Office of Innovation and Improvement Begins 2013 Investing in Innovation Competition

On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, the Department of Education announced the start of the 2013 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program competition. The Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for the pre-application process for the Development category and the Notice of Final Priorities for the overall i3 program were published the same day in the Federal Register.

The Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement and the i3 team are looking forward to a successful competition, beginning with the pre-application process for the Development competition, to be followed by the announcement of the Validation and Scale-up competitions later this spring. This year’s competition includes a few changes from previous i3 competitions that are designed to incorporate lessons learned from the first three years, while maintaining the dual goals of supporting new innovations and scaling effective ones.

The original i3 priorities (from 2010) were written broadly to encourage the field to develop a range of interventions; this year, i3 established subparts under each broader priority area in order to encourage a varied portfolio of innovations in areas of particular need. For the FY 2013 Development competition, prospective applicants will select one of eight Absolute Priorities (for the first time, the competition is not using competitive priorities). These Absolute Priorities are:

  • Improving the Effectiveness of Teachers or Principals;
  • Improving Low-Performing Schools;
  • Improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education;
  • Improving Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities;
  • Improving Academic Outcomes for English Learners (ELs);
  • Improving Parent and Family Engagement;
  • Effective Use of Technology; and
  • Serving Rural Communities.

Within each of these Absolute Priorities, applicants are asked to focus on a particular subpart. For example, under Improving Low-Performing Schools, applicants can specifically address recruiting, developing, or retaining highly effective staff to work in low-performing schools.

The Development competition’s new structure – featuring more Absolute Priorities, no competitive priorities, and the addition of subparts under each Absolute Priority – addresses particular challenges in public education for which we are eager to surface solutions. For example, this is the first time that improving outcomes for students with disabilities and English learners, and supporting the effective use of technology are structured as Absolute Priorities, and we are excited about the new prospects for innovative practices to emerge from applicants writing specifically to these priorities. We hasten to note, though, that focus on these populations isn’t new for i3 grantees: to date, nearly 50 grantees are serving either students with disabilities or English learners, more than 25 grantees are serving students in rural areas, and more than 20 grantees are serving student populations that include early learners and pre-school-age children.

While serving early learners is not an explicit priority in this competition, the importance of early learning and effective pre-K programs is well-documented, and we expect to continue to see applicants proposing innovative practices that serve those students again this year. In addition, the i3 program maintains its steadfast focus on high-need students, by encouraging applicants to serve a wide range of high-need populations through innovative practices that improve educational outcomes. One of the Department’s top priorities is, as always, to support practices that effectively serve all students.

This year’s competition also clarifies and strengthens the i3 program’s evaluation and evidence requirements. Evidence standards and definitions are now designed to enable applicants to better understand what is required to meet each level of evidence, particularly for “moderate” evidence. By concurrently raising the bar for the higher evidence standards and including a new evidence standard at the lower end, we will both better support novel, innovative concepts and build rigorous evidence about what works in education.

An important (and statutory) component of the i3 program is the public‑private partnership achieved through a private-sector matching requirement (in cash or in-kind). The private sector continues to be an integral partner for i3 projects. We have heard repeatedly from private-sector partners about their enthusiasm for the program – and about some of the logistical difficulties of making a matching commitment to an i3 grantee under the Department’s prior process. While all i3 grantees have successfully secured their full matching funds – and no i3 grantees have “lost” federal i3 funds because of any subsequent issues with their matches – the Department is committed to ensuring that these public-private partnerships are robust and meaningful. For that reason, we have changed the structure of the matching requirement: only 50 percent of the required 15-percent match for Development grantees will need to be secured prior to the awarding of the grant; the remaining 50 percent of the match will need to be secured within six months of the grant project’s launch.

The first three years of the i3 competition have produced interesting projects from a group of committed and geographically diverse grantees, serving the needs of students all along the grade-school continuum. The Department looks forward to the potential the fourth year holds and the innovative practices yet to be shared.

As the 2013 competition begins, you can email with questions regarding the competition. Additionally, we are looking for individuals to serve as peer reviewers for the FY 2013 i3 grant competition from various backgrounds and professions. Reviewers must have expertise in at least one of the program’s Absolute Priorities or in educational evaluation. If you are interested in serving as a peer reviewer, please click here.

Blog posted by Carol Lyons, director of OII’s Office of Investing in Innovation, and the i3 team.