Waiting for Superman pledge turns up $5M for change in schools

March 18, 2011

By Matt Bowman, VentureBeat

Waiting for Superman, a popular documentary about America’s public school woes which drew particular attention from Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial class, comes out on DVD today, February 15. In September, Paramount Pictures announced that NewSchools Venture Fund had committed to investing $5 million in entrepreneurial education organizations if over 150,000 pledged to watch the film.

That target was reached in October, and NewSchools is now announcing the first three recipients.

NewSchools partner Jonathan Schorr said that to qualify, the early-stage organizations had to have a “direct impact on kids plus scalability, sustainability, and the potential for catalytic impact on the wider system.”

With massive amounts of tech talent dedicated to producing FarmVille knockoffs, it’s nice to see some entrepreneurial chutzpah going towards education solutions.

Here’s a rundown of the investments:

  • $725,000 goes to Beyond 12, which tracks and counsels college freshmen and provides alumni tracking information to the high schools from which they graduated. It’ll use some of the money to build a Facebook App for students and an early-detection system to identify students at risk of dropping out.
  • $300,000 goes to Presence Telecare, which provides Web-based speech and language services to students with communication disorders. Over 3 million students qualify for the federally services, but there are shortages of therapists in both rural areas and urban areas. The company uses video-conferencing built into its online platform to help connect the supply with the demand. The model could easily be applied to other types of special education.
  • $1 million goes to Rocketship Education, a network of charter schools started in San Jose, CA, that combines online and in-person instruction, a model that has come to be called “hybrid” education. Last year, two of its three schools ranked #5 and #15 among top-performing high-poverty schools statewide, according to California’s Academic Performance Index. One of them, Mateo Sheedy Elementary, earned the same API score as the wealthty Palo Alto Unified in 2010.