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News on Competitions Off the Beaten Track

Competing for research dollars is, of course, routine in education research. Here's some news, though, about a couple of research competitions that aren't so routine.

For the first competition, the National Council on Teacher Quality is offering cash for good proposals for studies on topics that don't often get attention from education researchers—collective-bargaining agreements, school board policies, and state laws on teacher quality and student achievement.

This is only the second time the Washington-based group has sponsored this unusual competition, which is open to anyone regardless of academic rank or student status. And this time, as was the case last time, the proposals are being judged by a team of prominent scholars on teacher quality. (Last year's judges were Jane Hannaway, Eric Hanushek, Susan Moore Johnson, and Michael Podgursky.)

The judges will meet in June to select up to 12 semi-finalists who will receive $5,000 each to develop their proposals into full-blown academic papers. Of the finished papers, the best five to eight will be selected for presentation at a national conference in 2011. The first-prize winner gets another $10,000 and the second-prize winner will receive an additional $5,000. Winners also get an endorsement from the judges when they're ready to publish their final papers in an academic journal.

To learn more about how the the first competition went, see this story that my colleague Stephen Sawchuk wrote in 2009. You can find the guidelines for this year's competition here. Better hurry, though, the deadline is June 10.

The second competition, which may well be among the first education-related business plan competitions in the country, is in keeping with the growing national emphasis on innovation in education. Sponsored by the Milken Family Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania's graduate school of education, this contest seeks innovative ideas on teaching and learning, access to education and data systems, and educational infrastructure. Too late to apply, though. The finalists have already been chosen for this year. Their ideas, which are scheduled to be presented at Penn on June 3, include a tool to make online testing more secure, software for streamlining the human resources management processes, and a mobile educational-resource center that runs on vegetable oil and brings learning to disadvantaged children in the Philippines.

The judges for the final round include entrepreneurs from the worlds of education, venture capital, and digital services. The winning idea will get $25,000; the runner-up gets $15,000. That may be a drop in the bucket compared to the grants coming out of the federal education department's $650 million Investing in Innovation program but, for a student looking for cash to start up a new idea, it's not exactly chump change, either.

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