Education Funding

Demand Strong for $150 Million in Latest ‘i3' Cash

By Michele McNeil — October 25, 2011 5 min read
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Even though the jackpot for the federal Investing in Innovation program has gotten smaller, demand for the competitive-grant money to fuel promising education strategies has not waned. With $150 million on the table in the initiative’s second round, 587 applicants are pitching the U.S. Department of Education on projects worth some $3 billion in all.

And a majority of those applicants—more than 300—are trying a second time to win grants when they’re announced later this year, according to data the department released this month.

The i3 program, born of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and extended by Congress earlier this year as part of the federal fiscal 2011 budget deal, seeks to find innovative and promising education strategies that also have a good record of success. Awards for this round will range from $3 million for “development” grants to as much as $25 million for “scale-up” awards. The bigger the award, the more evidence of past success is required.

Last year’s $650 million pot of money resulted in 49 winners—whittled down from 1,698 applicants that proposed a total of $12.8 billion in projects.

The new competition has three key differences.

First, the Education Department signaled it wants more high-quality rural proposals by adding that sector as one of five focus areas, and declaring that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan may even pick winners out of order to reward a good rural-centered application.

Second, the private-match dollars that are required as part of this competition have been relaxed; the most a winner would have to secure from the private sector is 15 percent, and as little as 5 percent, depending on the award won. Last year, 20 percent in matching funds were required from all winners, and that rule proved a challenge for some organizations.

Third, the Education Department will be the only judge of the strength of an applicant’s evidence base. Last year, outside judges also awarded points for that factor.

Applicant Breakdown

The applications for this latest round of i3 grants came from every state and the District of Columbia and were concentrated in large states, including California and New York. Massachusetts had an especially high number of applicants, 22, for its size.

When asked to narrow their proposals to address one of five key areas, applicants responded with a clear favorite: projects involving science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. Twenty-eight percent of the applications focus on that area, while the rest are evenly divided among the other categories: teachers and principals, standards and assessments, school turnarounds, and rural districts.

Repeat competitors include big 2010 winners Teach For America and the Knowledge Is Power Program, which are seeking smaller awards for different projects.

Repeat applicants that did not win last year include the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts, which is pitching a $13.5 million project to improve math achievement by having students complete homework and get tutoring via cellphone text messaging. And judges will consider again a $3 million proposal to create book clubs and other literacy programs in urban and rural Ohio districts from the organization Cultural Exchange Inc.

Applicants Lining Up

In the second round of the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation grant program, 587 applicants are vying for $150 million, in three awards categories, to help scale-up their education redesign ideas.

David Douglas School District, Portland, Ore.
Amount Requested: $24.8 million
Project: Regionally scale up the whole-school reform approach of response to intervention.

Executive Leadership Institute, New York
Amount Requested: $25 million
Project: Expand the New York City Read First program.

Itasca Area Schools Collaborative, Deer River, Minn.
Amount Requested: $2.8 million
Project: Place “Telepresence” education studios, which allow for videoconferencing, strategically throughout rural Minnesota.

Maury County Board of Education, Columbia, Tenn.
Amount Requested: $24.6 million
Project: Expand the use of a specialized instructional system to improve math achievement in grades 6-12 as part of a broader effort to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) proficiency.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Arlington, Va.
Amount Requested: $25 million
Project: Expand the number of teachers who are board- certified and create professional learning communities for teachers within schools.

National Guard Youth Foundation, Alexandria, Va.
Amount Requested: $25 million
Project: Expand the Youth ChalleNGe Program, which gives 16- to 18-year-olds who have dropped out of school or been expelled another chance at a high school diploma or GED.

National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, Santa Monica, Calif.
Amount Requested: $20.8 million
Project: Expand TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement to three additional states, including three rural districts.

Old Dominion University Research Foundation, Norfolk, Va.
Amount Requested: $25 million
Project: Provide high-needs middle school students with increased access to rigorous STEM coursework through a “cooperative learning model” in math.

Reach Out and Read Inc., Boston
Amount Requested: $25 million
Expand the program, which gives literacy advice and books to families through pediatric and doctors’ offices, to an additional 500,000 high-needs children in 30 urban school districts and 10 Project: rural states.

University of Texas at El Paso
Amount Requested: $25 million
Project: Scale up a national program targeted at advancing Hispanic students interested in computing by improving STEM achievement and parental financial literacy.

Note: Four applicants for the largest “scale-up” awards did not provide public summary details about their proposed projects. They are: Aaliyah Zakat; Clarke County School District, in Athens Ga.; Reach for Tomorrow, in Chantilly, Va.; and the YES Organization Inc., in Mesa, Ariz.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

Among the new pitches is a $5.3 million proposal from the Rock Island Regional Office of Education, in Illinois, to use 3-D technology to enhance math and science teaching in northwestern Illinois elementary schools.

A greater percentage of applicants this time around are going after the smaller $3 million development awards, which require a lower base of evidence supporting the idea’s success. This year, 81 percent of applicants are in that category; last year, it was 68 percent.

The largest, most rigorous category—scale-up—with a maximum prize of $25 million per award, drew just 14 applicants this year, or 2 percent of the overall pool. Last year, nearly 4 percent of applicants went after the grand prize.

TAP Again

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which runs the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, based in Santa Monica, Calif., wasn’t deterred by the stiff evidence requirements and upped the ante from last year, when it failed to win a smaller “validation” award.

TAP uses teacher bonuses, on-the-job training, career advancement, and evaluation to boost student achievement. This time, the institute is seeking a $20.8 million scale-up award to create three new state teams, in Arizona, Arkansas, and Indiana.

The goal, said Kristan Van Hook, the senior vice president of public policy and development for the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, is to create an infrastructure to shape statewide teacher policies. She cited South Carolina, one of three states that have state TAP teams, along with Texas and Louisiana. South Carolina’s statewide teacher-evaluation system was heavily influenced by TAP, she said.

“The thing we’re proposing is both innovative and scaling up,” Ms. Van Hook said. “These state teams ... will become our drivers for expansion.”

TAP has strong studies to back up its proposal, Ms. Van Hook added. A 2010 study published by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found student-achievement gains in TAP schools versus non-TAP schools. And a 2008 study presented at the National Center on Performance Incentives, based at Vanderbilt University, found strong effects in elementary schools, but mixed results in secondary schools.

The National Guard Youth Foundation, which is seeking a $25 million scale-up award, is another new competitor.

The foundation wants to expand its Youth Challenge program, which has helped some 100,000 students who have dropped out of school, were expelled, or were deemed at risk of not graduating work toward a high school diploma or General Educational Development credential. The foundation runs 34 programs in 27 states and wants to expand the number of students served by 500 a year.

A study released this year by MDRC, a New York City-based research organization, determined that students in the program were more likely than the control group to obtain a diploma or GED and be employed.

“We have to turn away half of those who apply,” said Ashley Saunders, a foundation spokeswoman.

A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2011 edition of Education Week as Demand Strong for Share of $150 Million in Latest ‘i3' Cash


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