in order to catalyze changes in behavior. “In shame we are hustling to self-protect; in feeling guilt, we can be vulnerable to change.” 

Secondly, to create vulnerability in our relationships and in our school cultures, she advised that we begin with a shared language – and train everyone, especially senior leaders, in that language, embedding the language of vulnerability, and by extension, a new way of understanding our world and our interactions into the culture.

Another approach to addressing shame may seem counterintuitive: storytelling. “The storytelling needs to happen at every level. You can’t talk about vulnerability without being authentically vulnerable yourself. If you can’t own your privilege you can’t have those conversations.The leaders of our schools often don’t reflect the experiences of the student body. We need that to change. We need those experiences in the room.”

Another participant asked, “When you are the perpetrator of shame, how do you walk it back? How do you correct that?”

Brené referenced a Maya Angelou quote: “When we know better, we do better.” While it might not be possible to take it back, you can move it forward. And in terms of changing the culture in our school systems, Brown said, “The only people who think it is not possible are those who don’t want to do it.”


Thanks again to our Platinum sponsor Target Corporation, for helping bring Brené to Summit 2015.  

For more about Brené Brown and her work, go to

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OneGoal: Taking intentional steps to strengthen our approach to staff diversity + inclusion Wed, 13 May 2015 18:12:07 +0000 […]]]> Since 2012, we increased staff diversity from 13% to 38%. By the end of 2015 we will broaden our pipeline to increase diversity in our candidate pool, and establish org-wide diversity and inclusiveness strategies.

We seek to ensure that every student, regardless of background, has a legitimate opportunity to be successful. OneGoal’s focus on inclusion will allow us to authentically and strategically leverage differences in order to model what is possible for our students.

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Summit 2015: Ben Jealous Challenges us to Build ‘Uncomfortable’ Coalitions and Dream Big Fri, 08 May 2015 14:08:16 +0000 […]]]> Ben Jealous, partner at Kapor Capital and former President & CEO of the NAACP, closed the NewSchools 2015 summit with a powerful call to action: to build ‘uncomfortable’ coalitions and dream big.

IMG_0653Ben joined us after spending the last week in Baltimore—a city where his family has roots for over 80 years—where he was conducting non-violent, civil disobedience training with students. Descending from a long line of activists, Ben has built on the lessons he learned from his family to fight for social justice. Whether it was outlawing racial profiling, protecting voting rights, or securing marriage equality, Ben has learned to create a shared vision for change with broad-based coalitions that work in partnership to achieve audacious victories.

He shared that in education reform, we have created ‘sides’ and ‘factions’ that have prevented progress. “Our failure to see ourselves as the broader movement that we are, is the failure of grown ups, not acting like grown ups… We can’t break up into gangs if we are trying to get kids out of gangs.” How will we move beyond the view that some groups are either with us or against us to forge meaningful alliances that drive lasting change?

He challenged those of us working towards educational equity to recognize the strength in the differing perspectives that exist across the field, while also recognizing that there is a lot that we do agree on. Summoning the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., he shared, “if you are comfortable in your coalition, your coalition is too small.” The only way for our coalitions to grow is to dream bigger dreams. Dreams that help us find common ground, dreams that build from the 80% of topics we agree on, rather than focusing on the 20% where we disagree.

I found the conversation to be incredibly thought provoking and I left the session wondering, where do we go from here? What ‘uncomfortable’ coalitions should we be building? And what does it actually mean to dream big? In many ways, I think we are already dreaming big dreams in education that we haven’t yet achieved. What bigger dreams are needed, especially when we haven’t reached the ones we are already working towards? I guess this is the work that lies ahead for all of us, working within uncomfortable coalitions to figure this out. And I know that we at NewSchools, along with all of our current and future partners, strive to take on these questions together.

Thanks to all who attended Summit 2015. 

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Live from Summit 2015: Expanding Our Definition of Student Success Fri, 08 May 2015 14:04:18 +0000 […]]]> This week at Summit, we had the opportunity to explore a topic near and dear to my heart — expanding the definition of student success. I firmly believe that all children must develop strong literacy and numeracy skills. We simply must ensure that our students graduate with that critical foundation. But it’s also important to acknowledge that those skills alone will not prepare them for their most ambitious dreams and plans. 

