NewSchools Venture Fund A non-profit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income children Mon, 14 Apr 2014 03:28:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Boston Charter Schools: A Limited Opportunity Thu, 27 Mar 2014 16:00:17 +0000 imageJust like his parents, who immigrated to Boston from the Dominican Republic in the late 1980s for improved economic opportunity, Andys Gonzalez is pursuing a better life for himself. For Andys, this pursuit led him to attend Edward Brooke Charter School in Roslindale. 

Andys is one of an increasing number of English language learners (ELLs) who have chosen to enroll in charter schools. Research shows that charter schools serve ELLs and other students with special needs more effectively. However, many students are unable to access the higher quality of services that these schools provide because of the Massachusetts charter cap. It’s time to lift the cap on charter schools so that more students, and particularly those with the highest levels of need, can attend the best schools. 

Andys was first identified as an English language learner in elementary school. Then, in fifth grade, he “won” the charter lottery. Attending Edward Brooke in middle school helped Andys overcome his ELL status. “I remember in 7th grade when my English became professional English. …If I hadn’t gone to Brooke, I wouldn’t have a voracity for words. ” 

Andys credits his experience at Brooke for igniting his passion for learning, and for preparing him for success. Attending Edward Brooke “has definitely opened many doors for me and shaped me into who I am today.” The academic gains that Andys made during his time at Brooke helped prepare him for success at the Roxbury Latin School, where he is receiving a full scholarship. When he graduates, Andys wants to go to college to study law and psychology. 

Andys’s story is increasingly common in Boston. Charter schools like Edward Brooke are serving Boston’s highest-need students, including ELLs, in increasing numbers. According to data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, more ELLs enrolled in the entry grades in Boston’s charter schools in 2013-14 than in any previous year. This is partially due to improved recruitment practices. Charter schools are now able to mail flyers to nearly all Boston families who have students in the grade levels they serve.

It is also because word is getting out that charter schools provide a great education, particularly to ELL students like Andys. An MIT report from October 2013 demonstrated that students who attend charter schools are more likely to score “proficient” or “advanced” on the MCAS than their peers in traditional public schools. This positive effect remains true for high-need students, including special education students, and is even stronger among low-income students and ELLs. (Disclosure: My organization, NewSchools Venture Fund, helped sponsor this MIT report). 


Improved recruitment and a reputation for quality have increased ELL enrollment in Boston charter schools. This year, 44% more ELL students than last year enrolled in entry grades in these schools. The percentage of ELL students in entry grades increased markedly, from 13% to 18%. Among replicating charters schools, these numbers increased by an even greater margin. (Replicating charter schools are those that opened new schools following the 2010 Achievement Gap Act, which effectively doubled the charter cap in the city of Boston.) These schools increased their ELL enrollment levels from 15% to 22% of students in entry grades.  


The deplorable reality is that many families seeking better lives for their children will soon be denied this opportunity. On March 12th, Edward Brooke held its annual enrollment lottery, as did many other Boston charter schools. Lottery winners, like Andys, will have improved life chances. Lottery losers are bound to languish on the waiting list, which, at Edward Brooke, tops 3,000 families each year.

Edward Brooke recently tried to help its waitlisted families. In 2012, Brooke submitted an application to open an additional school. This new school, which would have been the 4th in the Edward Brooke network, would have provided relief to hundreds of families who are seeking the best for their children. However, in spite of its track record as one of the highest-performing schools in Massachusetts, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) denied Brooke’s application in February 2013.

It’s time to stop preventing families from pursuing the opportunities they deserve. Charter schools can and do serve students with diverse needs. Our state legislators should lift the charter cap and enable more charter schools to open so that more students like Andys Gonzalez can be the beneficiaries of an excellent education. 

