Kudos to EdWeek’s Michele McNeil for getting the scoop on 49 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant winners a day before the Department of Education intended to announce them. The competition here was super-stiff, so those who came out on top really deserve congratulations. I haven’t had a chance to actually read most of the applications or reviewer comments, so I’ll hold off on saying much, but a couple points are worth noting:
1. No one should be surprised if the list of winners looks “old school” or is less dominated by the new crop of education entrepreneurs than some people expected/hoped/feared. The evidence standards in both the scale-up and validation categories were very rigorous, and many newer initiatives or organizations simply don’t have that kind of rigorous evidence yet. To the extent that this competition lights a fire under folks to get serious about more rigorous evaluation, that’s a good thing.
2. That said, the list is less “old school” than it might appear--3 of the 4 Scale-Up winners (TFA, KIPP, and SFA) are members of the New Schools Venture Fund portfolio, and the validation and development winners include a really interesting mix of groups from varied backgrounds and perspectives, including charter schools, school districts, academic orgs, the American Federation of Teachers, and other nonprofits.
3. It’s interesting that two of the 4 scale-up grantee winners--Success for All and Reading Recovery--are literacy programs that were shut out of Reading First, another program that strongly emphasized scientifically based research and was closely associated with a particular administration. Curious about the extent to which funding the expansion of these programs will help districts maintain a focus on early literacy now that federal policy is shifting much more towards adolescent literacy elsewhere. Also if the fate of RF offers a cautionary tale for i3. (Alexander Russo also noted this.)
4. After complaining that the SIF grantees announced last month leaned heavily towards youth/high school/college, I’m pleased that a number of the i3 winners are addressing early childhood and elementary school issues.
5. As someone who (disc) wrote two i3 grant applications, neither of which won, and know a number of folks who wrote both successful and unsuccessful applications--there were a lot of questions we had and things that were not entirely clear from the Department guidance around i3, particularly around how the evidence standards would actually be applied in practice. I’m looking forward to reading the reviewer comments on both the successful applications and those I was involved in, and hoping that will answer some of those questions. If so, will write more about it here then.
The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.