By Frances Messano, Chief Executive Officer
From the beginning, NewSchools has pioneered new ways of funding innovation in public education. Today, I’m as convinced as ever that venture philanthropy still has a powerful role to play in advancing education and that we must lead with equity, collaboration, and courage as our guiding principles.
The urgency to bring new solutions and approaches has never been greater in education. Last year, we started with a promise and a plan of action and we funded innovators to support students through Covid recovery and beyond. We invested in solutions that accelerate student learning, provide students with social-emotional support, and put equity at the center by ensuring that students see themselves reflected in what they are learning and who they are learning from. We listened closely to what our venture leaders need to deepen their impact and improve our approaches, while piloting new approaches to how we fund. As I look back on the results we achieved in 2022, there are many milestones to celebrate and also reminders of how much work there is yet to do. Here are three themes that emerged that I’m excited to share:
Strong entrepreneurial energy in education from seasoned, diverse leaders
We received 889 applications in 2022 across our investment areas and 2 out of every 3 submissions were from first-time applicants. We are trending back to “steady-state” levels after seeing an influx in applications immediately following a Covid-era pause of funding new ventures. Even more exciting than the number of submissions is the diversity in our applicant pool. Nationwide, 80% of entrepreneurs are White and 65% are male; in our 2022 applicant pool, 67% identified as leaders of color and 57% identify as female. More seasoned educators are joining our ranks of innovators and sharing promising ideas. These leaders’ experience is critical for ensuring young people get access to what works, and their focus on introducing new solutions is energizing. We are also seeing more ideas from the South and Midwest regions where we historically had fewer applicants. We still have work to do, though. For example, we continue to experience racial demographic gaps in our applicant pool, namely an underrepresentation of Latino, Asian, and Native leaders, and we want to encourage more geographic diversity as well.
Innovators are developing holistic student-centered solutions and pursuing impact in new ways
Across our portfolios, we see more student-centered solutions focused on helping young people thrive. This has taken many forms. Innovators are balancing the need to focus on unfinished learning due to school interruption at the height of the COVID outbreak, while also maintaining a strong focus on social-emotional learning and equity-centered design.
We are encouraged to see more school leaders embrace and implement an expanded definition of student success. This approach is essential for students to realize their full academic potential. Students who believe their abilities and skills can grow with effort and who feel physically and emotionally safe at school demonstrate additional learning similar to moving from the 50th to the 67th percentile on national assessments. Most notably, we observed that when students’ social and emotional needs were met within a positive school culture, it served as a protective factor against pandemic-era learning loss.
There have also been meaningful shifts in how leaders approach their work. We have noticed innovators put greater emphasis on deeper local community investment over efforts to scale into new places. Innovators in our portfolio are also pursuing ecosystem change by codifying their models, training partners, and sharing their approaches to achieve impact in new ways. Lastly, there is an increase in consolidation activities and leadership transitions across our portfolio, with ventures merging, getting acquired, sunsetting their organizations and/or succession planning.
We are putting dollars to work in real-time and setting the stage for future impact
Last year, we invested $45M across 141 organizations, 76% led by people of color. The proportion of our grant dollars going to leaders of color is six times more than the national average. We are often among the first to fund these early-stage innovators, and we see proof that our support makes a difference in their long-term sustainability. In our Diverse Leaders portfolio, organizations we fund go on to fundraise 11x our initial investment. We believe this is possible because we do more than write checks. We walk alongside our ventures and provide capacity-building support that helps them build for the future. We are real partners to our ventures, and when asked, 84% said NewSchools positively impacted their organizations to a great extent.
Pulling up from a single year, it’s noteworthy that we have invested $305M in nearly 600 ventures over the last eight years, reaching close to 60% of the public school students in the United States and supporting more than 70K leaders. We are incredibly proud of the impact we’ve had and eager to continue our momentum in the year ahead.
As I often say, we are onto something at NewSchools, and I’m excited to continue building together the public education system that all our children deserve. If you have an innovative solution that you believe will help us reimagine education, my team wants to hear from you. Our 2023 funding opportunity opens this week and we are accepting applications through March 29, 2023. We can’t wait to hear about your ideas.