]]> 1
Sparking Student Interest in STEM By Bringing Industry Experts into the Classroom Wed, 19 Mar 2014 11:46:11 +0000 Nepris Logo_blue-gray-300x77

I vividly remember scouring my bathroom and kitchen cabinets to identify chemicals in the products I used everyday. Sure enough the chemical formulas I was learning to write in chemistry class were listed as ingredients in my toothpaste, shampoo, and laundry detergent. I was fascinated that chemistry had real world application and was inspired to become a chemical engineer at Procter and Gamble. According to a Microsoft STEM Perceptions Study, 57% of boys and 68% of girls who chose a career in science technology engineering and math (STEM) had a teacher or class that sparked their interest.

As the demand for U.S. STEM jobs continues to outpace the number of qualified workers, STEM teachers are searching for ways to connect the curriculum to real-life applications and spark students’ interests in STEM careers. With limited time, teachers are restricted to local company visits, and lack the tools to effectively integrate industry engagement into the curriculum. And yet, there is demand from the professional workforce, eager to give back but without a clear and helpful path into the classroom. Both educators and industry professionals desire to connect with one another, but the constraints of time and place thwart their good intentions to do so.

Nepris, a Texas based education technology startup, is leveraging technology to overcome these barriers and bring STEM industry experts virtually into the classroom. On the Nepris platform, teachers request a session on a topic (like the chemistry of soaps) and get matched to industry experts with the relevant skills and expertise. An industry expert virtually connects to the class to deliver a presentation, provide project mentoring and answer questions that students can submit via SMS. Teachers can also browse sessions that have already been delivered and use them to engage students in the same topic.


Since launching in January, over 900 teachers are using Nepris to not only inspire and engage students in STEM, but also to polish their own skills and stay current on industry trends. Students from all different backgrounds have been inspired to pursue careers in STEM fields and have appreciated hearing industry experts discuss their various career paths.

Nepris also provides industry professionals with meaningful volunteer experiences where they can inspire students and reach audiences they would have never reached before. During my time at P&G, I too would have enjoyed talking to students about developing laundry products and giving them advice on pursuing a technical career in the consumer products industry.

Nepris class

Today we welcome Nepris to the NewSchools Seed Fund and I leave you with this quote that summarizes why we are excited about this investment:

“The Nepris lessons, discussions, and virtual experiences have linked experts in STEM fields all over the nation with our students. The experiences have created energy and excitement about opportunities they didn’t realize existed. Like all principals, I want to provide learning opportunities that create a level playing field for all children regardless of background, economic status, or learning style. Nepris has helped me foster experiences to assist with this goal.”- Katie Babb, Principal, Aldridge Elementary, Plano Independent School District


]]> 1
The Future of Standardized Testing Tue, 18 Mar 2014 16:27:28 +0000 The College Board recently announced it is changing the SAT to better align with schoolwork. While I applaud their initiative to make the test relevant to what students are actually learning, emerging efforts in learning analytics and data backpacks will cause a shift in the underlying model of standardized tests.

Think about it: why would we sit students down in an inauthentic testing environment and ask them to perform when we have data on how they perform every single day, how long it has taken them to reach that level, and exactly how well they understand each foundational concept along the way?

I am pro-measurement but anti-test. The technology tools being developed in education today will gradually replace standardized testing by offering a snapshot of student understanding. Consider the three examples below as replacements for standardized testing, showing progress in grammar, math, and behavior.

Example 1: No Red Ink provides an in depth heat map of grammar understanding. Students work their way up colors, and if they are all blue then they have demonstrated understanding of the subject. Each block tests the basics, nuanced understandings, and edge cases of different grammar concepts.

Example 1: No Red Ink provides an in depth heat map of grammar understanding. Students work their way up colors, and if they are all blue then they have demonstrated understanding of the subject. Each block tests the basics, nuanced understandings, and edge cases of different grammar concepts.

 Khan Academy

Example 2: Khan Academy provides an entire concept map of interlinked algebra concepts, showing a snapshot of a students understanding and what ideas they are prepared to learn next. This type of data is much more valuable than a 680/800 on a math test because you can see how they have approached learning, explored, and pushed themselves and silly mistakes are not overvalued in the algorithm.

