Special Report

49 Applicants Win i3 Grants

49 Grantees Share $650 Million in Coveted Competitive Awards
By Michele McNeil — August 05, 2010 8 min read
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Includes updates and/or revisions.

In choosing the slate of winners for innovation grants totaling $650 million, the U.S. Department of Education decided to invest heavily in big-name teacher-training and school turnaround organizations while reserving one-fifth of the money for more-experimental programs it believes show promise.

Last week, the department announced that 49 districts, schools, and nonprofit groups beat out more than 1,600 other applicants in the Investing in Innovation, or i3, competition, which is aimed at improving achievement for students at risk of academic failure.

About $200 million will go to four groups—the KIPP Foundation, Ohio State University, the Success for All Foundation, and Teach For America—that won what are known as “scale up” awards worth up to $50 million each.

Fifteen groups won “validation” awards of up to $30 million. And 30 won “development” grants of up to $5 million—the least-restrictive category, for promising ideas that don’t have much of a track record.

i3 Winners

The U.S. Department of Education picked 49 winning applicants in three categories from a field of 1,698 for the $650 million investing in innovation Fund. Final award amounts for each grant will be announced in September.

Biggest-Ticket Grant Recipients

Funds requested:
$50 million
Project description:
Based in San Francisco, the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, will train 1,000 new school leaders so it can double over five years the number of students its charter schools serve from 29,000 to 55,000. KIPP wants to open an additional 50 schools and also share its leadership lessons with school administrators outside its network.

Funds requested:
$46 million
Project description:
Working with 15 other universities, Ohio State will lead this project to train 3,750 additional teachers in Reading Recovery, a one-on-one tutoring-intervention program for struggling 1st grade pupils. In five years, the project goal is to reach nearly 500,000 pupils through the tutoring or small-group and classroom instruction.

Funds requested:
$50 million
Project description:
The New York City-based TFA plans to nearly double its teaching corps, from 7,300 members in 35 sites to 13,000 members across 52 sites, within five years. the organization, which trains recent college graduates to teach in high-need schools around the country, wants to establish teacher pipelines spanning at least 35 states and the District of Columbia, accounting for more than 20 percent of new hires in high-poverty schools in those regions.

Funds requested:
$49 million
Project description:
The Baltimore-based organization, which specializes in whole-school turnaround for struggling elementary schools, will expand its model to about 1,100 additional elementary schools in at least 19 districts in several states. in addition, Success for All wants to create a sustainable, district-managed network of qualified turnaround coaches.

The Full List


SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

The 49 winners, whose headquarters are concentrated mostly on the East Coast and in California, will focus their work in 250 different project locations spanning 42 states plus the District of Columbia. Thirty-seven percent say they intend to serve rural school districts.

The winners included not only the established education reform players that won the scale-up grants, but also lesser-known organizations, such as the Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry in San Francisco, which will use its $3 million to improve teacher effectiveness in science instruction for English-language learners.

“We got tremendous response from across the country,” James H. Shelton, the Education Department’s deputy assistant secretary for innovation and improvement, said in a telephone interview with reporters Aug. 4, the day the awards were announced. “We were really struck by the number of high-quality applicants and winners who were not among the usual suspects.”

But there’s a big caveat before the groups selected can cash in: They must secure private-sector matching funds worth 20 percent of each grant by Sept. 8, or they risk losing the grant.

Final award amounts will be announced next month, once the matching requirements are met and once the department can make sure the proposed budgets are in line with federal requirements.

One-Shot Deal

The i3 competition sought to reward districts, consortia of schools, and nonprofit organizations that proposed the most-innovative proposals focused on improving teacher effectiveness, low-performing schools, standards and assessments, and data systems. The $650 million pot of money is a relatively small piece of some $100 billion in education aid funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus measure passed by Congress last year.

Unlike the higher-profile Race to the Top competition for states, there is only one round of competition for i3, and there were fewer guidelines on how proposals should be shaped.

The Education Department received a flood of 1,698 applications and used more than 300 peer reviewers to judge them on a 105-point grading scale. The department also called in experts from its research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, to help determine whether applicants met tough evidence requirements.

Those requirements dictated that the largest awards would go not only to proposals that were innovative, but to those that also had strong evidence of past success, such as program evaluations that used random assignment of students. The smaller awards required less-stringent research to back up the proposals.

And it was those evidence requirements that likely closed the door on some potentially innovative proposals, said John Bailey, a director at Whiteboard Advisors, a Washington-based education consulting firm.

