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Innovation Grants: Prepare to Show Evidence and Matching Funds


Long-awaited details of the $650 million innovation grants for districts were finally announced today by the U.S. Department of Education.

The department, which will start accepting applications for the Investing in Innovation program, or "i3", in early 2010, had foreshadowed in August the dollar amounts for the grants (up to $50 million) and different tiers (which will based on how much evidence a program has to support the application). The stimulus law has already set out who the eligible applicants are: local school districts, and nonprofit entities (in partnership with one or more districts, or a consortium of schools.)

So let's start with what's new today.

Each application must include a 20 percent private-sector funding match (or request a reduced matching level), according to proposed regulations. In addition, any successful applicant must target the award toward improving achievement for "high-need" students and address at least one of the four "assurances" in the economic-stimulus law: improving teacher effectiveness, improving the use of data, turning around low-performing schools, or complementing the ongoing common standards and assessments effort. The proposed regulations define "high-need" as those who are at risk of academic failure, including those with disabilities or who are limited English proficient.

In addition, the department has established a "competitive" preference, or a slight edge, to grant applications that focus on early education, college access and success, special education and limited-English-proficient students, and rural school districts. (Rural school districts have to be happy to finally get some attention from the department.)

The seven criteria by which applications will be judged are: need for the project and quality of project design, strength of research (and significance and magnitude of effect), experience of the applicant, quality of how the project will be evaluated, strategy and capacity to scale up the program, sustainability, and quality of management plan and personnel. The department notes that the criteria may apply differently to different levels of grants.

Applications will be due in early spring of 2010, with all money awarded by Sept. 30, 2010.

Now, more on what Jim Shelton, the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, told us back in August.

The awards will be divided into three categories. "Development" grants will be up to $5 million, and must be linked to programs that have "reasonable research-based finding or theories". The goal will be to further develop and scale up these programs. Interestingly, the proposed regulations say there will be a pre-application process to narrow down the potential contenders; only some will be invited to make full "development" grant applications.

The second is "validation," up to $30 million for programs with "moderate" evidence, either "high internal validity" and "medium external validity" or vice versa. The programs must be able to be scaled up to the regional or state level.

The third, and more lucrative award, is the "scale up" grant of up to $50 million. These programs need "strong" evidence with both high internal and external validity and must be able to be scaled up to the national, regional, or state level.

Just what the Department means by "moderate" or "strong" evidence is detailed in the full proposed regulations document.

Read the proposed regulations here, and let me know what you think.


The Department is really trying to push the envelope for evidence-based innovation. It is a bold step in the right direction in building from and on a knowledge base for reform. Might this be the real start of a new knowledge era in education reform?

Please consider the success of not for profit Montessori early learning programs that serve low-income children. There are many high quality full day prek-lower elementary programs, including public Montessori options, around the country that have proven track records and evidence based outcomes. Montessori is a curriculum that does meet the needs of at risk children and is validated by current brain and child development research. It would be sad if the stimulus funding to improve education left out Montessori. Please, can we not reinvent the wheel again and again and instead expose and expand the programs that are already working? Too me, this would be a prudent use of the stimulus funding. In fact, can we use Montessori as an alternative model to Head Start?

I submitted a comment, and was told I couldn't send 2 comments so soon. I did not inend to send 2--but maybe I clocked on "post" twice? Regardless I'd like one comment to be included--do you have it or do I need to send again? Jack Grayson

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