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STEM Makes Strong Showing in Latest 'Innovation' Grants

Improving STEM education is a popular theme among winning applications in the most recent round of the Investing in Innovation grant competition, announced last week.

The plans slated to get a slice of $150 million in federal aid include initiatives to recruit STEM professionals to volunteer to work with students; develop a Web-based professional-development program for science teachers focused on boosting students' engagement in science reading and comprehension of complex texts; and support a partnership among rural Virginia districts that brings together math teachers, families, and community groups to collectively prepare young people to succeed in advanced-math courses.

As my colleague Michele McNeil reported the other day over at Politics K-12, 20 winners were selected by the U.S. Department of Education to share the prize money. Eight of those won "validation" awards of up to $15 million, while the other 12 won "development" awards of up to $3 million. (This time, there were no winners in the "scale-up" category, where grants can reach $25 million.)

As before, however, the "winners" have one more hurdle before getting their money. They must secure private matching funds. The deadline for obtaining this commitment for a match is Dec. 7. (And as we just recently learned, getting a promise of a private match is not always a guarantee.)

The Investing in Innovation program, dubbed i3, is designed to identify innovative ideas to improve K-12 education and bring them to scale. STEM education did well in the second round of i3 winners, announced last year.

Without further ado, here's a bit of info about the winning proposals with a strong STEM focus, starting with the entity to be awarded the grant.

Citizen Schools (up to $3 million): Expand and test a "promising innovation" to prepare more students for advanced study and careers in the STEM fields, with a focus on individuals traditionally underrepresented in those fields. Citizen Schools will work with six districts, including Chicago, Houston, and New York City, on its "apprenticeship model" for bringing volunteer experts into high-need schools. The volunteers provide content expertise and serve as role models for students, while Citizen Schools staff provide complementary support in lesson planning, classroom management, and connecting apprenticeship learning to the rest of the school day.

Clark County School District (up to $3 million): Develop and evaluate the Pathways to STEM Initiative. It seeks to provide middle and high school students access to "rigorous and engaging project-based STEM coursework," create extracurricular opportunities for those students to explore STEM concepts and "real-world applications" alongside STEM professionals, and prepare educators to deliver the coursework, with an emphasis on the needs of students with learning disabilities and English-language learners.

LEED Sacramento (up to $15 million): Evaluate and validate Project Lead the Way's engineering curriculum, currently used in more than 4,000 U.S. high schools. The proposal also focuses on researching and helping more female and minority students participate and succeed in the Project Lead the Way curriculum. One key component is addressing teacher effectiveness through significant preparation and support for educators involved, including by guiding instructors to become "positive role models for engineering and technology use."

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (up to $3 million): Contribute to the preparation, development, and retention of effective elementary math and science teachers in high-need schools. Working with seven districts in three states, as well as six higher education institutions and a number of other partners, the project will focus on helping students in grades 3-6 and creating "an evidence base and collection of resources that can scale rapidly, reaching many more teachers and their students in a way that is cost-effective and readily sustained."

Virginia Advanced Study Strategies Inc. (up to $3 million): The nonprofit organization is working with six rural districts in Virginia to form the Rural Math Excel Partnership, which aims to "develop a sense of shared responsibility among families, teachers, and communities in rural areas for student success in and preparation for advanced high school and postsecondary study" in mathematics. The project also calls for helping teachers to integrate Khan Academy or TED-ED videos into lesson plans and homework assignments.

WestEd (up to $3 million): Develop an "innovative delivery system" for a "proven" professional-development program for high school science teachers in a consortium of schools in Pennsylvania and Michigan. The effort will focus on creating an online version of the Reading Apprenticeship science program, which aims to boost student engagement with science reading and the comprehension of complex texts in biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics.

WestEd (up to $15 million): Provide an effective early math intervention that "can close the early math gap in economically disadvantaged children" and prepare them for instruction aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The project will combine "effective curricula, practices, and implementation strategies" to assist pre-K and kindergarten students.

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