By Justin Wedell, Associate Partner
In March, NewSchools launched a new ed tech challenge: The Expanded Definition of Student Success Challenge. What’s an expanded definition of student success? We define it as providing students with a strong academic foundation, along with the other mindsets, skills and habits needed for success.
With more than $1.5 million available to fund ed tech innovators, we were looking for technology-enabled products that enhance academic and social-emotional learning, while supporting nurturing school and classroom environments.
As the newest member of the ed tech investment team at NewSchools, this was my first investment cycle. After reviewing 198 applications — a record for us — my team and I arrived at 11 challenge winners. Drumroll, please!
· ACT Tessera is a comprehensive next-generation assessment system designed to measure Social and Emotional Learning skills.
· Amira Learning offers the first Intelligent Reading Assistant that listens, assesses, and coaches students to accelerate reading mastery.
· Centervention provides online games to help students in grades K-8 practice and improve social and emotional skills.
· EduMotion energizes and engages classrooms through movement-based Social and Emotional Learning programs.
· GiveThx is an online tool and curriculum designed to help students use gratitude to build self-esteem, improve classroom culture, and ultimately become compassionate citizens.
· Move This World is a social emotional learning program that provides PreK-12 educators and students with video tools to strengthen their social and emotional wellbeing in order to create healthy environments where effective teaching and learning can occur.
· PERTS: Engagement Project empowers educators to build an engaging and inclusive learning climate that fosters academic motivation and achievement.
· Sown to Grow is a student-led goal setting, reflection and metacognition platform that builds better, more confident learners.
· Stop, Breathe & Think develops apps and programs for meditation and mindfulness to help students build emotional strength and confidence.
· The Purpose Project is a curriculum and digital platform dedicated to helping young people explore purpose and create impact.
· Yoga Foster brings yoga to schools — by giving school teachers the training, lesson plans, and tools they need to practice with their students.
I learned a lot during the process of selecting our venture cohort. As a nonprofit investor, the returns we seek are educational and social, rather than financial. This allows us to prioritize areas of ed tech that might not be priorities for other for-profit investors. Measures such as financial sustainability, product-market fit and growth goals certainly play a role in our process. But student impact remains the primary measure of our success.
To ensure we invest in companies that are a mission fit, we look for early-stage research, user accessibility, and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. All are crucial elements of our investment rubric. We want to support the development of ed tech tools that serve critical student needs, and we also want to learn and share as much as we can for the benefit of the entire ed tech sector.
Our commitment to improving the broader ed tech sector is why I’m so excited about the Expanded Definition of Student Success Challenge. NewSchools’ commitment to supporting both academic and social-emotional development, while focusing on a positive school climate is at the core of our work. It’s a key consideration in the selection of ventures for our Innovative Public Schools portfolio. And it’s an area where we try to learn and share as much as we can.
From the ed tech perspective, how might technology complement and enhance efforts to embrace an expanded definition of success? The answer is not yet perfectly clear, making this particular ed tech challenge all the more necessary.
Because the integration of academics, social-emotional learning and school climate is relatively young, we have a unique opportunity to ensure ed tech solutions are built with equity, accessibility and evidence in mind.
We’re not doing this alone, of course. The 11 ventures in our cohort will no doubt contribute greatly to the field. What we learn from this experience will in turn be shared with the broader education community, with the aim of supporting collective progress in this nascent space.