Class Dojo

Example 3: Class Dojo feeds back data about student behavior, capturing qualities like teamwork, creativity, or talking out of turn. Their data dashboards can present viewers with an understanding 100% unavailable by current testing methods.

Proponents (I am paraphrasing Jeb Bush) will tell you that a testing environment is good — that, in the real world, students need to perform in a given moment and they need to learn to deal with the stress. From this perspective, allowing performance on tools like Khan Academy or NoRedInk to count makes no sense because students can practice and refine their solutions. Yet the real world is much more forgiving —I am constantly doing drafts of papers, revisions to presentations, and consulting the team when I need help evaluating investment opportunities.

The gradual shift away from standardized testing towards the performance snapshot model will change the conversation from “what was my grade” to “how can I better understand?” And what better goal of primary and secondary education than to have students exit with an inquisitive drive and having learned how to learn?

]]> 1
Real Pain Points, Real Solutions: Oakland Startup Weekend Education Tue, 25 Feb 2014 21:48:51 +0000 and Anne Soto


“Build Community. Start Companies. No Talk. All Action.” – Startup Weekend Motto

When we met Nina Portugal two weeks ago at a Teach For America information session about Oakland’s first-ever Startup Weekend EDU, she described the specific struggles of her long-term English learner students at Castlemont High School in Oakland.  Nina was on the fence about pitching her idea in front of hundreds of strangers, but eventually joined the other 32 brave souls who pitched ideas to improve education.  Little did Nina expect that over the course of just 54 hours, her team, Rock Your Voice, would create a product she could put to use on Monday morning in her classroom.  Nina now has a voice transcription tool to better assess her students’ language and literacy skills.

This is just one of many inspirational examples of ideas going from concept to execution this past weekend at SWEDU Oakland.  Entrepreneurs, designers, developers, and educators from across Oakland, the Bay Area and the country formed teams like Rock Your Voice, to produce new ventures.  A few teams took on the SWEDU Oakland Special Challenge and built solutions to increase family engagement in Oakland schools.     

This weekend represents exactly the type of innovation NewSchools Venture Fund’s Oakland Fund and Seed Fund, co-collaborators on this event, are trying to stimulate: “educator-approved” solutions that have the power to change the face of education for low-income students.

We look forward to witnessing how the ideas launched this weekend develop and hope Nina’s story inspires others to build real solutions that solve real pain points for educators, students, and parents.

Written by Shauntel Poulson and Anne Soto, Startup Weekend EDU Oakland Organizers


  • 1st Place, People’s Choice, and Clever Prize – Rock Your Voice: English Learner software for creating a connection between oral language proficiency and written literacy skills
  • 2nd Place – Catch: platform to help parents engage with their students on their studies through games
  • 3rd Place – DesignED: professional development workshops and online content to bring design thinking to schools and teachers
  • Oakland Special Prize – Talking Points: SMS platform to enhance parent-student communication 

Other Participants:

  • Design Success: personal assistant development program for district leaders and managers
  • Engage ‘em: web solution for getting students to converse in group lesson setting
  • E-games: creating educational parodies of the most popular games, harnessing student engagement through gaming
  • Funbox: subscription-based boxes full of fun science activities
  • Math Wrench: blended learning for math students to build conceptual understanding
  • Pathfinder: mentoring platform connecting students to networks within local communities and corporations
  • PeerNow: platform to connect students on demand with local peer mentors
  • Reading with Relevance: culturally relevant literature aligned to ELA standards
  • Robox: low-cost robot toolkit in a box for cost effective, hands on STEM instruction
  • Spellzite: online, engaging Words Their Way
  • Student Voices: polling for students with administrator/teacher accountability attached
]]> 0
EdSurge, connector for Edtech and Educators Wed, 19 Feb 2014 20:25:27 +0000 photo[1] copyThis weekend Edsurge will bring its Tech for Schools Summit to Baltimore. Acting Deputy Secretary for the US Department of Education, Jim Shelton, will keynote and 900 educators have signed up to learn about new tech tools and digital content. The Baltimore Summit comes on the heels of the wildly successful EdSurge Silicon Valley Summit which drew 600+ educators. Prior to Silicon Valley, EdSurge hosted similar events in Chicago and Rhode Island.