“We have to re-align our sense of what student work needs to look like,” said Scott Hartl of Expeditionary Learning. He then shared a second grader’s research project on snakes. Bolstered by a narrative voiceover and sound effects, the remarkable piece of student work below exemplified the depth and sophistication his organization expects of students and schools it supports.


Wow! I completely agreed with Pamela Cantor of Turnaround for Children, who observed, “It’s a picture of what’s possible. It’s a picture of what kids are capable of.”

But are rich, multi-faceted research projects really at odds with our prevailing definition of student success? I don’t believe so. Activities like this provide fantastic opportunities for students to practice and apply a wide range of ELA standards in an authentic, engaging way. At the same time, complex tasks and projects require students to employ other types of knowledge, skills, habits and mindsets that are arguably just as valuable to their long-term success. Shouldn’t we acknowledge and measure them too?

Of course we should, but how do schools get started? Kelly Garcia, a school leader at Summit Public Schools, reflected on the task her organization faced in promoting and assessing student work like this: “As a nation, we haven’t come to a consensus on what we mean by [an expanded definition of student success], but at Summit we have.” She then described how her entire network took it upon themselves to develop a unified and holistic vision of student success (below), along with common rubrics that teachers use across grade levels and subjects to assess student work.

student success 

At NewSchools, we are encouraged by the efforts of these leading organizations and others like them. But we also don’t believe that every school needs to develop its own custom frameworks and rubrics. As we move forward into our new strategy, we want to keep this conversation alive. We intend to partner with interested schools, researchers and other experts to share ideas and promising practices.  


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Live from Summit 2015: A Student’s Perspective on Next Gen Learning Wed, 06 May 2015 22:19:17 +0000 […]]]> Today at Summit, we shared “day in the life” videos featuring students in three next generation schools, and got a chance to hear from each of the three students directly.  Stacey Childress explored with them what’s special, what’s helpful, and what’s still evolving about these innovative school models, from their perspective.  The students were energizing, articulate, and inspiring.

We’re delighted to share the videos with you here:

Day in the Life – Edgar of New Classrooms from NewSchools Venture Fund on Vimeo.

Day in the Life – Kasai of DC International from NewSchools Venture Fund on Vimeo.

Day in the Life- Sofie of Summit Public Schools from NewSchools Venture Fund on Vimeo.

Follow all of the Summit 2015 news at #nsvfsummit.

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Live from Summit 2015: Opening Plenary Session with Brené Brown Wed, 06 May 2015 20:02:01 +0000 […]]]> Those seeking change in our education system have never been more ready for someone like Brené Brown, and Brené just might have the secret sauce.  As Summit’s Opening Plenary speaker, Brené got to the heart of what needs to happen to shift the way we run our school systems and teach our children. In one word, it is vulnerability.  With over a decade of research, Brené demonstrates a talent for combining evidence with heartfelt, relatable anecdotes that are sure to resonate with educators working to effect change, particularly for kids with the highest need.

Brown_BreneThe education community is ready to expand our notion of what’s important for students, but we all know this is hard work. We must create a culture in our schools where risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure are ok.  What we want for all of our children is to experience things like joy, gratitude, creativity and love. But if students have experienced trauma and are “armored up” because they’re coping with the resulting shame, fear, uncertainty and anxiety, then they will be unable to access joy and love, and ultimately they will be unable to succeed. Statistics show, students dealing with trauma are much more likely to drop out of school, face problems with addiction, or attempt suicide.

Brené shared that 85% of people she interviewed can remember something that happened to them at school that was so shaming that it changed themselves as learners. The good news: 100% of those she interviewed can remember a teacher, a coach or an administrator who at one time in their school career pieced back their sense of self. Educators have the power to help students with their inner dialogue, turning it from self-talk derived from shame to learning to separate the self from outcomes.

