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ELL-Focused Projects Are Big Winners in i3 Competition

The U.S. Department of Education has announced 20 awards in the latest round of its Investing in Innovation competition, and proposals that pledge to improve outcomes for English-language learners are well-represented in the winners' circle.

Winners of the i3 competition—some school districts; others, nonprofit organizations—will share $150 million in federal prize money to help underwrite their various projects. As a condition of getting the federal money, they must secure private matching funds.

Under the department's rules for the competition, proposals had to include one of six areas (teachers and principals, STEM, standards, to name a few) as a chief focus, or "absolute priority," in Education Department parlance. But under a second tier of five "competitive preference priorities," applicants could earn additional points for targeting, for example, English-language learners and/or students with disabilities. According to the department, eight winning applicants did just that.

Here's a quick summary of winners with a focus on English-learners:

•Texas A&M University won a "validation" grant of up to $15 million for its proposal to conduct further study on the effectiveness of specific language and literacy interventions for English-learners in kindergarten through 3rd grade that were previously examined. The study—called "English Language and Literacy Acquisition Validation: ELLA-V"—will be a randomized, controlled trial that seeks to parse out the impacts of individual interventions on the English-language acquisition of native Spanish-speakers at each of the four early grade levels. Texas A&M will partner with Sam Houston State University, Johns Hopkins University, and 25 urban, suburban, and rural school districts in Texas.

•Jobs for the Future also won a validation grant with an award of up to $15 million. This project, which will include two school systems in the predominantly Latino Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, as well as the Denver school district, focuses on putting Jobs for the Future's Early College High School program into practice. Each participating district has an ELL population of more than 30 percent.

•WestED's validation grant of up to $15 million is for its proposal to design an effective mathematics intervention that can be used in the early grades to address gaps in math knowledge that already exist between low-income and higher-income children when they enter kindergarten. Urban and rural school districts across California are partners in the project and all have high numbers of English-language learners. The interventions that are designed for home math activities will be provided to parents in English and in Spanish. Teachers will also receive guidance on using mathematical language in both languages.

•Intercultural Development Research Association has a "development" grant of up to $3 million. This project, called PTA Comunitario, focuses on family engagement and school culture as the centerpiece to improving college access and completion for English-learners in low-income, minority communities. The project, already in some Texas school districts, will expand to five additional districts in the Rio Grande Valley.

•The Clark County school system in Las Vegas secured a development grant for up to $3 million for a project that aims to increase access to and success in STEM coursework through project-based learning and extracurricular activities. Teachers who work with English-learners will be among the targeted group of educators who are trained to provide the instruction and supports to students in the program.

•The California Association for Bilingual Education won a development grant to implement a parent-engagement program in four Southern California districts with large numbers of English-learners who are either native Spanish- or Vietnamese-speakers. The program features a curriculum that helps parents understand their role in supporting their children's education, and now includes a component on the common standards.

•The California League of Middle Schools' development grant will establish a project to follow a cohort of ELLs and their families from the start of 6th grade in six middle schools through the fall of 10th grade at four high schools in Moreno Valley, Calif. It will use various strategies for student, peer, parent and family engagement, with a focus on keeping students on track to graduate from high school and enter college.

•Internationals Network for Public Schools, a small network of schools in New York City, California, and Virginia that serve newly arrived immigrants, will use its development grant to bring its curriculum and support model to additional schools in New York City and San Francisco that serve large numbers of English-learners.

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