NewSchools Catapult: 1 Week Countdown, Early Observations

August 6, 2015

Earlier this summer, we released NewSchools Catapult, an opportunity for innovative, new schools with plans to launch in Fall 2016 to apply for early-stage investment from us.  Its goal over the next several years is to propel successive waves of education entrepreneurs to launch new schools – the kinds of incredible, life-altering schools that can truly prepare our students to pursue their most ambitious dreams. In keeping with our mission and core values, our focus is on schools that serve significant numbers of underserved students in grades PreK-12 and will be operated by (a) early-stage charter networks for which this would be their first or second school or (b) district-operatedcatapult schools with sufficient autonomy and support to realize their vision.

Now that the application has been live for a month, we thought now might be a good time to reflect on the process thus far. We will know a lot more when the application closes on August 14, but in the spirit of being open and sharing our lessons learned in progress, here are our four takeaways thus far:

  1. Our expectation that applicants embrace an “expanded definition of student success” clearly has broad appeal. Everyone acknowledges the need for students to master core academic content in ELA and Math, but they also want their school to foster more in their students and are excited for the chance to name and find measure those other dimensions. Suffice to say, we’re excited to dig in further once we have the applications in hand and look forward to working alongside our portfolio members, and others with an interest and expertise in this topic, to continue advancing the state of the field over the coming years.
  2. NewSchools Catapult’s exclusive focus on those with plans to launch new schools in 2016 is a requirement that is an impossible bar for some to meet, particularly those in school districts and existing CMOs that embrace innovations like personalization and student agency but are not in a position to launch a new school. The good news is that we plan to release other opportunities in the future that will target innovation within existing schools. Stay tuned for more details this fall.
  3. We have heard from a number of local and regional charter school funders they are focusing largely, if not entirely, on growing proven CMOs, either through new starts or by taking over failing schools (“restarts”). As a venture philanthropy, this singular approach concerns us. Make no mistake – we are strong advocates for growing high performers. But we believe that a balanced strategy should also include at least some incubation and support of promising new organizations. Just as the auto industry needs a Tesla from time to time, so too does public education need new innovators. To help make that possible in more places, we will gladly serve as a resource to other funders that want to develop a pipeline of new school entrepreneurs. And as promising entrepreneurs emerge through these pipelines, we are excited to co-invest alongside other funders.
  4. A number of entrepreneurs hoping to launch innovative, new private schools reached out to us to ask about whether we would consider them for this opportunity. At this time, the answer is no. This year, are only open to supporting non-profit charter organizations and public school districts. However, in the future, we may consider allowing applications from private schools that prioritize underserved students.

As a reminder, the application for NewSchools Catapult is due very soon – August 14. If you are planning to launch an innovative, new public school in Fall 2016, please take the time to review the application and consider applying. Once we have all of the applications in hand and have had a chance to reflect again, we will be sure to share our thoughts here.