Innovative Public Schools

Overview

Most of today’s schools were designed for a different time and purpose, for the society and economy of the early 20th century. At the time, they matched up well with how we lived and worked—preparing an elite few for college and the rest of us for the jobs available in our towns or regions. The world has changed dramatically since then, and our schools have struggled to keep up. It’s time to update our schools so they work better for today’s students.

There are two arms of our Innovative Public Schools strategy: investing in new public schools and investing in the redesign of existing schools.

New Public Schools and School Redesign

We invest in teams of educators who want to launch new, innovative public schools that prepare young people to finish high school prepared and inspired to create and live the lives they want. These schools will reimagine the learning experience for students, particularly those from underserved communities. We also want to enable more educators across the country to redesign existing schools to better meet the needs of their students. We focus primarily on “model providers”: organizations that partner with schools to provide integrated tools and resources, along with implementation support, to help existing schools adopt innovative models.

New Public Schools Impact:

School teams supported

School founders who identify as Black or Latino

Black or Latino students served

School Redesign Impact:

Redesigned schools

Students reached through school redesign

Growth in redesign partnerships in one year

We help early-stage charter organizations launch their first and/or second school in a new network, and support new district schools with the autonomy to develop and implement innovative instructional designs. Furthermore, we look to see that these teams aspire to serve many more students by growing their innovative school networks or expanding their impact through some other means.

The schools in our growing portfolio look different from one another, which is not surprising given the range of communities and families they serve. However, all the schools we support embrace an expanded definition of student success, helping students develop a strong academic foundation and other mindsets, habits and skills necessary for long-term success. They are committed to equity, holding high expectations for all students and ensuring learning outcomes are not predictable by race/ethnicity, income, gender, or geography.

Our funding opportunity is designed for teams of educators who are committed to launching an innovative public school and would benefit from additional support. Our goal is to accelerate a team’s progress toward a successful launch by providing assistance in three key areas:

  1. Financial support: A one-year planning investment for the year prior to launching the new school. We evaluate teams over the course of the planning period as diligence for a multi-year launch investment for a school’s first three years of operation.
  2. Community of Practice: Participation in an active community of practice to build relationships with and learn from peer organizations from across the country.
  3. Management assistance: We seek to provide our schools with relevant, timely support. This includes access to experts in the field, coaching, and differentiated support to meet schools where they are.

We run open funding cycles every year to attract teams who intend to open an innovative district or charter school network.

We’ve found educators are eager to reimagine their schools in ways that will engage, support, and challenge each and every student, but often they need a little help to realize their visions. Without a coherent solution on hand, schools often don’t have the capacity to build from the ground up or even just take inspiration from others.

A partner who can offer an integrated and holistic bundle of instructional resources, teacher supports, and administrative tools – all aligned with a school’s vision and goals – can provide a foundation for educators as they implement their redesign plans. These are called model providers. This saves time and cost and can be an effective way to bring promising approaches to more students.

As an early-stage investor, we back organizations that are beginning to pursue this path, and we learn alongside them. By building a diverse portfolio of model providers, we are building our understanding of the strengths and challenges that entrepreneurs face as they pursue this path.

Our primary goal is for at least three model providers in our portfolio to be on track to positively impacting student outcomes in hundreds of schools. If we are successful in that goal, we believe we will demonstrate that the model provider path is worthy of greater consideration – for educators who want to redesign their schools, for entrepreneurs seeking paths to greater impact, and for funders looking for bold ideas to invest in.

For a brief explainer on model providers, see our two-pager, Redesigning Schools: Early Trends from the Model Provider Space.

Model providers start from various backgrounds. Many are school operators eager to serve more students without the heavy lift of opening additional schools, while others are curricula and/or assessment providers responding to schools’ demand for deeper, more holistic offerings. A minority are higher education institutions bridging the gap to PreK-12 schools, or start-ups with an original vision of their own. Each face unique challenges, but all typically progress through the following stages of growth. To learn about the different entry points and stages of this model, read our paper Model Providers: New Pathways to Innovation.

Innovative Public Schools Ventures

NewSchools supports the launch of new public schools and the redesign of existing ones.

