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Grantees Picked in Round Two of Investing in Innovation Contest

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By Guest Blogger Erik Robelen

The U.S. Department of Education has identified the 23 finalists expected to get Investing in Innovation, or i3, grants in the second round of the high-profile competition, including the Success For All Foundation—the only repeat winner—as well as the College Board, a California charter schools network, and five school districts.

The largest single grant is expected to go to Old Dominion University Research Foundation, based in Norfolk, Va., which requested nearly $25 million for a "scale-up" grant aimed at providing high-need middle schoolers with increased access to challenging math courses.

In all, 587 applicants were vying for a slice of nearly $150 million in this second round of the i3 program. Last year, the Education Department awarded 49 grants totaling roughly $650 million.

All the new awards are contingent upon the applicants securing a private match of a portion of their grant total, ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent, depending on the type of grant requested.

Efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) education and rural schooling got a boost this round, as they were added to a short list of categories given special emphasis by the department. In fact, one-third of the nearly $150 million in i3 funding is expected to target proposals that identified STEM as an "absolute priority," according to the department.

"This round of i3 grantees is poised to have real impact in areas of critical need, including STEM education and rural communities, on projects ranging from early-childhood interventions to school turnaround models that will prepare more students for college and career," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release issued today.

For an earlier analysis of this year's applicants, check out Michele's EdWeek story, plus my blog post over at Curriculum Matters, which takes a STEM education angle.

The i3 program, established under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and extended by Congress earlier this year as part of the fiscal 2011 budget, seeks to find innovative and promising education strategies that also have a good record of success. Awards this time range from up to $3 million for "development" grants to as much as $25 million for the "scale-up" award. The bigger the award, the more evidence of past success is required.

One key change this year was that the department added two new categories to the "absolute priority" list: promoting STEM education, and improving achievement and graduation rates for rural school districts. Basically, every applicant was required to select one of the five "absolute" priorities. In addition to STEM and rural education, the other three priorities are innovations that: support effective teachers and principals; complement the implementation of high standards and high-quality assessments; and turn around persistently low-performing schools.

One applicant this time, the Success for All Foundation, has been selected for its second i3 grant. In 2010, the Education Department awarded a $50 million grant to the Baltimore-based organization to expand its model for the whole-school turnaround of struggling elementary schools. In the announcement today, Success for All was chosen for its $3 million proposal to create and evaluate a technology-enhanced approach to early literacy. Success for All was also listed as one of three "project partners" on the $25 million plan from Old Dominion University.

All applications were peer reviewed and given numeric ratings. In the end, the department did not simply select the 23 highest-ranking applications from the full list. Instead, it separated them into categories based upon each "absolute" priority, as well as based upon the type of grant sought, whether a scale-up, validation, or development grant. From there, it ranked the applications within each category to ensure a balance of projects across the priority areas.

"One of the big objectives of i3 is to create a portfolio of solutions to a range of challenges," said Jim Shelton, the Education Department's assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

The score for the $25 million grant request from Old Dominion University was 86.33 (out of 100), notably lower than most other finalists identified, which generally ranged from 94 to 100. (Apparently, it was the highest-ranked among the 14 applications for a scale-up grant.)

When asked whether the lower score raised questions about the relative worth of this project in comparison with other winners, Shelton replied: "It was a very strong proposal. ... There is some risk involved, [but] we feel confident that this is more than a prudent risk."

Here's a quick sampling of the applications selected for an i3 award:
Applicant: Ounce of Prevention Fund
Amount Requested: $3 million
Project: In partnership with Chicago Public Schools, the nonprofit aims to implement and evaluate a professional development initiative to improve both classroom instruction and school leadership in early-childhood education settings.

Applicant: Boston Public Schools
Amount requested: $2.9 million
Project: In partnership with the National Center on Time & Learning, the district will "replicate and codify" a school-turnaround strategy that strategically redesigns the school day to add 300 hours more per year for all students.

Applicant: Regents of the University of Minnesota
Amount requested: $15 million
Project: In partnership with education and nonprofit agencies in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the university will provide "intensive and continuous" educational and family-support services targeting students from preschool to 3rd grade.

Applicant: New Visions for Public Schools
Amount Requested: $12.9 million
Project: In partnership with the New York City school district and the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative, create the Accessing Algebra Through Inquiry project to drive student achievement in 30 high-need secondary schools.

An Education Department official tells me that while the agency's final grant awards may not exactly match the requested figures, they're definitely in the same ballpark.

Here's the full list of successful applicants for Round 2:
Old Dominion Research Foundation
University of Alaska Statewide Office of K-12 Outreach
National Math and Science Initiative
New Visions for Public Schools
Regents of the University of Minnesota
North Carolina New Schools Project
Aspire Public Schools
Texas Tech University
Temple University of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education (Pennsylvania)
New York City Board of Education
New York Hall of Science
Baltimore City Public Schools
Fresno County Office of Education
The College Board
Oakland Unified School District
Ounce of Prevention Fund
The Metropolitan Education Commission
Boston Public Schools
Success for All Foundation
Del Norte Unified School District
Berea College
Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative
KnowledgeWorks

UPDATE: (11:30am)
For more analysis of the STEM dimension of today's announcement, check out this Curriculum Matters blog post.

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