The EdSurge Summits are distinguished from traditional education conferences by their prioritization of educator needs and feedback. The picture shows educator feedback banks that are booked full throughout the day resulting in 1,500 educator commentaries on edtech products.

EdSurge’s user base has grown rapidly since they launched 3 years ago. They have emerged as the site-of-record for tech in education and have built a diverse community at the intersection of edtech, educators/teachers and the regional startups ecosystems. From the start, Founder Betsy Corcoran has been intentionally focused on building bridges across these populations, which she felt was critical to maximizing the impact of edtech products. She started a newsletter tailored for educators called Instruct and has sought out educators as writers.

I’m in awe of what EdSurge has accomplished with just a tiny amount of seed funding – it’s a remarkable testament to Betsy’s drive. But then again, as John Doerr says “entrepreneurs do more than anyone thinks is possible with less than anyone thinks is possible.”

]]> 0
Socrates Meets Edtech: 51 Questions that Teach Mon, 10 Feb 2014 17:09:43 +0000

“Always the more beautiful answer who asks the more difficult question.”              - e.e. cummings

Earlier this week, NewSchools and Silicon Valley Education Foundation collaborated on launching a new learning innovation zone. Ten companies competed for the chance to run pilots throughout Silicon Valley school districts. They were drilled with dozens of questions from a panel of both educational leaders and business leaders.

An entrepreneur pitches her edtech company

You can read more about who won – including NewSchools portfolio companies Blendspace and Zaption – but if you want some insight into the perspectives of educators and business leaders on edtech, look to the questions first. Below I’ve compiled a list of what edtech startups should be prepared to answer if they step onto the stage and into the spotlight. 

Note: these are the real questions asked in the iHub Pitch games. The list is not comprehensive, but is a good place to start as you think through your own ideas. 

From an Educator’s Perspective (superintendents, tech directors, and principals)

Classroom Experience

  • How do you see a teacher using your product in the classroom? Help me understand how a teacher would use this.
  • Does your product track time on task?
  • Can you explain how the students collaborate? Can a teacher modify the student created content before it gets shared?
  • If I’m a student, how am I going to use this product? What is your hook to get students to use the tool?
  • Is this something a student can use at home?

Utility to teachers

  • How do you train the teachers to use the system? How long does it take for a teacher to become proficient?
  • For power users, how long does it take to write a new lesson?
  • Does it give information back to the Student Information System? Is it exportable back to a grade book? How does it integrate with other systems?
  • Can other teachers access the data to share between classes and programs?

Quality of content

  • How do you see the content aligning to the Common Core State Standards? Are the standards tagged by users or the system?
  • Are there scaffolding supports build in for English Language Learners?
  • There are a ton of edtech products being created, why would this be a good one for schools to invest in?

From a Business Perspective (CEO’s, Venture Capitalists, and Ronnie Lott)

Content and Product

  • How does the adaptivity work?
  • Do you have any concerns about privacy?
  • How do you ensure quality of content?
  • How do you deal with disparity in students with respect to social and economic background?
  • How do you substantiate the learning gains you cite?
  • How much content will you need to gain complete coverage of the curriculum, and how are you going to invest in getting that done quickly? How will you invest in going to market?
  • Does your product slow down the top students? How do you ensure this doesn’t happen?
  • Where are your content creators based and how do they get paid?

Competition and Market

  • Who do you see as your competition? 
  • How do you differentiate yourself from your main competitors?
  • What stops other companies from entering your field if your method becomes a hit?
  • How do you make money?
  • Who owns the digital rights?
  • What is your price point?

