i3 Grant Provides STEM Graduation Path for Colorado Students

Skyline High School students show their math and science skills through trebuchet building during the summer session of STEM Academy. Eighty-eight students participated in this summer’s 4-week program funded by an i3 grant.

Thanks to the implementation of a five-year, $3.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Skyline High School in Longmont, Colo., is getting a second chance.  Six years ago, Skyline was considered a “ghetto school with low expectations and low requirements,” said principal Patty Quinones. Today, everyone is focused on the bright future ahead. “It is exciting now to see families talking realistically about college,” she said.

The exciting changes at Skyline are in large part due to the school’s STEM Academy program—made possible through the 2010 i3 grant. The Academy focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum and includes collaboration between the St. Vrain Valley School District and the University of Colorado Boulder. The Academy’s goal is to provide 400 high school students with an alternative path to graduation through a STEM certificate program. This program develops students’ 21st century skills to prepare them for future career opportunities.

The i3 STEM Academy project, which will operate through the end of the 2014–15 school year, also addresses the literacy and mathematics achievement needs of 400 elementary and 550 middle schools students in feeder schools to Skyline High School. Working with the elementary and middle school students ensures better preparation for the STEM curricula in the high school program.  As a development grant in the i3 program, this K–12 project intends, by the end of its fifth year, to sustain its efforts across the three grade levels, and to replicate them in schools throughout the St. Vrain Valley School District.

During the STEM Academy’s 2009-10 inaugural year, 103 ninth- and tenth-grade students began the program; during this school year there are 291 students, with 41 graduating this spring. Students who satisfy the requirements of the STEM Academy program are guaranteed admission to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science because of the school’s direct partnership with the University.

Skyline High School student works on her field rocket project during the summer session of STEM Academy.

Regina Renaldi, St. Vrain’s executive director of priority programs, says that the unique requirement of the i3 grant has built bridges between the business community and the St. Vrain school community.  “Our partnership [with corporations] allows students the opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field; students participate in roundtables discussions and design challenges where brainstorming and feedback are from engineers and scientists,” she said.  “Students aren’t interested in simulations; they want real-world opportunities for thinking, learning and problem-solving.”

The director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Muñoz, recently visited Skyline High School for a roundtable discussion on Career and Technical Education with Colorado educators and business leaders. The roundtable began after a tour of the school, which included visiting with elementary and high school students.  Promising to share what she saw  with her colleagues in the West Wing of the White House, Muñoz said, “I can assure you I’ll take this back to Washington. It’s going to inform the work that we’re doing in the educational sphere.”

While it is still too early to conclude how the i3 project has affected long-term student outcomes, the i3 grant has enabled a school that was once dismissed as a lost cause to have a positive impact on the outcomes of its current students. Through this program, these students now see their dreams of going to college as a reality. “We are doing true transformation here; not just shifting kids from one school to another,” said Don Haddad, superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District. “This is what real reform looks like.”

Diana Huffman is a public affairs specialist in ED’s Denver Regional Office

On Dec 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the St. Vrain Valley School District was one of 16 winners of the Race to the Top – District Competition.

Early Math Teachers Celebrate ‘Critical Thinking, Not Correct Answers’

With math literacy a must for most jobs in our knowledge economy, Secretary Duncan has called math teachers “our nation-builders of the future.” Yet, just 40 percent of 4th-graders and 35 percent of 8th-graders are proficient in math, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Playing Games at Diego School

Student Richard Mitchell III and his dad, Richard Mitchell Jr. enjoy a math game that uses the Candy Land board game with kindergarten teacher Heather Gustafson during a Family Game Evening at Jose de Diego Community Academy.

Aimed at increasing young students’ proficiency in math, Chicago’s Erikson Institute is transforming how teachers in pre-K through 3rd grade approach mathematics lessons through a research-based training funded by a five-year, $5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant awarded by ED in 2010.  i3 “Development” grants support new and high-potential practices to improve student learning, and pairs that support with funding to evaluate the impact of the practices.

Through Erikson’s Early Mathematics Education Project, teachers are trained to lead “classrooms that celebrate critical thinking, not correct answers,” according to Erikson Senior Instructor Rebeca Itzkowich. For this i3 grant, teachers at eight public elementary schools in Chicago are participating in the professional development, which will ultimately support more than 4,500 students each year.

The project’s professional development includes learning labs, individualized coaching, school-based learning groups, and classroom implementation. Erikson’s professional development model produced almost three additional months of mathematics learning during a school year, in comparison to a matched contrast group, and helped teachers narrow the math achievement gap before children entered elementary school.

These new strategies fueled a new energy around math lessons for teacher Michelle Quinton and her 2nd graders at Federico Garcia Lorca Elementary School in Chicago.

