No Shortage of STEM Plans Vying for Innovation Grants

By Erik W. Robelen — November 03, 2011 3 min read
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$737 million. That’s the total value of 163 STEM-related proposals seeking a slice of federal aid under the “i3" Investing in Innovation program. Ideas range from supporting the creation of new academies with a clean energy focus in Colorado to expanding the Chicago Algebra Initiative and an online STEM games project in Los Angeles.

Of course, given that only $150 million is available in this second round of funding, it’s safe to say many of these proposals won’t get any money. But there are plenty of interesting proposals to examine.

The U.S. Department of Education publicly released information on all the new applicants last month.

STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) was a pretty popular topic in the first round of the i3 program. This time, there was a stronger incentive, as the topic was added as one of the five “absolute” competitive priorities. Basically, applicants had to select one of those priorities as the focus for their grant requests. (The others include innovations that support effective teachers and principals, innovations that complement the implementation of high standards and high-quality assessments, turning around low-performing schools, and improving achievement and graduation rates in rural areas.)

In all, 28 percent of the 587 applications identified STEM as the absolute priority. Here’s the full list of STEM proposals.

For the big picture on the new round of i3 proposals, check out this EdWeek story. In it, my colleague Michelle McNeil offers a helpful primer:

“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,” she writes. “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, the Education Department ultimately awarded 49 i3 grants for a total of $650 million. And as we explained on this blog, a number of those focused on improving education in specific areas of the curriculum, including STEM.

Anyway, so what do applicants have in mind this time? Here’s a quick sampling:

Applicant: National Society of Black Engineers (Alexandria, Va.)
Amount Requested: $3 million
Project: Support the three-week Summer Engineering Experience for Kids Program, designed to expose African- American children to the STEM career fields;

Applicant: Project SEED (Arlington, Va.)
Amount Requested: $15 million
Project: Expand a program that provides supplemental math instruction for elementary school students and professional development for teachers;

Applicant: Poudre School District (Fort Collins, Colo.)
Amount Requested: $3 million
Project: Develop two high school Clean Energy Academies that will deliver STEM coursework based on clean-energy-related content, and enhance middle school STEM activities that lead to the academies and other STEM programs;

Applicant: Museum of Science (Boston)
Amount Requested: $2.9 million
Project: Expand the Gateway to Implementing Technology and Engineering Standards project, which aims to increase the number of Massachusetts and Maine school districts providing high-quality STEM education and ultimately the number of students pursuing careers in the STEM fields;

Applicant: Depaul University (Chicago)
Amount Requested: $8.2 million
Project: Expand and validate the work of the Chicago Algebra Initiative to make it possible for algebra-ready middle school students to take a rigorous high school algebra course, and to create policies and mechanisms so that successful students are placed in the next level of high school math; and

Applicant: University of Southern California
Amount Requested: $3 million
Project: The proposal for a STEM Games project will expand and evaluate an online game-centered curriculum recently introduced in several Los Angeles public schools. The program was first used as a medium for teaching high school math, but would expand the scope to include middle school science and engineering topics.

The Education Department is expected to announce the winners of the second round of i3 grants by the end of this year, so stay tuned.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.