Dept. of Education to distribute $150 million in new round rewarding innovators

(Image: Flickr Creative Commons/Editor B)

The U.S. Department of Education has announced the latest round of grants for the Investing in Innovation, or i3, fund. The $150 million will be distributed to winning school districts, groups of school districts, non-profits affiliated with school districts or consortium of schools that raise student achievement and close performance gaps. It will also look for applicants seeking to improve teacher effectiveness, as well as those that address graduation and drop-out rates.

The i3 fund was borne out of the president’s stimulus package. Last year, the Dept. of Education awarded 49 applicants $650 million according to a three-tier model that took into account the applicant’s previous track record of success and scope of idea proposed. The winners and what their projects can be found here. Proposals were submitted by 1,698 applicants.

The current round also employs a three-tier model:

  • Up to $25 million each will be available for Scale-up grants to applicants with the strongest evidence and track records of success;
  • Up to $15 million each will be available for Validation grants to verify effectiveness for programs with moderate levels of evidence;
  • Up to $3 million each will be available for Development grants to support new and high-potential practices whose impact should be studied further.

Some changes include a new emphasis on rural school districts. EducationWeek explains the interest in these often overlooked communities:

Rural-school advocates have repeatedly accused the department of designing programs that shut out rural schools, which advocates argue have a tougher time in competitions because they often lack the resources of their big-city counterparts.

By deeming this an additional priority, the Education Department has signaled that it wants to step up interest in, and awards to, rural-centric programs. In fact, education officials said they might use their discretion to skip over high-scoring applications in other categories to make awards in the rural category.

Among the top winners from last year is Denver Public Schools. The district won a grant worth up to $25 million to “improve literacy and bi-literacy instruction and achievement in schools with high numbers of ELL students, which will implement strategies used successfully in linguistically diverse classrooms across content areas to address the linguistic and academic needs of English-language learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities at the middle school level.”

Education professor and former assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch has questioned the program’s success, one of the many reasons columnist Jonathan Alter wrote a searing indictment on her “phony empiricism” in a Friday column on