Trends Emerging From Our First 62 Investments in 2021

September 13, 2021

By Frances Messano

Here at NewSchools, we kicked off 2021 with the launch of a new three-year strategy, focused on four investment areas: Innovative Public Schools, Learning Solutions, Diverse Leaders, and Racial Equity. Our team is energized by the tremendous response from education innovators and leaders across the country. As we analyzed data from the first six months of investing, we see positive signs that we are on the right track. We are excited to share this update with you, which highlights three promising trends emerging from our first 62 investments.

We have increased diversity across our applicant pipeline, with a record-breaking response from diverse leaders and innovators.

In the past six months, we have reviewed 980 applications across our investment areas, which represents a 40% increase in applications over 2019, and there is more investment activity to come. This story is about more than just how many applications we received. It’s about who the applicants are and how they are finding us.

The team continues to spend countless hours deepening and broadening our pipeline and designing more inclusive and affirming processes for engaging with potential grantees. And it’s paying off. Our pool includes more Latino leadership, district representation and geographic diversity. Of the applications we received, 68% came from people of color. More than 80% of applicants were applying to NewSchools for the first time. In our innovative schools portfolio, close to 30% of applicants and funded school teams were from traditional public school districts, more than any previous year.

We are investing more intentionally in racial equity and diverse leaders to ensure students of color have equal access to a high-quality education.

The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people of color and the compounding effects of racially motivated violence have made deeply rooted and systemic inequities in our country hard to ignore. Bringing about real change requires schools and support organizations to do more than say they are committed to social justice. They must adopt new practices and approaches that meet the unique needs of students and leaders of color.

That’s why we made two important pivots as part of our new investment strategy: We created a Racial Equity investment area and expanded our Diverse Leaders work to include supporting parent advocacy organizations. Over 300 innovators of colors responded to our Racial Equity open funding opportunity. Now a council of educators, parents, and students is deciding which ideas to fund. It’s the first time our organization has experimented with participatory grantmaking, and we’re excited to see how the council’s investments will improve and equalize the educational experience for children of color in this country.

We are investing in ideas focused on meeting this moment and reimagining education today.

Our portfolio of innovators this year offers a glimpse into what could be the future of learning, one in which all students receive a strong academic preparation, robust social-emotional and mental health supports, and culturally rich and relevant learning experiences. The 39 teams opening schools this fall and next year are embracing an expanded definition of student success and building schools that center students’ identities, expose them to diverse content and teachers, and equip them with the academic and social emotional skills they need in life.

This focus on equity is also shared by the innovators in our learning solutions portfolio, where we have invested in 17 organizations who are either developing interventions to improve literacy education or creating comprehensive, equity-based solutions to meet the needs of school system leaders today.

Across both of these portfolios, we also saw more innovations targeting the specific needs of students who continue to be overlooked by the education system such as English language learners, students who recently arrived in the U.S., LGBTQIA students, and students with learning differences. These innovations will not only tell us how to support these specific student groups better, but also how to serve all students more effectively, lessons that can inform and reshape education and improve outcomes for every child.

Across our investment areas, we are excited about the momentum, passion, and fresh thinking our ventures are bringing at a time when we need innovation more than ever. We look forward to learning and sharing the lessons from these innovators as their organizations grow and have an impact over time. Stay with us on this journey.