How we got here, and where we’re going

Four years ago, I opened up my laptop in the New York State Education Department and watched the numbers tick up. We had just launched EngageNY, a library of curriculum modules aligned to the Common Core. Our state’s teachers were desperate to understand what Common Core-aligned instruction looked like, and Big Education publishers weren’t delivering. So we decided to do it ourselves. Hundreds of downloads. Then thousands! Somewhere in that moment, somewhere deep in my subconscious, the concepts underlying Newsela took root.

Today, Newsela announced a $15 million funding round that will fuel our growth and make Newsela an even more powerful resource for the subjects and lessons you teach.

How did we get here? It started with you: A few schools in Connecticut were our first beta testers. Then it spread to New York. A bloom in Chicago. School librarians chatting on Twitter in the Deep South. A blog post by a middle school teacher in Michigan, then an EdCamp in Maine. Soon there were signups as far as the North Slope of Alaska.  

Teaching is a singular profession. Nobody knows the day-to-day rigors, joys and frustrations like your colleagues in the classroom. So you share what you love and what you’ve seen work. Twitter, Facebook, EdCamps and teachers lounges are abuzz with educators talking about their discoveries that make teaching and learning better. You take recommendations from your peers seriously and you cast a skeptical eye on the antiquated materials pushed down by Big Education.

We feel privileged to be counted among the things you’ve shared. Last week, a high school freshman named Nate in Lansing, Michigan, clicked “Sign Up” and became the fifth millionth student, teacher or parent to join the Newsela community.

My co-founder, Dan, and I are both former teachers, as are many of our teammates here. We left our hearts in the classroom, so the success stories and goals you share help us feel like we’re right there with you. We feel a deep sense of obligation to make good on the promise of the Internet to accelerate classroom teaching and learning. So we’re doubling down our commitment to make Newsela even better.

Over the past year, we’ve created hundreds of text sets and enabled you to create thousands more. We’ve launched Newsela Español, with articles and quizzes in both Spanish and English at five levels, and Newsela Elementary for our youngest readers. We’ve made sharing and onboarding PRO subscribers easy through tools like Clever and Google Classroom. We’ve made the site faster, cleaner and more intuitive. And just this week, we’ve made it easier for you to search for and find content that’s just right for you, no matter what topic you’re teaching.

The new funding will help us do many of the things you’ve asked us to do: add new types of content, improve the mobile experience, and provide more meaningful feedback to you and your students about their performance. We’re also going to kick Newsela’s natural language processing capabilities into high gear, which means we’ll have smarter ways to ensure that you and your students are getting articles, text sets and quizzes that are fine-tuned to their needs and interests.

Best of all, the funding will help us make our world-class team, well, world-classier. We’ve added computational linguists, mobile engineers and machine learning experts and brought in veterans from companies such as Google and Facebook. Equally important, we’ve recruited exceptional educators with a wealth of experience in the classroom. But for all of their talents, the attribute we care about the most is their commitment to our mission: to unlock the written word for everyone.

We’re driven to help your students love reading and to help you teach the way you’ve dreamed of teaching. As we take Newsela to the next level, we want to let you know that we’ll always be hungry for your feedback, your suggestions and your wild ideas. I’ll state it plainly: we couldn’t have gotten here without you, teachers.

Thank you.

Your colleague,

Matt

Newsela: In the Classroom and Beyond from NewSchools Venture Fund