So how can educators make this happen? Money and metrics will not change people, communities or systems. We must speak to the emotional lives of people if we want to inspire lasting and meaningful change. We need to become more daring in the classroom if we want to raise children who, while still working towards academic achievement, also develop the character necessary to become successful, creative and productive. We need to be courageous in reexamining our models for school in order to be sure we are engaging kids in a way that preserves their ability to try, fail, and try again, without promoting shame. It will feel scary and risky, but as Brené points out, “Isn’t it a scarier proposition to face the end of our lives wondering what might have happened if we showed up and tried? 

Follow all of the Summit 2015 news at #nsvfsummit.

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Live from Summit 2015: Leveraging Teacher Insight in Ed Tech Design Wed, 06 May 2015 17:56:37 +0000 […]]]> Today at Summit 2015, Sara Allan from the Gates Foundation launched a new website, Teachers Know Best, which presents primary market research into teachers’ and students’ ed tech needs.  The site contains the summary results and underlying survey data from a K-12 ed tech market study and will serve as a platform to release future research studies.  Sara also previewed some upcoming research into teachers’ needs for additional tools to integrate the information from multiple sources to present compelling, actionable insights into student learning.

Key findings:

  • only half of teachers believe that they effective digital tools are available to support their teaching
  • only a third of teachers are satisfied w effectiveness of tools that integrate data from multiple sources to present a complete picture of student progress
  • almost half of teachers are well along the adoption curve in leveraging ed tech to personalize learning


Joining Sara for the second half of the session were Jacob Klein of MotionMath, Nitzan Pelman of Lightsail, and Jeff Porter from San Francisco Friends School, who all provided color commentary on the various ways that teachers are engaged in ed tech design and adoption.

Sara finished the session by soliciting ideas about what additional research questions need to be answered to help ed tech companies successfully serve the needs of teachers and their students.  A few notable themes we heard:

  • best ways to engage parents in understanding how their kids are doing in class
  • understanding of procurement best practices
  • methods and measures for rapidly and cost-effectively gathering information on product efficacy


On the final point, Sara announced that Gates recently new grant challenge RFP to expand the number of product “testbeds” where schools and school systems rapidly test and give feedback on which ed tech tools are working best for their students.


Many thanks to the Gates Foundation, a sponsor of Summit 2015.  Dig into the research findings at

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Announcing Summit 2015 Closing Speaker: Ben Jealous Mon, 04 May 2015 16:31:43 +0000 […]]]> NewSchools Summit 2015 is just a couple of days away! I’ve been to many Summits over the years, but this is my first since I joined the organization as CEO last summer. I am really looking forward to it.

Over the last few years, the NewSchools team has tried to identify big issues that many people in the field are already talking about quietly with close colleagues, and then design plenary sessions and breakout panels to discuss them on a bigger stage. We decided to continue that tradition this year in a number of sessions, including with our closing keynote speaker, Ben Jealous.

Over the past year, events in a number of communities – Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Baltimore – have once again highlighted the systemic biases that affect so many young people and their families. I shared some thoughts on the implications for those of us working in education on the NewSchools blog back in December.

Many of us are thinking about how we can build on the gains of the last decade by continuing to hold high expectations for students academically, even as we acknowledge the broader realities that Black, Latino, and low-income kids and families face in communities across the country. This will likely require us to be part of coalitions with new allies and to work with people we’ve disagreed with on some things in the past, so that we can make common cause on shared priorities in the future.

Ben Jealous mOver the past several weeks, I’ve had a chance to spend a few hours talking with Ben Jealous about these topics. Ben is a partner at Kapor Capital, a venture capital firm that specializes in high growth investments that close gaps in access, opportunity and participation for underserved communities. Our offices are a couple blocks away from each other in Oakland. NewSchools occasionally co-invests with Kapor Capital; for instance, we both support Camelback Ventures where Ben is an advisor.

Between 2008 and 2013, Ben served as the president and CEO of the NAACP. As a national civil rights leader, he sometimes stood with education reformers and sometimes did not. He and I discussed these issues head on in our recent conversations. I’ve also been listening and learning about his family history, the historical context in which he views education reform over the last 15 years, and his take on a variety of timely issues, such as the effect that mass incarceration has had on communities and families.