Team and vision

  • What is your painpoint right now?
  • 5 years from now, what is your company going to look like?
  • What keeps you up late at night?
  • What gets you up early in the morning?
  • What do you want to do with the data you collect?
  • Tell us a bit about who you are
  • What is the size of your team?
  • If you prioritize your goals, what would you do right now and what would you leave to the future?
  • How did you meet your cofounder?

On usage and users

  • Of the X% users you retain, what is special bout them as opposed to those who churn? How often does that X% use your product?
  • What negative things do customers say?
  • Who is the customer? Who is the decision maker?
  • What’s your plan to get your product to your customer base? Do you have revenue targets?
  • How many users were active in January?
  • You have X% retention. Why did the 100-X% leave?
  • How will you scale up your customer support as you grow?

Find out my favorite questions by pitching us your education startup at!

]]> 0
Top 10 Education Stories from 2013 to Watch for in 2014 Thu, 06 Feb 2014 18:54:47 +0000 I just got an email from a friend the other day asking for my mailing address to send me a holiday card. When my kids were toddlers, our holiday cards went out about a month late too. Here at NewSchools, we have lots of toddler-aged ventures that keep us too busy to post our New Year’s reflection right at the beginning of January. So, better late than never, here are my reflections from 2013, many of which are stories to watch in 2014:

10. The Ultimate Treasure Hunt

In Spring 2013, Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery published “The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students,” which described college “undermatching,” in which low-income and minority students who are qualified to attend selective colleges based on their grades and test scores are nevertheless steered towards less- or non-selective schools. The idea of sorting students into more limiting options based on how much money their parents make is contrary to our ideal of the American Dream. We’re watching the growth of organizations like Equal Opportunity Schools and efforts of colleges like Franklin & Marshall, who are starting a trend of correcting this inequity in opportunity. Let’s hope that in 2014, we can put undermatching on our “out” list. 

9. The Next Arms Race

Across the globe, countries are providing universal access and 1:1 devices. In the US, less than one-third of schools have high capacity broadband…compared to 70% of households. High capacity broadband is essential for teachers and students to use a full array of tools and programs for learning…not to mention to adequately administer the new computer-based Common Core assessments. E-Rate helps schools and libraries get access to affordable telecommunications and internet connectivity, but the 18-year old federal program sorely needs an update to reflect today’s technology. The Federal Communications Commission’s revision process started in 2013 with public comments. Yesterday, President Obama announced that the FCC will double the funding for broadband to $2 billion, which will be combined with $750 million committed by the private sector. Any day now, we may see the instructions for how to access these funds, coming to a school near you (Keep your dial-up modem connected until then!).

8. The Next Arms Race, Part II

Even dark fiber and 1:1 tablets won’t help improve learning outcomes if they are not used well (Witness the past proliferation of expansive smart boards used as…plain old white boards). So far, most “blended learning” is helping students master basic skills at their own pace, which is certainly an improvement over “one-size-fits-all” delivery of instruction, but it leaves a lot of potential on the table. In 2014, I’m hoping to see many more examples of technology used to create opportunities for students to create and innovate. 

7. A Growth Mindset for Teacher Colleges

In June 2013, National Council on Teacher Quality released a much-needed evaluation of 1,200 teacher training programs. The upshot: fewer than 10% earn above three stars out of four.  Factors contributing to the low scores include a selection bar that is too low and content that is not at the level of rigor required by the new Common Core State Standards. Predictably, groups like American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education roundly criticized the results and NCTQ ended up providing corrected scores to address some of the complaints. But grading systems like NCTQ’s and some states’ will continue to get attention and will be refined. The resulting transparency and accessibility of information about what is happening (or not) in teacher training programs will raise the pressure to improve teacher training. Teacher training programs that take a growth mindset about their own work, and continue to update their practices, will ultimately create the most benefit for students. Uses the phrase “teacher training” three times in two lines

6. Coding is Cool

It used to be that the kids who could program computers were the ostracized nerds in the back corner of the high school lunchroom. Now, thanks to campaigns by organizations like, coders are proud to have role models like and Chris Bosh, and 25 million students across the country have learned an hour of code. In 2014, I’m looking forward to seeing the number of schools that teach coding to grow to more than 10%, and for coding to become a legitimate subject accepted as a credit-bearing alternative to existing math or science course sequences.

