NewSchools Venture Fund A non-profit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children Sun, 23 Nov 2014 04:55:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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.

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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.

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 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.

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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

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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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