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124 Applicants Chosen To Pursue Federal Innovation Grants

Up to 124 local education agencies and related entities will be going after their share of a $60 million pot made available by the United States Department of Education to fund innovative practices intended to improve student achievement. These "pre-applicants" participated in a winnowing process developed by the federal government to improve the process by which school districts, education non-profits, and other organizations vie for funds in the 2012 Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

i3 was established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement in order to expand, share, and scale their successful practices. Grants are made in these five areas:

  • Teacher and principal effectiveness (with 23 pre-applicants falling into this category);
  • Promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education (with 39 pre-applicants);
  • Parent and family engagement (a new priority for 2012, with 32 pre-applicants);
  • School turnarounds (with 20 pre-applicants); and
  • Rural education (with 10 pre-applicants).

Among the contenders that have earned the right to move on in the application process are Colorado's St. Vrain Valley School District, which is experimenting with STEM-related practices; Butte County Office of Education in California, which is focused on school turnaround efforts; and Central Falls School District in Rhode Island, which is going after funding in the area of school engagement. Multiple universities and other organizations are also on the shortlist, particularly in the area of teacher effectiveness, including Western Michigan University, The New Teacher Project, and School Leaders Network.

St. Vrain, which won an i3 grant last year, would use this year's grant funding to set up and test out a STEM preschool. The district currently runs two two-week summer STEM programs for K-2 students and fifth and sixth grade students in partnership with IBM.

"We're of the belief that we can raise the level of rigor if we focus student experiences a little differently," said Regina Renaldi, executive director of priority schools for the district. "That's what this second grant is about. We're really looking to get kids well beyond preschool levels in terms of literacy. They'd walk into school ahead and accelerated rather than walking into school at a deficit."

The goal of the new i3 application process was to reduce the amount of time applicants had to spend on their applications, give timely feedback to them about how competitive their applications were, and to expand the range of organizations participating.

In February 2012, ED invited potential applicants to submit "pre-applications" and received more than 650 pre-applications, almost 40 percent more than in 2011. Each of those was scored by peer reviewers. The 124 pre-applicants chosen scored the highest within one of the five priority areas.

The program has three grant categories: scale-up, validation, and development. This competition pertained specifically to development, which has drawn the greatest number of applications each year. The development pre-applicants will now apply for individual awards of up to $3 million. Up to 20 applications could be funded. Those will be peer-reviewed in coming months. That review will examine the quality of the proposed project design, management plan, personnel, and project evaluation, as well as the significance of the project.

The finalists in the development category will be required to line up private sector matching funds of up to 15 percent.

Awards will be announced before the end of the year.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.