Ben and I don’t agree on everything. But we share a passion for finding ways to ensure that every young person in this country has access to a great education and a job that enables them to take care of themselves and their families. I think he’ll inspire and challenge us on May 6th – you won’t want to miss it.


Ben’s remarks, in addition to a Q&A with Russlynn Ali from the Emerson Collective, will take place during our closing plenary, which starts at 4:20pm on May 6.  See the detailed agenda at


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Everything You Need to Know for Summit 2015 Fri, 01 May 2015 17:35:17 +0000 […]]]> Summit 2015 is almost here! The NewSchools Summit team is working around the clock to ensure a great experience for you. In anticipation of your visit, we’ve compiled some practical advice for making your way through the day.


You’ll need your name tag to get into sessions and social events. Come get yours at the registration area (2nd floor at the top of the escalator) during these times:

May 4: 7:00 pm -10:00 pm
May 5: 6:00 am -10:00 pm
May 6: 5:45 am – 5:30 pm



The Summit agenda is available to the public on the Summit Website. Visit this site to check out the detailed agenda and find out about logistics.





Follow NewSchools on Twitter @nsvf and use the hashtag #nsvfsummit. Stay up-to-date by following us on Facebook. And check out our blog, where we will be live-blogging on Summit day.





We have loaded some Summit-related blog posts on the NewSchools website to give you a taste of what’s to come. Here are links to a few:


Summit Presenter Q&A With Tom Chi, Google X Co-Founder

Summit Presenter Q&A with Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google

Summit Presenter Q&A with Michael Petrilli, Fordham Institute

Summit Presenter Q&A with Kriste Dragon, CEO of Citizens of the World Charter Schools 





Marriott lobby


SUMMIT DAY (5/6/2015)

8:00-9:10AM Opening Plenary: Brene Brown

9:20-10:20AM Hours of Power

10:20-11:30AM Breakout Sessions 

12:10-1:10PM Lunchtime Plenary: A Student’s Perspective with Stacey Childress

1:50-3:00PM Breakout Sessions 

3:00-4:00PM Hours of Power 

4:10-5:30PM Closing Plenary

5:30-7:00PM Closing Reception

Some sessions have limited space—please plan accordingly.




Morning Yoga: For a centering start to your Summit experience, we invite you to join us for a complimentary yoga class at 6am Wednesday morning in Bayside I. All levels are welcome and some mats will be provided. 

3rd Annual Summit 5K: The 3rd Annual Summit 5K will leave from the hotel lobby at 6am sharp! This informal, non-competitive event is open to runners of all abilities.




We have designed two hour-long blocks on Wednesday for networking and interactive sessions: 9:20-10:20AM and 3:00-4:00pm. Check the agenda for all the awesome activities that will be happening during those times.  



Here are a few that we recommend:

What Works? Designing Effective Research to Drive Innovation

Understanding the practices that lead to better outcomes is critical to the success of innovative schools. This discussion will explore current knowledge on the effectiveness of various efforts and illustrate how to design research that determines “what works” in ways that are clear and actionable for teachers and school leaders.

Expanding our Definition of Student Success

Bold charter school entrepreneurs have proven it’s possible to help all students score well on state tests and college entrance exams. But there’s a growing recognition that this is insufficient for long term student success. Many innovators are beginning to define student success more broadly to include character, social-emotional learning, habits of success and other attributes. What is the current state of the art among school teams and experts? How are these attributes being implemented and measured?

Propelling Student Achievement through Competency Based Progression

Many innovative schools incorporate competency based progression, in which learning goals are clearly defined and students navigate toward those goals and receive credit as soon as they demonstrate mastery. This session will explore implementation challenges and how changes in policy and practice can support competency based progression at scale.

Check out all the breakout sessions on the Summit website.



It can be confusing to know what to wear here in the land of casual. Summit attendees cover the range of fashion from Silicon Valley casual to East Coast business attire. Business casual is a safe bet.



We are grateful to the sponsors who are making Summit 2015 possible: 

Target, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Startup:EducationThe Walton Family Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, AT&T, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, ETSPearsonThe Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, The Pyramid Peak Foundation, Parthenon-EY, USA Funds and OtterBox.

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