Investing in Innovation May Have Greater Reform Potential than Race to the Top

I’ve talked so much about Race to the Top, you might have gotten the idea it’s the only big federal education grant competition taking place right now.

If so, you’d be wrong. While it’s not as big as Race to the Top and that program’s $5 billion potential to leverage reform at the state level, this month opens up a $650 million U.S. Department of Education program called Investing in Innovation (i3), available to local education agencies and/or non-profit groups:

The purpose of this program is to provide competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement and attainment in order to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates.

These grants will (1) allow eligible entities to expand and develop innovative practices that can serve as models of best practices, (2) allow eligible entities to work in partnership with the private sector and the philanthropic community, and (3) identify and document best practices that can be shared and taken to scale based on demonstrated success.

Dutko Worldwide provides a very handy PDF guide (H/T Eduwonk) to those who are more interested in the details of the process, its requirements and the different types of grants available.

For now, it’s important to note that:

  • The deadline for notice of intent to apply is April 1 (no joke!)
  • The final application must be submitted to USDOE by May 11
  • For those who want to know more, there is a Pre-Application Workshop right here in Denver on March 24 from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM: those who wish to attend must register online

Even though it’s less money overall than Race to the Top, and the prizes are targeted at smaller groups, I am hopeful that we might see even more fruitful reform work from the i3 grants. Why? Because many of the innovations will be developed by individual private operators less constrained by the dictates of state bureaucracy.