According to U.S. Department of Education (ED) data, 587 applicants are vying for awards in the second round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) competitive grant program. Under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), $650 million was allocated for i3 awards in 2010 and, in the fiscal 2011 budget, Congress appropriated an additional $150 million for second round of i3 awards in 2011. ED’s website states that the purpose of the i3 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 growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates.
In the first round of the competition, only 49 out of nearly 1,700 applicants were awarded grants. An October 25, 2011 Education Week article online reported that 300 of the 587 round 2 applicants were also applicants in round 1. Each applicant’s proposal was required to address one of ED’s five Absolute Priorities: Teachers and Principals, Standards and Assessments, Low-Performing Schools, Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education, or Improving Rural Achievement. Of those options, STEM Education was the most frequent selection. Applicants can earn competitive preference points for up to two of ED’s five Competitive Preference Priorities: Early Learning, College Access and Success, Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficiency, Productivity, and Technology. Individual awards will range from up to $3 million for proposals for development projects, up to $15 million for validation projects, and up to $25 million for scale-up projects. ED’s data reflects that 81% of the round 2 applicants submitted proposals for development projects which required the least amount of evidence to support the project’s ultimate success. Only 2% of the applicants submitted proposals for scale-up projects which required significantly greater evidence of the potential for the project’s success. ED plans to announce the highest-rated applicants within a few weeks and the winners will be announced in December.
An October 26th Education Week article online reports that ED’s i3 tier model of awarding the largest grants for project proposals that demonstrate the most evidence to support the project’s potential for success may become “the new norm” for awarding grants for federal education and social programs. As examples, the article cites five other federal grant programs that are using tiered levels of grant awards to encourage research to support grant proposals. The programs include: the $125 million Workforce Innovation Fund sponsored by ED and the Department of Labor to develop and scale up strategies to improve education and employment for workers; the $2 billion Department of Labor initiative to create education and career-training programs for dislocated workers; and the $105 million initiative to support the Department of Health and Human Services in developing evidenced-based, teenage-pregnancy-prevention programs. The article points out that there is some criticism of the evidence-based model, one being that it results in more losers than winners and less sharing of the money.