U.S. education is still separate and unequal, says USnews. While some statistics are promising – high school graduation rates are at an all-time high – achievement gaps for white students and students of color remain large.

 

Facts about the gaping differences between white students and students of color

  • according to ChildTrends, parental educational expectations are lower for black children, which results in less-positive attitude towards studying
  • due to income difference, black children are much more likely than white children to be enrolled in low-quality day care
  • in almost all major American cities, most African American and Hispanic students attend public schools where a majority of their classmates qualify as poor or low-income, states The Atlantic
  • over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma, says Education Week
  • despite projections that the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs of the future are in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM; U.S. Department of Labor, 2009; U.S. Department of Commerce, 2011), African Americans and Latinos earn only 9% of all science and engineering degrees, and represent just 11% of the entire science and engineering workforce, reports Kapor Center for Social Impact
  • kids’ books are overwhelmingly white. Only 3 percent of children’s books are by or about Latinos

achievement gap“There are many paths up the hill of creating a significant R&D (research and development) engine in K-12 education. Here’s an idea: one example could be a nonprofit, K-12 R&D fund—or series of funds—supported by a combination of federal grants and philanthropy”, says EdSurge, an independent education technology information resource and community. One of the largest nonprofits investing in the future of the public education in the US is New Schools Venture Fund. 

 

New Schools Venture Fund – how it works Q&A

diversity in classroom

New Schools Venture Funds is the Oakland, CA-based nonprofit venture philanthropy firm. It was founded in 1998 by social entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers.

The fund receives charitable donations to support education entrepreneurs who are bringing new ideas to public education. “The company works as an intermediary,” says one of its founders, Kim Smith: “on one side we raise funds from individuals and foundations, on the other, we invest our funds in education entrepreneurs; and in between stands our own team of experienced entrepreneurs.”

What’s the New School Venture Fund Mission?

The NSVF’s primary mission is to reimagine public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.

Bunche Middle School

How does the fund determines which ventures to support?

When the NSVF team decides what educational start-ups to invest in, it takes into consideration the following criteria:

  • Alignment with the company’s mission and strategy
  • Idea
  • Team
  • Diversity
  • Financial sustainability

Here’s how Kim Smith describes this process:

“We start with our strategic areas of interest and invite organizations to send us their business plans and executive summaries of their proposed work. We take a very close look at their board members and their financial models. We meet with potential investors to discuss their strategy and determine whether they have the hybrid expertise we think they need.”

Who are the company’s main donors?

New School Venture Fund has received charitable donations from:

  • The Broad Foundation
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Bezos Family Foundation
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF, an advised fund of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and many others hight-profile education donors.

People behind New Schools Venture Fund

Since its beginning, the NSVF has been run by the most prominent educators, social entrepreneurs and tech industry leaders of the United States. Among them Kim Smith, one of the NSVF founders and Stacey Childress, the current CEO of the fund.

Kim Smith

Kim Smith

Kim Smith believes she is “genetically encoded to be a social entrepreneur in education.” Both her parents were educators: her father – a professor at Columbia University Teachers College in New York City, and her mother a public school special education teacher. According to CrunchBase Kim is “widely recognized as an innovative and entrepreneurial leader in education and was featured in Newsweek’s report on the ‘Women of the 21st Century’ as ‘the kind of woman who will shape America’s new century.’”

Kim was Co-Founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit organization aimed at reforming public and private education in the US by helping low-income students do better academically.

She is also the founder and a current CEO of Pahara Institute, an organization that supports hight-potential entrepreneurial leaders who transform public education.

In general, it is important to understand that entrepreneurs have a vision for a better way of doing things, thinking beyond the constraints of current rules and resources. Perhaps more importantly, they have the passion and sense of urgency that literally compels them to take the risks necessary to realize that vision. They create new organizations to make the changes they want to see in the world—and by doing so, they inspire others to follow.                                                                                        Kim Smith and Julie Landry Petersen NewSchools Venture Fund “What Is Educational Entrepreneurship?”

Stacey Childress

Stacey Childress

Stacey Childress is the current CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund. She joined the fund after serving four years as a Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation  where she lead the Next Generation Learning group. She also developed and taught a course on education entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School. At the beginning of her career as an educator Childress taught at a high school in Texas. In 2012, she was named one of Forbes Magazine’s Impact 15, a group of innovators revolutionizing education in the United States and around the world.

In my studies on how social entrepreneurs operate, I typically find that social entrepreneurs understand a problem and become truly passionate about it; they mobilize support around them to put their solution in place, and they have a strong belief that they will succeed in their endeavor.                                                                  India School Fund interview with Stacey Childress

New Schools Venture Fund – what have been done so far

“There are growing voices around the world that state that the region where you were born should not affect your chances of success”, says Stacy Childress. As a non-profit with a mission to “transform public education for low-income children”, the fund invests in both nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

According to the NSVF website,

  • in its first 17 years, the company invested $250 million in 150 education entrepreneurs
  • in its first 17 years the NSVP invested in over 50 companies and nonprofits building engaging, research-backed tools, applications, content, and services to improve education opportunities for children.
  • the non-profit started 450 schools serving over 171,000 students around the United States and created education technologies reaching more than 60 million students and their teachers worldwide

  • from 2006-2015, the company focused on investing into key cities, including Boston, Washington DC, Oakland, Newark, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. “We chose these communities because of their size, history of underperformance, and potential for transformative change”, states newschools.org

Want to know what those educational start-ups that the fund invested in look like?

Check out lab4u, that develops amazing apps that transform mobile devices into science instruments.

lab4u

 

Another education app is storyworld, a learning-through-stories language tool for children two years old and up.

storyworld app

“Entrepreneurs’ most unique characteristic is that they are able to think beyond the current rules and resources to see a different way of working”, says Kim Smith. They are challengers and visionaries that generate news ideas and put them into action. Their question is not IF this could be done, but HOW. 

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