Early Ed Watch

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Birth-to-Third-Grade Learning Still a Priority In the New i3

Published:  June 8, 2011

Innovators: Rev your engines. A second Investing in Innovation (i3) competition is about to get underway. Congress approved $150 million for a new round of i3 grants, one of the Obama Administration’s signature programs, and last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced guidelines and timelines for the new competition.

The “competitive priority” for early learning remains intact, as does its focus on efforts that improve educational outcomes for high-need children, birth through third grade. Those who address that priority will be eligible for one additional point, giving them – in some cases – a significant edge.

It would have been nice, of course, to see early learning elevated to an even higher priority as was the case for the emphasis on STEM and improving rural schools. Those shifts in priorities are among the department’s changes to the program this time around.  Here’s a quick comparison between this year and last year:

Key Differences Between 2011 and 2010

 i3 Guidelines

(changes to priorities bolded)

Category

2011

2010

Absolute Priorities

  • Innovations that Support Effective Teachers and Principals;
  • Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education;
  • Innovations that Complement the Implementation of High Standards and High-Quality Assessments;
  • Innovations that Turn Around Persistently Low-Performing Schools; and
  • Improving Achievement and High School Graduation Rates (Rural Local Educational Agencies)
  • Innovations that Support Effective Teachers and Principals;
  • Innovations that Improve the Use of Data;
  • Innovations that Complement the Implementation of High Standards and High-Quality Assessments; and
  • Innovations that Turn Around Persistently Low-Performing Schools

Competitive Priorities

  • Innovations for Improving Early Learning Outcomes;
  • Innovations that Support College Access and Success;
  • Innovations to Address the Unique Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students;
  • Improving Productivity; and
  • Technology
  • Innovations for Improving Early Learning Outcomes;
  • Innovations that Support College Access and Success;
  • Innovations to Address the Unique Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students; and
  • Innovations that Serve Schools in Rural LEAs

Number of Grants

  Estimated:

Scale Up: up to 2

Validation: up to 5

Development: up to 15

Total: up to 22

  Actual:

Scale Up: 4

Validation: 15

Development: 30

Total: 49

Grant Amount

 Scale Up: up to $25 million

 Validation: up to $15 million

 Development: up to $3 million

 Scale Up: up to $50 million

 Validation: up to $30 million

 Development: up to $5 million

Match Requirements

 Scale Up: 5%

 Validation: 10%

 Development: 15%

 20% match requirement for all grantees

Evidence

 IES will determine if evidence   meets requirements

 No points awarded by peer reviewers

 Points awarded by peer reviewers

The basic structure remains the same: Applicants can apply for a development, validation or scale-up grant. An evidence-based model is required. All applicants must include project evaluation by a qualified independent evaluator in their proposal.

But this year the focus on schools in rural districts has moved from a competitive priority to an absolute priority in the new competition, with an emphasis on improving achievement and high school graduation rates. The federal government has been criticized in the past for a lack of support for efforts that address the needs of rural schools.

There is also a new absolute priority for STEM. This is no surprise as the Obama Administration has touted STEM initiatives as a way to get more students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, making the U.S. more globally competitive.

There are two new competitive priorities: improving productivity and technology. Under the former, the department is looking for efforts that “significantly increase efficiency in the use of time, staff, money, or other resources while improving student learning or other educational outcomes” and under the latter, the Administration seeks initiatives “designed to improve student achievement or teacher effectiveness through the use of high-quality digital tools.” This inclusion of technology may be of some solace to organizations that are increasingly worried about losing education technology grants and Ready to Learn funding in coming budget cycles.

Since there is less money available this time around, there will also be fewer grants at lower amounts awarded. Applicants are not required to find as much matching money as last year, and the match is based on the category under which applicants submit.

Importantly, the department changed how evidence will be treated. For a good synopsis on that, read Sara Mead’s blog post on Ed Week.

Last year, organizations submitted many interesting and innovative ideas. We wrote about some of the applicants that emphasized Pre-K-3rd approaches as part of their projects. And we scrutinized the winners who included early learning as a competitive priority.

As we mentioned above, the criteria for the priority remains the same for this new round of funding. The guidelines say:

A competitive priority point will go to projects that intend to implement innovative practices, strategies, or programs that are designed to improve educational outcomes for high-need students who are young children (birth through 3rd grade) by enhancing the quality of early learning programs. Applicants must focus on:

  1. Improving young children’s school readiness (including social, emotional, and cognitive readiness) so that children are prepared for success in core academic subjects;
  2. Improving developmental milestones and standards and aligning them with appropriate outcome measures; and
  3. Improving alignment, collaboration, and transitions between early learning programs that serve children from birth to age three, in preschools, and in kindergarten through third grade.

Few 2010 winners met all three of those focus areas. Our analysis found only six out of the 13 “early learning” projects purported by the Department of Education that did. The other seven weren’t necessarily undeserving projects, but they did not completely meet the criteria for the early learning competitive priority.

Last year, more than 1,600 applications were submitted. With only a quarter of the funds that were up for grabs in the first competition, will this i3 round boast the same interest? Let us know if your organization plans to apply.

Applications are due August 2, 2011 and the department will announce the winners in December 2011.

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