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Education Department Proposes Changes for Investing in Innovation

The Investing in Innovation grant program—one of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's marquee initiatives—would get a makeover under a proposed set of new priorities released Friday.

Up until now, the i3 program, which was initially created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was geared to projects that addressed the four education redesign "assurances" spelled out in the stimulus, including improving state data systems, bolstering teacher quality, turning around low-performing schools, and revamping state standards and assessments.

While the department will still be looking to further those general principles, they'll also be aiming future competitions more narrowly at one or more of ten different areas of focus. The idea is to help the program support "a more focused set of projects within areas of acute need and in more directly addressing a particular challenge," department officials wrote. (Translation: We want i3 applicants that are all working towards, say, improving low-performing schools, rather than a whole bunch of applications that run off in a whole bunch of different directions.)

Not every competition would encompass all ten of these priorities. Instead, the department would let folks know what kinds of applications they are looking for when they put out the all-call for grants.

The new rules shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone who has read the department's most recent budget request (which was for fiscal year 2013.) The department suggested adding a priority for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology projects under i3.

So what are the new priorities that could help shape future competitions?

•Improving Teacher and Principal Effectiveness—Could include projects aimed at recruiting great teachers and principals, supporting them, designing strong evaluation systems, revamping teacher preparation, among other goals.

•Improving Low-Performing Schools—Could include bringing great staff into the schools, offering "wraparound services" that address nonacademic factors that can have an effect on student outcomes, and expanding district capacity or state capacity to do turnarounds.

•Improving Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) Education—Could include helping kids get access to tough coursework in these subjects, professional development for teachers, and making sure that women and minority kids and students in special education get opportunities to try rigorous STEM classes.

•Improving Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities—Could include designing teacher evaluation systems that look at how teachers are doing with this special population or improving efforts to track how kids with disabilities are fairing in postsecondary education.

•Improving Academic Outcomes for English-Language Learners—Could include projects that help ensure that ELLs are ready for college, or offer schoolwide professional development for teachers and administrations in schools that have a lot of ELLs.

•Improving Parent and Family Engagement—Could include teaching parents skills that will help their kids academically, and helping school staff figure out how to reach out to families that haven't been engaged in the school in the past.

•Improving Cost Effectiveness and Productivity—Could include ideas that improve student learning without increasing per-student costs, or maintain student outcomes while significantly cutting costs.

•Effective Use of Technology—Could include projects that assess skills like critical thinking using technology, as well as using technology to help implement college-and-career ready standards.

•Formalizing and Codifying Effective Practices—Projects must define what the important elements of a new practice are and develop a tool kit or guide to help disseminate the information

•Serving Rural Communities—For projects that partner with districts serving mostly rural kids.

Not every competition will encompass all ten of these focus areas. When the department starts up a new round of i3, it'll signal which area it's most interested in taking a look at, the draft regulations say.

Got a comment on the proposed rules? You have until January 14 to let the department know what you think. The department is especially interested in hearing what folks think about how best to solicit projects that improve cost-effectiveness and productivity—they want to know the best way to measure progress towards that goal. And the Education Department is also interested in hearing from experts about how to find good projects that improve the education of ELLs—a very challenging area of policy and practice.

You can submit comments at www.regulations.gov or regulations.gov, or mail them to the department.

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