Federal Innovation Grant Changes Rules, Narrows Focus

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced proposed tweaks to its Investing in Innovation grant that would revolve future competitions around more narrowly focused areas of improvement.

The changes don’t address some of the more vocal criticisms of i3—that it is too difficult for grantees to raise matching private sector funds and that the competition should be open to for-profit entities, in addition to nonprofits. (The department did reduce the amount of matching funds required following the inaugural i3 competition in 2010.)

But the new rules would allow the department to award money based on specific needs or focus areas, rather than the four areas laid out in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: improving state data systems, bolstering teacher quality, turning around low-performing schools, and revamping state standards and assessments. The most recent crop of i3 winners leaned somewhat toward teacher and principal effectiveness but were otherwise evenly funded in a few topic areas (see chart below). Projects included everything from a teacher training center to a literacy validation study to a community-supported school turnaround.

There are 10 proposed priorities for future competitions. Each competition could focus on one or several of the priorities. They are:

  • Improving Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
  • Improving Low-Performing Schools
  • Improving Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) Education
  • Improving Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities
  • Improving Academic Outcomes for English-Language Learners
  • Improving Parent and Family Engagement
  • Improving Cost Effectiveness and Productivity
  • Effective Use of Technology
  • Formalizing and Codifying Effective Practices
  • Serving Rural Communities

My colleague Alyson Klein has more on the proposed changes to the i3 program over at the Politics K-12 blog.

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