5. A Seat at the Table

Featured in many presidential speeches, 2013 was a big year for Early Childhood education. Thirty-eight bills across 28 states were passed to improve early childhood education. Minnesota created a new pre-K scholarship program for low-income families; Texas and North Dakota creatively used K-12 and local tax funds to fund early childhood programs. Hawaii and Mississippi established their first statewide voluntary pre-K programs. Now, 41 states provide public funds for programs serving 4-year-olds. Let’s get to 45 by the end of 2014. 

4. Swing for the Fences

In 2013, education policy became a swing factor for NYC Mayor DeBlasio and Boston Mayor Walsh. Will it also become a key issue in this year’s mid-term elections? Let’s see what unfolds in 2014. 

3. The Polish are coming?

Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings were released in 2013 (They are released every three years). Most headlines did not contain new news; the US has been in the middle of the pack on PISA for decades. But it was interesting that we had some state-level data for the first time and that Massachusetts scored quite well: 4th in reading, 7th in Science and 10th in math. Students meet the bar that adults set for them, and the Bay State’s proficiency standards for students in English, math, and science have been world-class for a while. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Massachusetts students do well on the PISA tests, which include questions to measure critical thinking and problem-solving. This brings us to…

2. The Common Core State Standards

The wrath of the Tea Party descended upon Common Core State Standards in 2013, resulting in a few states questioning their commitment to these new standards. It’s just the beginning. In the early adopter state of New York, the higher bar resulted in a steep drop in test scores – and a comparably steep rise in furor. And the uproar will be louder this year as the new tests are rolled out and schools all over the country prepare to administer the new computer-based tests for the first time. Remember the Y2K frenzy that turned out to be much ado about nothing? Let’s hope that this change is equally non-apocalyptic, but marks a valuable epochal shift for students.

1. Undersecretary of Education Nomination

NewSchools’ longtime CEO, Ted Mitchell, has been nominated by President Obama to be the next Under Secretary of Education. This is a great loss for NewSchools, but wonderful for our country. Ted is a visionary leader who is deeply committed to equity of access and opportunity for all children. I’m looking forward to watching him accomplish great things for our nation’s higher education system in 2014…and beyond.

]]> 0
Education Resources to Help You Stay in the Know Thu, 23 Jan 2014 00:13:23 +0000 As a newer member of the NewSchools team, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to try and stay more current with education news in 2014. I asked our team for their favorite resources, and thought I would share what I heard from them in terms of go to sources.

Here are some go to education gurus who are active on Twitter and followed by many NewSchoolers:

  • @arneduncan: Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education
  • @arotherham: Andrew Rotherham, Co-founder and Partner at Bellwether Education Partners
  • @dmmcgriff : Deborah McGriff, Managing Director at NewSchools Venture Fund
  • @MichaelPetrilli: Michael Petrilli, Executive VP of the Fordham Institute and editor of Education Next
  • @HowardLFuller: Howard Fuller, Director, Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Marquette University; Former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools
  • @MichelleRhee: Michelle Rhee, Founder of Students First and former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools
  • @nsvf: NewSchools Venture Fund, a daily mix of education news from our favorite sources

I got a lot of input on digital sources for news. I’ve categorized them below for national sources, plus go-tos in some of our key investment areas (DC, Boston, Newark and Oakland for our City Funds, teacher preparation for our Learning to Teach Fund, and edtech for our Seed Fund).

