In the late 1990s, some Silicon Valley investors impressed by the ability of imaginative entrepreneurs to solve knotty problems in technology decided to see if they could apply some of that same creativity to reforming education. They set up a nonprofit organization modeled on venture-capital investing. Like a venture-capital firm it would pool money from a number of individuals and organizations, do careful research to find the most promising leaders in the target field (in this case, school improvement), then back these leaders with substantial sums of money. Instead of seeking a financial return, however, they would look for social impact.
In its first 15 years the NewSchools Venture Fund raised about $250 million from donors, then channeled that money into more than 100 nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Some of these were new schools: charter operators like Aspire, Alliance, Brooke, Match, North Star, Rocketship, and others. But the group also invests in social inventors who are creating new curricula, computer applications, or educational services. NSVF has built up three dozen education-technology firms whose products have reached 15 million students.
Online instructor Khan Academy, the school-reform advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, D.C.’s superb authorizing board for charter schools, the GreatSchools Web rankings, principal-training organization New Leaders, the Relay Graduate School of Education, and many other reform groups have received money from the NewSchools Venture Fund. More than 7,500 teachers have been trained by recipients of its money. NSVF has special regional arms to support charter schools and other improvements in Boston, Oakland, and D.C. The latest roster of donors to the fund lists 39 individual givers, 45 foundations or donor-advised funds, and six companies or corporate foundations.
- NewSchools Venture Fund, newschools.org