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Who Shouldn't Bother Applying for i3?

Those who don't know what the terms "internal validity" and "external validity" mean.

That's the message that came through loud and clear at Friday's technical assistance planning seminar in Baltimore, which the U.S. Department of Education put on to help folks navigate the Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant application process.

This $650 million grant program is open to school districts, and nonprofits that partner with a school district or a consortium of public schools. Applications are due May 11, with awards announced in September. And if attendance at Friday's seminar was any indication, the department is going to need a ton of peer reviewers to handle all of the applications. More than 400 people attended, with 1,000 online, and a crowd of wait-listed people gathered outside the hotel ballroom just in case there were no-shows. My sense was the audience was made up mostly of representatives from nonprofits and foundations.

When it comes to i3, here's what seems to matter most: Evidence. Evidence. Evidence.

If you don't have the right kind of evidence, or enough evidence to support your vision, you will be disqualified by the department from the get-go. And the quality of evidence is judged by internal and external validity (and if you don't know what those terms mean, ED's i3 czar Jim Shelton says you need to find someone who does and partner with them).

The evidence requirement is so important that the department will be sponsoring a webinar at a later date to address the myriad of questions that still persist.

In the simplest terms, the largest $50 million grants require the strongest evidence, or high internal and external validity. But even the smallest, $5 million development grants, which can be based on a "reasonable hypothesis," must have been tested or studied in some way, according to a new frequently-asked-questions document now available on the department's web site.

Of course, to win an i3 grant, you also need a great idea, too.

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