To the Editor:
So the taxpayers just forked over $650 million for the U.S. Department of Education’s “i3” program, the “i” ostensibly standing for “innovation” (“49 Applicants Win ‘i3’ Grants,” Politics K-12 blog, edweek.org, Aug. 4, 2010). Never mind that almost one-third of the funding is going to four established organizations to scale up what they have been doing for at least 15 years, in three of the four cases. Never mind that most of the recipients of the validation grants are involved in “best practices,” the bête noire of education reform. Never mind that, of the 29 development grants, only one is technology-related, the grant to the New York City Department of Education for the School of One project.
One might well ask, “Where’s the innovation?” How will this infusion of federal cash impact the transformation of the education system? These piecemeal efforts are like Band-Aids being placed on a dying man. Teach For America doubling the number of teachers it trains to 13,000? There are over 3 million teachers in America. The Knowledge Is Power Program increasing the number of students it serves from 29,000 to 55,000? There are more than 50 million kids in our schools. Ohio State University reaching 500,000 pupils through its tutoring-intervention program in five years? About 1 million American kids drop out of high school each year. Success for All adding 1,100 elementary schools to its turnaround efforts? There are 5,000 failing schools in our country.
With the Race to the Top competition and the endless bailouts for education that Congress is passing, the status quo is already being very well served. The purpose of “i3,” the Investing in Innovation competition, as I understood it, was to make bold investments in “disruptive” innovations that had the potential of upending the status quo. Or at least it should have been. Instead, it’s the same old, same old, and I feel confident in predicting that three years from now, nothing will have changed.
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2010 edition of Education Week as Federal ‘i3' Funding: Where’s the Innovation?