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Federal Innovation Grants To Target Teacher Effectiveness, High School Redesign

By guest blogger Alyson Klein. Cross-posted from Politics K-12.

The next Investing in Innovation competition for the biggest grants—the so-called "validation" and "scale up" grants—starts this week, according to applications slated to be published in the federal register Friday. (The department has already moved forward on the competition for the smaller grants, known as "development" grants.)

Scale-up applicants—who could receive up to $20 million each, and must have a lot of evidence to back up their work—will have to choose from:

•Teacher effectiveness. The department is especially interested in ideas that allow strong teachers to take on new leadership challenges.

Implementation and transition to internationally-benchmarked standards that prepare students for college and the workforce. The application does not cite the Common Core State Standards specifically, so presumably ideas from states that aren't participating in the initiative would be eligible.

Improving mathematics, science, engineering, and technology education.

High school redesign. This is a new priority for the i3 program, added at the behest of Congress. Applicants must work with high schools eligible to do schoolwide Title I programs. (That means at least 40 percent of the kids have to be in poverty.) Applicants could pitch projects that allow students to earn college credit while in high school, implement early-warning systems to flag kids at risk of dropping out, bolster relationships with businesses that provide technical training, and other strategies.

Validation applicants—who could receive up to $12 million, and must have a moderate amount of research to behind their ideas—get to pick from three of those priorities. (STEM isn't on their list.)

Grantees also get a competitive edge if the plan addresses cost-effectiveness and could be applied more broadly. And applicants that have never won an i3 grant also get an advantage.

 And, as in past competitions, applicants for both types of grants who serve rural schools will get an advantage. (They can apply under their own "absolute priority" in federal-grant-speak, but they still must include one of the other areas of focus.)

Applications are due in about two months and programs can let the department they plan to apply in about 20 days. And would-be i3 grantees are going after the smallest pot of money offered since the program started back in 2009—Congress slashed i3 from $140 million to $120 million, and there's no guarentee the program will survive this budget cycle, let alone the end of the Obama administration.

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