[Note: This is the first in what is likely to be a long series of pieces on educational issues, federal funding for school reform and innovation, and related topics. My interest in these issues has grown over the past four years as I have taken on new opportunities at Focus: HOPE, but I do not intend to discuss matters particular to my employer here. Instead, I will write more broadly about education and federal funding for improvement and the implications of such for Detroit and Michigan. -RMD]
Though it has not received the same level of press attention as the $4.3 billion Race to the Top (RTTP) competition, the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund, also in the Department of Education and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), is a very interesting opportunity for educational reform and improvement. According to the Department:
“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.”
- Transition to High School: Marygrove College Consortium to Deliver Innovative Science/Technology/Arts Education in Seven Middle Schools (Marygrove College)
- Detroit Public Schools: Leadership Academy (DPS)
- Detroit Public Schools: Engaging in Education a PK-14 Model (DPS)
- Academic Advocacy (The Front Porch)
- Achieving Nationally Competitive College Readiness for Low-Income African American Children (University Preparatory Academy)
- Turning Around the Nations Dropout Epidemic by Improving Teacher Effectiveness (Wayne State University)
- DEPSA Replication Project (DEPSA)
In addition to these, there were several other applicants of note:
- Wrap-Around Tutoring: Using Academic Support to Increase Academic Achievement, High School Graduation and College Enrollment (Eastern Michigan University)
- Jackson Community College’s College Preparedness Program (JCC)
- i3 Instructional Innovations Involving Hybrid Technological Pdagogy [sic] (Lawrence Technological University)
- American Virtual Learning Cloud (Michigan Virtual University)
- PEACE–Promoting Equal Access for College Entrance (Pontiac Public Schools)
- Southfield Public Schools Comprehensive College Support System (Southfield Public Schools)
- A Model for Promoting Evaluation-based Reform in Education: Project AMPERE (Wayne County RESA)
- Youth Empowerment and Equitable Mathematics Literacy Instruction as Organizing Tools for Changing Regional Cultures Around STEM (University of Michigan)
A few interesting notes and my initial observations:
- DEPSA has requested $5 million to open 15 new schools in Detroit by 2020. DEPSA’s Superintendent, Ralph Bland, is someone I have gotten to know over the past few years and I am quite curious about his ambitious proposal.
- The Institute for Arts Infused Education (IAIE) at Marygrove has applied for $2.3 million to establish “arts-infused education units in grades 6-8 wherein students use arts and technology to investigate renewable resources, clean energy, and environmentally responsible living.” Partners include DAFT, InsideOut, Matrix Theater, and Harmonie Park. It is not clear which schools will benefit from this, as the site lists Saginaw, Detroit, and Dearborn as the project locations.
- DPS has applied for $5 million for its “Leadership Academy” but there is no abstract on the site. Listed partners include the Broad Academy, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, MSU, U-M, WSU, the Skillman Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.
- DPS has also applied for $5,000,001 (?) for its “Engaging in Education a PK-14 Model” project. Listing the same partners as the above (with the exception of the Broad Academy), it intends to “design a program and facility to support a high school and a two year post-secondary educational program to be housed on a campus shared with a new PreK-8 school” at the site of the new MLK High School.
- The Front Porch, an organization that according to its site serves 50 children in “the neighborhood on the Eastside of Detroit near Kelly Road,” has requested $2.3 million over four years (as opposed to the five-year standard chosen by most applicants) to “provide academic advocates for individual students who form a positive helping relationship with the child and their family, help s/he access resources and services and follow up after.” It aims to serve 100 children per year.
- University Preparatory Academy has requested $2.0 million “to graduate the UPA class of 2015 college ready as measured by the ACT College Readiness standards” through implementation of the International Baccalaureate middle years program and ACT Quality Core Program, and an additional 90 minutes of daily instruction in the middle and high schools. No partners are identified.
- JCC‘s $1.1 million request is “to identify qualifying at-risk students in the 6th grade and provide them with a full-ride scholarship to JCC if they complete all the program requirements.”
- LTU requested $756,297 for its project but did not submit with their application the abstract, so no further information is available. My assumption is that they may not have completed this application.
- Southfield Public Schools requested $2.8 million for “the initiation and expansion of programs and high quality assessments that complement innovative programming currently in place in the district,” listing WSU and the College Board as partners.
- The U of M application for $4.7 million is rather interesting: “Educators from University of Michigan and Washtenaw Intermediate School District, in partnership with the Algebra Project (AP) and the Young Peoples Project (YPP), propose building a regional network/system of nationally-networked, diverse learning communities focused on equitable instruction in mathematics.” There are some strange aspects to this application (the applicant is actually “The Regents of the University of Michigan,” but they identify here as a “nonprofit” and not as an institution of higher education). Detroit is listed as one of the areas affected, but it is not clear how.
- Wayne RESA requested $8.9 million “to validate a model for the delivery of in-service training for teachers that has been proven effective in changing teacher practice and increasing student achievement.” U-M Dearborn and Moore and Associates are listed as partners, though it is not clear who Moore and Associates is.
- The Wayne State University Research and Technology Park in Detroit (Tech Town) requested $5.3 million, but the actual work of the project is unclear, as it appears the text of the abstract may have been distorted in conversion to this database. Partners include “Clarke [sic] Atlanta University” ($1.2 million) and QWK2LRN ($3.5 million).
So who will win? Which innovations will the Department invest in? Decisions are not expected until September and with 1,698 applications to review, the Department and its reviewers have their work cut out for them. The applications are actually divided into three categories (development, validation, and scale-up) with their own maximum funding levels ($5, $30, and $50 million per grant, respectively). The maximum number of awards the Department can make across all categories is just over 200, so competition is fierce.
Personally, I am hopeful that some of the more innovative proposals from Michigan – and the Detroit area in particular – will be funded. Michigan missed out on the first round of Race to the Top funding and is awaiting a decision on the second round, where the remainder of the funds are to be allocated. Especially in a cash-strapped state like Michigan, it is clear that an infusion of federal funds is needed to encourage and support innovation and make meaningful change to the “status quo” of education.
I am also curious about the future of the i3 program. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been vocal about the need for applicants, educators, and anyone concerned about these issues to advocate for further funding for i3 and similar initiatives. Will the most successful of these projects be developed into new funding opportunities for replication in other places? Will another round of i3 funding use a similar application process to this one? These questions and many more remain to be answered.
Still, it is hard not to be excited about the opportunities that exist with these large federal investments in education and innovation. It is also hard to not be a little nervous about the whole process, as it would be a horrible opportunity to blow on “more of the same.”
What do you think? Do any of these projects sound particularly valuable or interesting to you? If you were selecting winners, would you select any of these discussed above?