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Education Department Proposes High School Redesign Twist for 'i3' Program

School districts and nonprofits that want a piece of the new, $120 million in the Investing in Innovation grant program are urged to focus their attention on high school redesign, under proposed regulations slated to be published in the Federal Register Tuesday.

Under the proposal, prospective grantees for all three kinds of i3 grants—scale up, validation, and development—are encouraged to pitch projects designed to increase the number and percentage of students who graduated from high school ready for postsecondary education and the workforce.

For example, i3-funded programs could help schools implement a rigorous high school curriculum, provide accelerated learning opportunities or personalized learning, develop a strong link between high school coursework and the real working world, improve science and math education, or reduce the need for remedial coursework at the college level. (One clarification: I originally wrote that all projects would have to have a high school focus. It appears that decision hasn't been made yet, the high school focus may be optional.)

And, to ensure that the money goes to low-income students, grants would be aimed at high schools that can operate schoolwide Title I programs, which means that at least 40 percent of their students are in poverty.

The proposed new i3 rules aren't a big surprise. They closely track with a spending bill for the U.S. Department of Education, which passed earlier this year and called for the department to put a new, high-school-oriented spin on i3. The program was first created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment program, aka the stimulus, back in 2009.

The spending bill also cut back the i3 program, from $141 million in fiscal year 2014 to $120 million in fiscal year 2015. And the legislation eliminated a $46 million competitive-grant program aimed at high school overhaul.

The proposed regs aren't the final word on the new version of i3. Anyone who wants to comment on them can do so over the next month, and the feds will consider those comments before coming up with the final regulations.

It's worth noting that the Obama administration really wants i3 to be part of its legacy and is trying hard to get the program "authorized" under a pending rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

If that happens, i3 would be a permanent part of the ESEA and would stand a greater chance of sticking around for the long haul.

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