Frances Messano, Chief Executive Officer
If you’re only seeing the negative headlines about education, you might be missing out on the inspiring stories of progress and potential in the field. As CEO at NewSchools, I see the new possibilities that emerge when we fund courageous leaders with powerful ideas for change. This year, 1,250 education entrepreneurs answered the call to share their bold ideas for funding with us, representing a 45% increase from last year. Instead of retreating, more leaders are stepping up, contributing their energy and talents to improve public education and create an equitable future for young people. This is a reason for optimism.
I’m thrilled to announce that NewSchools this year is investing $25 million in 102 ventures. These visionary teams are designing solutions with support from their communities. They are listening to students, parents, and educators and working to make education more engaging and relevant for all learners. Four trends emerged across the applications we received that are worth highlighting. Taken together, they provide a roadmap for who and what to fund to achieve meaningful change in education.
Diverse and experienced leaders with deep community ties leading the way
We believe diverse, experienced education leaders with deep community relationships build the most effective, sustainable solutions to meet student needs and aspirations. In 2023, 70% of our funded ventures are led by people of color, and 62% by women founders, surpassing national averages. We strategically invested in more seasoned leaders, many of whom are former teachers, administrators and systems leaders who bring invaluable expertise to navigate the sector’s challenges and uncertainties. For example, in our Diverse Leaders portfolio, 40% of venture leaders have experience leading systems-level talent work, like supporting school districts to successfully address staffing challenges or scaling local teacher training programs to a national level. Our innovators also bring deep connections to the communities they serve. For example, in our Learning Differences portfolio 60% of ventures are led by a person who has a learning difference or is a caregiver to someone with a learning difference. These leaders have unique insights into the experiences of students with learning differences, and their perspective is a superpower that unlocks more impactful solutions.
Schools offering new pathways to college and career
Today’s youth are eager for engaging and relevant learning experiences that nurture their talents and allow them to explore their interests, especially during their high school years. As a result, we’ve seen an increase in the number of applications for new high school designs, which accounted for over 55% of funded ventures in this year’s innovative public schools portfolio. These teams are creating high schools with comprehensive college and career pathways focused on work-based learning, dual college enrollment, or both. They tailor their approaches to students’ career interests and partner with local colleges and corporations to provide practical skills, real-world experiences and meaningful credentials. Schools like BELIEVE Circle City High School and Design Works High School forge partnerships with local universities and community partners to support students interested in advanced coursework, credentials, and college credits. Our team is eager to support more innovations that expand access to both college and career pathways, while enhancing students’ academic foundation.
Unlocking new opportunities with AI-powered solutions
In 2023, we invested in 10 new ventures that are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to create new possibilities for students and educators alike. For example, LitLab uses generative AI to empower students and teachers to create personalized, decodable stories and content aligned with student interests and the science of reading. Other solutions focus on supporting educators and enhancing their practice. Enlighten AI streamlines and automates tasks like personalized feedback on student writing, allowing educators to allocate more time and energy to effective teaching and building relationships with students. AI technology can also aid high school students in becoming more competitive and prepared for college and careers. LivedX, for instance, is an online portal that translates students’ everyday life experiences into credentials, helping them build portfolios of highly-valued skills that can be recognized by educational institutions and workplaces. We’re excited to see how innovators and educators continue to embrace AI as a powerful lever for learning and equity.
Empowering youth through project-based learning
Project-based learning (PBL) has long been used by educators as an effective method for nurturing students’ complex problem-solving skills through interdisciplinary, real-world projects. This year, we’ve observed a notable increase in how PBL Is being used, both within and outside our schools portfolio. Fifty-percent of school teams in the planning stages have PBL as a core component of their model, and they are leveraging high-quality frameworks from organizations such as PBLWorks, High Tech High, Big Picture Learning and EL Education. Venture leaders recognize the power of PBL in cultivating student agency, amplifying students’ voices and helping young people to understand the world around them. For example, in our Racial Equity portfolio, The Roots Initiative is employing PBL to empower Black middle school students in Southside Chicago to design and implement solutions to address injustices in their communities while learning more about themselves.
We are proud to invest in a future that supports all students to grow into the leaders and problem solvers our world needs. And our work is far from finished. In the months ahead, we will make reinvestments, unveil our investment priorities for 2024-26, and share insights from our current three-year strategy. For now, please join me in congratulating our new ventures. We can’t wait to see their impact in action.