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NewSchools Venture Fund announces $5 million in investments to spur education innovation

Contact: Joe Ventura, (415) 615-6862/ jventura@newschools.org

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – National nonprofit venture philanthropy firm NewSchools Venture Fund announced today the first in a set of grants totaling more than $5 million to drive innovation and results in the education of low-income children. The announcement comes on the day of the release of the DVD of Waiting for “Superman,” which includes a video created by NewSchools highlighting the power of innovation to change children’s lives, and honors a commitment NewSchools made to the viewers of the movie.

The package of investments is aimed at specific areas where innovation is critically necessary to drive change in the education of low-income kids. The bulk of the investments are in early-stage ventures. The investments will support and grow organizations that do three types of work that serves low-income children: training excellent teachers; building innovative school models; and developing technology that helps in specific areas where underserved students have struggled.

“In a country where low-income kids attend college at one-seventh the rate of high-income kids, the status quo isn’t going to cut it,” said NewSchools CEO Ted Mitchell. “We can change the odds if we get serious about bringing innovation to education. And there are entrepreneurs with great ideas for how to make change. We can get better at training teachers, put more powerful tools in their hands, building breakthrough schools, and reaching out to specific groups of students who are falling behind. These organizations will help.”

NewSchools supports the growth of innovative, early-stage entrepreneurial organizations working to improve public education for low-income children by providing funding, management assistance, and a wide network of expertise. Each investment aims to create new solutions that will improve education for low-income children. And while not all NewSchools investments involve innovative use of technology, all of those announced today do.

The Investments

More than $5 million in investments will be announced over the next two months, honoring the commitment to Waiting for “Superman” viewers. The ventures announced today are in the category of technology and services aimed at specific areas where underserved students struggle. Included in this first set of grants are Beyond 12, Presence Telecare, and Rocketship Education, organizations whose mission is to serve historically underserved groups of students. Specifically, NewSchools is investing:

  • $725,000 in Beyond 12, an organization that tracks, coaches, and counsels college students and provides alumni tracking information to the high schools they graduated from.
  • $300,000 to Presence Telecare, an organization pioneering an innovative approach to address the needs of the more than three million students who suffer from communication disorders that affect their academic development.
  • $1 million to Rocketship Education, a network of high-performing public charter schools that is doing pioneering work on a blended or “hybrid” learning model, which combines the best in face-to-face and online learning.

“No one questions the national need to make a quality education available to every child, yet we know that there are groups of children we need to serve far, far better than we do today,” Mitchell said. “These investments will have impact far beyond their dollar amounts, because they will drive innovation in the areas where we need it most. We look forward to helping to build each of these organizations so that their impact can change the way we educate children in America.”

Beyond 12 addresses the college completion challenge at its root by operating at the intersection of K-12 and higher education, and acting as a data and service bridge between the two systems. The Beyond 12 tracking platform allows high schools and colleges to track and analyze longitudinal student data to help them improve the efficacy of their instructional models, college readiness programs, and support services. The Beyond 12 college coaching service provides students with the academic and social support they need to earn a college degree, beginning in their senior year of high school and continuing through their second year of college. By integrating a personalized coaching service for students with a state-of-the art student tracking platform for high schools and colleges, Beyond 12 offers a comprehensive, data-driven retention solution to help students succeed in college and beyond. With the investment from NewSchools, Beyond 12 will increase the number of students it tracks and coaches from 1,800 to over 5,000. In addition, the NewSchools investment will allow Beyond 12 to enhance its alumni tracking platform by creating a Facebook application that will connect students to each other and to valuable campus resources, as well as an early detection system that will allow colleges to identify students who are struggling very early in their college careers, before their challenges lead them to drop out. The work of Beyond 12 appears in the NewSchools video on the Waiting for “Superman” DVD.

Presence Telecare, an organization pioneering an innovative approach to address the needs of the more than three million students who suffer from communication disorders that affect their academic development. Using web-based video-conferencing, students engage in a live interaction with a licensed speech language pathologist (SLP) on Presence Telecare’s custom web platform. Millions of students receive federally mandated speech and language services; Presence Telecare will help make sure that students have access to high quality therapists both in rural areas where there are severe shortages and in urban areas where therapists are spread thin. Research has shown that students in online sessions obtain equal or better results than their peers in traditional therapy. As a result, online therapy is increasingly a part of the continuum of services offered by districts. “This funding will allow us to better serve students by developing more curriculum and evaluation tools,” says Presence Telecare co-founder Clay Whitehead. “It will also allow us to invest in our school outreach, giving us the ability to develop relationships with more schools in need of our services.”

Rocketship Education is the leading national K-5 hybrid charter school network dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap and laying the foundation for college success. Through exceptional teaching, leadership development, individualized instruction, including its unique Hybrid School model, and deep parental involvement, Rocketship is transforming elementary public education with strong academic results, while operating its schools solely and sustainably with traditional government funding sources. Rocketship Education opened the nation’s first hybrid school in 2007 and currently operates three charter schools in San Jose, serving over 1,000 students. Rocketship is scheduled to open two additional charter schools in San Jose in the fall of 2011. The NewSchools investment will support the network’s national expansion, in particular the growth of its academic leadership development programs.

The Video

The new investments fulfill a commitment NewSchools made to invest $5 million once 150,000 people pledged to see the education documentary Waiting for “Superman.” The Waiting for “Superman” pledge meter surpassed that level on October 8 – a testament to the movie’s powerful narrative and its urgent call for dramatic change and innovative solutions to the crisis facing our nation’s public schools.

Appearing on the DVD is a special five-minute video produced by NewSchools, titled Changing the Odds. The video spotlights innovative, effective solutions to the troubling education achievement gap between students from low- and high-income communities. The video can be seen at http://www.newschools.org/action.

About NewSchools Venture Fund

NewSchools Venture Fund seeks to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed. As a national nonprofit venture philanthropy firm, NewSchools supports education entrepreneurs, a special breed of innovators who create new nonprofit and for-profit organizations that redefine our sense of what is possible in public education. Founded in 1998, NewSchools has invested in more than 40 nonprofit and for-profit organizations and raised nearly $180 million. NewSchools takes an active role with each venture in our portfolio to help them create sustainable organizations that generate breakthrough results at scale for the students they serve. In addition to this direct support to entrepreneurs, NewSchools also connects their work to the broader public education reform movement to catalyze systems change. For more information, visit http://www.newschools.org/.