Education resources with a national focus:

  • Education Week: A national education news source. Sign up for the daily “EdWeek Update” for up-to-date news on education policy and practices.
  • Eduwonk: An education policy and politics blog written by Andrew J Rotherham, Co-founder and Partner at Bellwether Education Partners.
  • Politico Morning Education: A daily overview of education policy news. Sign up for the daily newsletter.
  • Gadfly: An education blog published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute containing education research, analysis, and commentary. Sign up for the daily newsletter.
  • Education Next: A source for national education policy news, research and analysis. Read the quarterly journal for in-depth analysis of education trends and policies; refer to the Education Next blog for daily posts and discussions.
  • The Hechinger Report: An in-depth education news report and analysis of current education policies and initiatives. Sign up for the weekly newsletter for national education news updates.

Education resources with a D.C. focus:

  • FOCUS DC: An advocacy organization that provides information regarding DC charter school advocacy, performance and demographics. Sign up for the daily newsletter to stay current on DC public charter school news.
  • Young Education Professionals-DC: A forum for future education leaders in research, policy and practice to share thoughts on current DC-related education topics. 
  • DC Public Charter School Board Blog: A blog published by the DCPCSB informing on DC charter-relevant news and updates.

Education resources with a Boston focus:

Education resources with a Newark focus:

Education resources with an Oakland focus:

  • GO Public Schools: An advocacy organization that connects and activates the Oakland community to advance leadership and policies in the best interest of Oakland public school students. Sign up for their newsletter or school board agenda watch blog here.
  • Oakland Tribune – Education: An Oakland newspaper that reports frequently on local education news.

Education technology and innovation resources:

  • Maximize-Potential: An education technology blog by Scott Benson, program officer at the Gates Foundation. This blog includes current news and extensive resources related to personalized, mastery-based learning.
  • EdSurge: A news site for educators, entrepreneurs and investors involved in education technology. Sign up for EdSurge’s newsletter to receive their weekly education technology news digest.
  • Blend My Learning: A blended learning blog that provides a forum for education professions to share and discuss best practices in blended learning.

Teacher preparation resources

  • TNTP Blog: A blog published by The New Teacher Project that shares ideas, research and opinions about topics related to effective teaching and teacher preparation.
  • Puzzl_ED: An education blog by Mike Goldstein, founder of the Match Charter School in Boston, MA. Posts include reflections on best practices, personal experiences and other musings.
  • Doug Lemov’s Field Notes: A blog written by Doug Lemov, author of “Teach Like a Champion,” about effective teaching practices and techniques.

Know of other helpful resources to stay up-to-date when it comes to education news? Be sure to tell us in the comments section.

]]> 0
One Giant Step Forward for Education Wed, 15 Jan 2014 19:06:23 +0000 […]]]> Today, the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the United States and a political powerhouse, announced a partnership with BetterLesson, an edtech company dedicated to sharing teachers’ best practices and curriculum. The result of this union is the Master Teacher Project, a groundbreaking effort to showcase the brilliant minds of our country’s best teachers. The site launched today at showcasing 3,000 Common Core aligned lessons from 130 classroom teachers. By fall of 2015, the number of lessons will reach 16,000.

There is another great story here that I’m eager to tell. It’s about leaders within the NEA and BetterLesson who put politics aside to envision how they might create a new resource for teachers, combining great technology with exceptional teaching.  

BetterLesson was founded by Alex Grodd, a TFA alum, seed-funded by NewSchools (still its largest shareholder) and their first major customer was KIPP. If you follow the politics of schools, you know organizations like KIPP, TFA and NewSchools have not traditionally found themselves on the same side of the aisle as the NEA. Yet both groups are united by their unwavering commitment to teachers and saw the potential for technology to unlock and share inspiring lessons from Maine to California.

I applaud the NEA for being visionary in partnering with BetterLesson and trusting in their expertise. For 5+ years, BetterLesson has been thinking about nothing but the most effective ways to surface and share teacher lessons. The NEA recognized BetterLesson’s laser focus on lesson sharing and reached out to work with them. A wonderful partnership emerged from that initial meeting over a year ago and the result is a product that will benefit millions of teachers. For me, this partnership embodies the essence of collective impact – the bringing together of unlikely groups to move a social goal forward.