In these schools, educators are encouraged to be creative and students are taking charge of their own learning. Explore our current and past ventures.

Featured Resources

Apply to Create a New School

We run two open funding cycles every year to attract teams who intend to open an innovative district or charter school network:

  • Planning grant (for the year prior to launch): This is for teams planning to launch a new school in Fall 2022.
  • Launch grant (multi-year grant to support a new school’s first three years of operation): This is for teams planning to launch a new school in Fall 2021 (our selection process will take place in spring 2021).

We encourage you to share your ideas for new, innovative public schools. 

To be considered for an investment, applicants must:

  • Plan to launch their first or second public school (charter or district) in Fall 2022
  • Enroll students within the PK-12 grade span on a full-time basis
  • Be eligible to receive public funding.

We have six categories that we use to evaluate all applications, which are outlined below. A more detailed version of our investment criteria can be found here.

Passionate, capable and diverse teams
We look for mission-driven, entrepreneurial leaders who show passion, integrity, and the ability to achieve outstanding results. In addition, we also look for a diverse leadership team and board with the competencies and experiences necessary to design and launch an innovative public school. Collectively, this team must bring skills and relevant backgrounds in instruction, school management and business operations, as well as an emphasis on innovation and continuous improvement.

Engagement in the communities they aim to serve
The teams we support focus their efforts on serving student populations that have been traditionally underserved or overlooked. We expect teams to engage students, families and community members early and often to inform all aspects of design and planning.

Reimagine the student experience
We seek teams that have embraced an expanded definition of student success, balancing rigorous academic expectations with the mindsets, skills and habits needed for success in life. With a clear definition of student success as their guide, teams can then design a school that meets the full range of their students’ needs. We believe innovation can and should take many forms, and we are open to supporting an array of approaches that combine new innovations with proven practice. Specifically, we prioritize that:

  • Students feel ownership of their learning and are motivated to succeed.
  • Students are able to build deep, trusting, sustained relationships with each other, their teachers and other adults who care about them.
  •  Students feel they belong, can find their voices and see themselves reflected in their learning.
  •  The design optimizes time, pace, instructional methods and outside experiences to enrich student learning and ensure teachers’ time is spent where it matters most.
  • Technology supports learning, from instructional software that helps students master academic content, to platforms that help teachers, students and families work together to manage personalized learning plans and collaborative projects.

Demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
We believe teams that show a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion are better equipped to meet the needs of the students and communities they serve. We seek teams that embrace this commitment and are developing comprehensive strategies to prioritize it in their schools.

Plan appropriately and execute effectively
We look for evidence of a comprehensive plan that includes all relevant milestones needed for a successful school launch. We also look for teams that are on track to execute that plan.

Aspire to expand their impact beyond a single school
At this stage, we require that teams have developed a reasonable school-level financial model that achieves sustainability on public funds by its fourth year of operation. We also look for teams that offer compelling ideas for expanding their impact over time.

If you have any other questions, please email us at  invent@newschools.org.

Apply to Work on School Redesign

We support model providers that provide integrated tools and resources, along with implementation support, to help existing schools adopt innovative models. Does a redesign/model provider path sound like an intriguing direction for your work?

As a first step, if you are an organization or have a tool that supports the redesign of existing schools, we invite you to share your contact information and ideas with us.

If we see potential alignment in your organization and our strategy, we will share more information on our funding cycles, including process and timeline details. 

When considering support for a Model Provider, we look for evidence of and/or potential for:

  • Alignment with our efforts to test the viability of model providers as scalable, high-impact vehicles for school improvement.
  • A school design model that reimagines the student experience and demonstrates the potential for an expanded definition of student success (EDSS), along both academic and social and emotional learning (SEL) metrics.
  • A strong team with the right knowledge, skills, and abilities that is ready to take this work on under the direction of an entrepreneurial leader.
  • A diverse team committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion that aims to impact underserved students, ideally in ways built into the model itself.
  • Potential for scale, including model replicability, attainable growth goals, school partner demand, financial sustainability, and creative technology use.