Announcing the NewSchools Ignite Special Education Challenge

February 16, 2017

We’re excited to announce the NewSchools Ignite: Special Education Challenge, which opens today.  This challenge – the fourth in the NewSchools Ignite series – is open to entrepreneurs developing engaging, technology-enabled learning experiences, instructional content, assessments, administrative tools, and other digital products that support students with disabilities in Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade.  Applications are open through March 12.

Informed by both special education research, as well as interviews with approximately 40 educators, experts, and entrepreneurs across the country, we’ve focused our scope on tools that meet one or more of the following areas of critical need for special education:

  • Making rigorous academic content accessible to a wide range of students: Special educators emphasize the importance of tools that reduce or remove barriers to rigorous instruction and help to personalize learning based on individual students’ strengths and needs.
  • Encouraging increased communication and collaboration among diverse learners: Increased social interactions across students with varying strengths and needs are beneficial for all members of a classroom community. For example, young adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to struggle socially, and four times more likely to have issues with self confidence.
  • Supporting skills related to executive functioning and agency: Technology can help students with disabilities build executive functioning skills like impulse control, flexible thinking, and self monitoring, which are transferable across settings and learning objectives, in and out of school.
  • Using data to empower students, families, and educators: Data can provide special educators with critical insights that enable targeted instructional interventions tailored to each student in a learning community that includes families and educators.

As with past Ignite challenges, the NewSchools Ignite Special Education Challenge is open to for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations in both early and growth stages and will award $1.5 million in funding to up to 15 ventures developing digital tools with the potential to improve special education in PreK-12. Challenge winners will receive individual investments ranging from $50,000 to $150,000, management assistance, and access to research expertise as part of the ed tech accelerator’s unique virtual program, with no equity asked in return.

In partnership with education research nonprofit WestEd, Special Education Challenge ventures  will have highly customized ongoing support and guidance through product development and growth. Access to valuable small-scale research studies, feedback from special education experts, and field testing opportunities and evaluations are all part of the six-month long program.

We hope entrepreneurs who answer the call to the Special Education Challenge will help millions of students across the country receiving special education services to achieve their most ambitious dreams.