This partnership is also a tribute to how far edtech has come. Five years ago, there was a lot of skepticism about the longevity of edtech startups like BetterLesson. I admire Alex Grodd and Erin Osbourn for their perseverance. As a BetterLesson Board member I see their consistent dedication to serving teachers and trying to move the lesson plan sharing field forward.  

Read more about the partnership on the BetterLesson Blog.

I hope we see more of these collaborations in 2014. Our teachers deserve it.

]]> 0
A closer look at K12 edtech venture funding in 2013 Wed, 18 Dec 2013 23:58:34 +0000 […]]]> Venture investment in K12 education technology was up 6% in 2013 totaling $452 million.  Over half of these investments were seed stage transactions mirroring the overall venture trend of increased financing from non-traditional sources (angels, super angels, micro-VC’s, incubators) at the seed stage.  The NewSchools Seed Fund led and/or participated in nearly a quarter of the 59 K12 edtech seed investments in 2013.  Here we share our 2013 analysis of K12 edtech venture funding.  Please note that in this analyses we do not include companies exclusively focused on higher ed nor do we include corporate training – both categories represent relatively large VC funding sectors.  Our focus is on companies serving the preK-12th demographic- both inside and outside of schools.  


A few key trends:

  • Increase in both size and number of seed rounds.  Last year, 34 companies were funded at the Seed stage and this year that number increased 74% to 59 investments.  Meanwhile, round sizes continue to increase in order to extend runway to series A where investor expectations have expanded substantially (as Jeff Jordan notes, the series A round is the new series B round).

  • Education needs Big Data too.  While the term data-driven instruction has been en vogue in education for 5+ years, the technology tools to extract, analyze and make use of that data have been crude and technically unsophisticated.  As a result, data-driven instruction has been more aspirational than reality in our nation’s classrooms.  This year, $34 million was invested in big data for K12, up from just $5 million last year. The influx of new technical talent into education, crossing over from other industries, is promising to build the quality of tools needed in K12.

  • Language learning tools, with its large market opportunity, continue to attract later stage venture capital – $90 million in 2013.  OpenEnglish and Voxy closed significant rounds of financing.

  • Coding is not just for silicon valley hackers.  Companies focused on teaching computer science to young learners has garnered nearly $23 million in funding, up from just $1 million a year ago.  We see this trend continuing as more schools integrate computer science into the school curriculum and states recognize computer science as a credit-bearing course.  

  • The more “consumer-ish” education products stand a higher chance of getting funded in series A and up.  In general, venture capital will take greater risk on consumer looking education products, especially those with compelling user engagement and growth.  Fewer education enterprise products break-through with proven business models and traction, but when they do, scale-up or growth capital is available (e.g. Instructure – $30 million D round).    

A quick note on categories:

Whereas last year there was a clearer delineation between companies servicing schools and those focused on consumers, we’re finding that line is growing more porous all the time.  Consumer products are flowing into schools and visa versa.  

A few notes on categorizations:

Direct to Learner: consumer applications that exist wholly outside of school with little to no footprint inside of schools.  This category does not include companies that are adopted by teachers and monetized by parents.  Primary user and payer is the consumer.  e.g. Learnhive, Little Bits

K12: content, platforms and tools used in schools and/or adopted by teachers.  Primary user may be teacher or student.  These products could be monetized by schools, districts and/or parents. This category is growing quickly as schools rapidly integrate technology. e.g. Brightbytes, Class Dojo

Early Learner Tools: consumer applications focused on pre-kindergarten demographic. e.g. Kidaptive

College Readiness & Application: tools focused on preparation and application for college.  e.g. Pathbrite

Tutoring/Test Prep: preparation for high stakes testing and/or individual tutoring. e.g. InstaEdu







Thanks to David Havens and Shauntel Poulson for feedback and guidance. The original data can be found here.  Please send any updates you have to

]]> 0