Redesigning Schools for Today’s Students and Beyond

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Over the last few years, the education community has heard plenty of buzz about the growth in education technology and digital learning. For instance, as New Schools’ Seed Fund team highlighted in a December blog, overall investment in ed tech companies once again rose significantly in 2014. And since last October when the White House launched Future Ready, an effort to support school districts and charter networks as they incorporate more digital learning, more than 1000 superintendents have taken the Future Ready pledge.

Even with all of this activity, we are still in the very early stages of the creation of new school designs that fundamentally rethink time, talent, and technology to create learning experiences that work better for students. Some have emerged over the last few years – schools that do much more than simply add tablets and apps into traditional classroom environments. Rather than trying to squeeze even more out of schools built for the last century, teams of educators are redesigning schools to work now and well into the future.

A key difference between these next generation models and traditional schools is that they put more power in students’ hands and tailor learning to their individual needs. Students can move at a pace that works for them and connect what they’re working on at school to their own personal interests and aspirations. Teachers are able to spend more time with individual students and small groups, and have the tools and supports they need to be successful in these new environments.

Many of these schools are also committed to helping students build habits and skills that lead to long-term success – both academic and personal – not just high scores on state tests or college entrance exams. High scores are important, but students need so much more. Some of the most innovative teams are expanding the definition of success to help their students:

  • set ambitious personal goals and create plans to reach them
  • take responsibility for their paths and learn how to navigate an uncertain world
  • have the flexibility and support to identify a passion and experience what it means to pursue it
  • develop the skills, mindsets, and perspective to take their futures into their own hands
  • engage effectively in their communities

A number of studies emerged in 2014 with promising early evidence that new school designs can accelerate learning gains for all students, especially those who are furthest behind. (RAND, Teachers CollegeSRI.) We are beginning to see academic results, but there’s a long way to go to figure out which design choices and practices matter most, as well as how to gauge progress in other dimensions of student success.

At NewSchools, we’re also at the beginning of our journey as an investor in these kinds of schools. We were early supporters of Rocketship and New Classrooms and more recently have invested in Summit Public Schools, Matchbook Learning and Ingenuity Prep. We’ve learned a great deal from these pioneers and are ready to increase our support for teams who are building on and extending the initial design principles from the first wave of innovators. We will find and fund high-potential teams with innovative school designs, support their planning and implementation, and connect them to each other and to experts so they can get better faster.

Throughout our 15-year history, we’ve supported entrepreneurs working to improve public education so that all students, especially those who are underserved, receive an excellent education. We’re proud that the vast majority of our investment dollars have gone to create new schools all over the country that work better for kids. We are excited to build on this legacy as we ramp up our investments in innovative schools that aim to prepare and inspire every student to reach their most ambitious dreams and plans.

Stacey Childress is chief executive of the NewSchools Venture Fund. 

Editor's note: NSVF's Seed Fund is an investor in EdSurge 

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