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Every Student Succeeds Act

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Federal Innovation Grants

By Alyson Klein — March 23, 2016 1 min read
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Back in 2009, the Obama administration and Congress created, or seriously changed, three new education-grant programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus): Race to the Top, the School Improvement Grant program, and Investing in Innovation (or “i3").

Now, more than seven years later, only one of those programs is likely to stick around beyond the president’s tenure: i3, which is intended to scale up promising practices at the district level

Why? Of the three stimulus-era marquee grant programs, it’s the only one that’s officially enshrined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)

To be sure, it has a different name—the Education and Innovation Research grants. And there are some new twists—states and businesses can now apply, along with districts and non-profits.

Everything you ever wanted to know about i3/EIR in this explainer.

The i3 program has helped districts and nonprofits investigate a number promising strategies—Sarah Sparks of Inside School Research fame and I profiled some programs that have gotten multiple grants.

Sarah looked at a program in rural Maine aimed at helping students gain the social-emotional skills they need in the often-tough transition from middle to high school. And I looked at a program in North Carolina aimed at helping schools ramp up college course-taking and career internships.

Not every new approach funded through i3 has been a smashing successs. (Sarah has a breakdown here of research outcomes.) But that’s part of the point of this experimental program—districts and nonprofits can learn a lot even from strategies that didn’t produce the hoped-for results, Nadya Dabby, the assistant deputy secretary for Innovation and Improvement said. (More from Dabby here.)

For his part, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. sees the program as a way to pinpoint new approaches that can pay dividends down the road. Here’s his statement on the program:

If students aren't prepared to compete in a globally diverse economy and participation in civic discourse, public education has missed the mark. Through innovation, teachers and school leaders can push boundaries, redefine learning and advance excellence and equity. The i3 program is a wonderful opportunity for the Department to help spur innovation in schools and create tremendous enthusiasm among educators. Support from the i3 program has been instrumental in helping teachers, school leaders and other educators build infrastructures that generated innovation in classrooms across the country and evidence about what works. This program allows school districts and schools to better serve students, particularly those with the highest needs in the most underserved communities."