“That’s the twist. Even though the competition was called innovation, it was all about research on effectiveness. That kept some innovative models out of the running,” said Mr. Bailey, who has been tracking the i3 competition and whose firm has advised several applicants.

How Winners Plan to Use Their Grants


SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

He added that he was surprised not to see more charter school and online-learning proposals win, given that both can offer innovative ways of helping students with academic difficulties.

For now, the i3 competition is a one-shot deal. But the department has asked for more money in its fiscal 2011 budget proposal to continue the competition and has included it in its blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“It’s very important to our strategy to continue to identify the best solutions. There is a tremendous amount of potential,” Mr. Shelton said, adding that the department will host a summit in November in the hope of linking the philanthropic community with organizations that may not have won but which scored high in the i3 competition.

Largest Pots

The most-coveted grants were the $50 million scale-up awards for which 19 applicants competed.

Of the four winners, the Baltimore-based Success for All Foundation received the highest score in its category, with 92.3 points. It asked for $49 million to turn around 1,100 elementary schools in at least 19 districts in several states, with a focus on providing local coaches to support those efforts.

Ohio State University’s winning application, seeking $46 million, proposed training 3,750 additional 1st grade teachers in the Reading Recovery tutoring model, to reach nearly 500,000 students in 1,500 elementary schools across 40 states.

The San Francisco-based Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, Foundation plans to use its grant to train 1,000 new school leaders so it can open additional schools and nearly double the number of students it serves—from 29,000 to 55,000—in five years. It asked for $50 million.

In addition, the KIPP Foundation will seek to share lessons learned on leadership with school administrators outside the KIPP network through efforts such as symposiums and websites.

“We’ve always had an open-door policy, and we’re really going to push out what we’ve been learning about leadership and leadership training,” said Steve Mancini, KIPP’s national spokesman.

Teach For America—a program based in New York City that trains recent college graduates to teach in high-need schools around the country—also has an ambitious growth plan for its money; it requested the full $50 million. The organization plans to nearly double its teaching corps, from 7,300 members in 35 sites to 13,000 members across 52 sites, within five years.

“We’ve been working on a growth plan, but I think, realistically, coming up with the financial resources is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges,” said Kevin Huffman, the organization’s executive vice president for public affairs. “I don’t think we could have gotten this big this quickly.”

Rural Question

For the Education Department, scoring the applicants was just one hurdle in awarding the money. Then, the department had to decide how to divvy up the aid among the three grant categories.

Mr. Shelton said that the number of winners in each category was arrived at using natural breaks in points. He also said that the winning applicants come from a broad section of the country, urban and rural, and represent many different parts of the curriculum. More than half will serve students with disabilities and English-language learners.

According to the department, 31 percent of the winners will focus on standards and assessments, 27 percent on turning around low-performing schools, 24 percent on effective teachers and principals, and 18 percent on improving the use of data.

Although 37 percent of winners intend to serve rural school districts, some are questioning just what those intentions mean.

“It is not clear how extensive their reach is into rural places,” said Robert Mahaffey, a spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based Rural School and Community Trust. “It is also not apparent how many of the awardees actually have authentic experience in rural places, or if their focus is to overlay models developed in urban or suburban places on rural communities.”

In one clear example of a winning rural project, the Greeneville, Tenn.-based Niswonger Foundation plans to use its winning validation grant to partner with 15 school districts in Appalachia to increase college readiness.

While the scale-up grants drew a lot of attention because of the sheer size of the awards, most applicants—because of the strict evidence requirements—went after lower-tiered awards, creating intense competition at those levels as well.

The New York City-based New Teacher Project, one of the validation-grant winners, asked for $20.8 million to train up to 3,300 new teachers. But the twist on that plan, said Timothy Daly, the president of the project, is that the group will use the money to build a screening process that requires its teachers to prove they are effective in order to continue in the program.

Overall, he said of the i3 initiative, “it’s been really good for our sector to have to compete like this.”

Other winners are more narrowly focused.

The 1,050-student Sammamish High School in Washington state’s Bellevue school district will use its development grant to transform itself into a comprehensive high school focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as the STEM subjects.

“We really wanted to focus on providing that kind of education to students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers and STEM majors,” said Principal Tom Duenwald. Thirty-five percent of his school’s students receive free or reduced-price lunches, and 10 percent are English-language learners.

“Frankly, I’m pretty surprised we won,” Mr. Duenwald said. “We were one of 49 organizations out of 1,700 that applied—that’s pretty competitive.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2010 edition of Education Week as Big Players, Small Innovators Snare ‘i3' Cash


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