“Students’ attitudes have been extremely different. They are excited. They are verbal.  They are expressing themselves in new ways.  They now feel success where they hadn’t before,” said Quinton, who participated in Erikson training throughout the 2011-2012 school year.

Some of Quinton’s new practices have more to do with what she doesn’t do, than what she does. For example, when pupils struggle with problems, she often steps aside to let them work out solutions with their classmates rather giving them quick answers.

“Kids hearing it from me doesn’t always work. Kids hearing it from other kids has been a huge success,” she said.

Recognizing that kids learn differently and don’t respond equally well to common math processes, Erikson’s training also filled teachers’ “toolboxes” with multiple calculation methods for math operations.

“For different kids, certain algorithms make more sense and are more comfortable; it’s like different shoes for different people,” said Itzkowich. “We all have different shortcuts to get to the same place.”

While teacher training to improve instruction is the heart of the project, family help outside of school is vital. To ensure that math reinforcement was successful, Erikson took into account the realities of modern family life, said Itzkowich.

“We had to find ways that parents felt successful supporting their kids’ mathematics learning that are pleasurable and can be incorporated into their home life,” she said, noting that after long days at work, “parents often have a hard enough time just making dinner, getting their kids to eat and brush their teeth.”

Using items that many families already had in their homes — like beans, dice and board games such as Candy Land — Erikson faculty members provide teachers with simple games that engage young students in mathematical learning and understanding in a fun way.  Teachers, in turn, shared these activities with their students and parents at “Family Game Evenings” during the school year.

“Parents left the classrooms feeling like ‘I never thought this had so much mathematical  possibilities, this is fun and I can definitely  do this,’” said Itzkowich.

Erikson Institute is one of 72 organizations awarded funding by ED in the first two years of the i3 program, which supports the development and scaling of ambitious, effective practices that improve student achievement. The program encourages school districts, nonprofit organizations and local partners with a record of achievement to work together on innovative efforts. Applicants must have a history of closing achievement gaps, improving student achievement, increasing high school graduation rates, and/or increasing college enrollment and completion rates. Awards for 2012 will be announced later this year.

Julie Ewart is the director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office

Schools That Can

Shelton Visits Berea Clay

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton talks with students during a stop at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky as part of the Department's back-to-school bus tour.

For each of the last three years, Secretary Duncan has started the school year with a bus tour visiting schools and communities across the country to find what’s working in education and to hear the concerns, insights, and lessons learned from students, teachers, principals, parents, and the communities supporting them. It’s always a welcome grounding in “real education” — the kind that children and families experience everyday — versus the “education system” policymakers and pundits love to caricature and debate.

This year, I participated more fully than I have in years past — visiting schools, grantees, education reformers, and advocates in California, Missouri, and Kentucky.

In California, I watched a Sequoia High School (Redwood City) student, who entered the school as an English Learner, introduce the music video he produced with his classmates on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to an audience of more than 500 attendees. Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, then shared anecdotes of individual students, whole classes, and entire schools achieving dramatic gains and fundamentally changing learning and teaching practices.

Shelton discussing eMints

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed eMINTS during a "Education Drives America" bus tour stop at the University of Missouri.

In Missouri, I visited the New Franklin School to see Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grantee eMINTS at work. Teachers and students were using relevant and engaging project-based and personalized learning powered by technology to improve student engagement, effort, and outcomes. A class of self-directed 5th-grade teams pursued Web quests on American Indian civilizations. High school juniors and seniors completed self-paced accounting courses. Teachers spoke of being renewed by the approach and the new tools. Everyone used words like “ownership,” “empowered,” and “independence” to describe the shift in the school’s learning culture. All of this was especially exciting after hearing from school and system leaders working hard to implement the program despite the challenges of decreased funding, lack of technology infrastructure, and burdensome regulation.

In Kentucky, I visited Sayre School, a high-performing and well-resourced independent school focused on building great character as well as providing rigorous learning opportunities. The students showed extraordinary poise and confidence as we discussed the relative strengths of their program and the infusion of technology as a new, but increasingly ubiquitous, tool. This visit served as an excellent benchmark as I traveled to rural Kentucky to visit the i3 Development and Promise Neighborhoods (PN) Implementation grantee, Berea College, to see their work at Clay County High School (CCHS).

Clay County suffers from all of the ills often associated with Appalachia; but CCHS has leveraged the PN and i3 grants to substantially increase the number of AP classes offered and multiply the number of students taking AP classes and, most importantly, passing AP exams with a score of 3 or better. They’ve used the PN grant to create more comprehensive and coherent student supports that have begun to reverse the dropout trend and increase college going.  Teachers and students spoke eloquently about the impact these efforts have had, not only on their practices, but also on their belief systems.

One student in particular helped me synthesize everything that I had seen in the past two weeks. As I was ending my visit at CCHS with a student roundtable, I asked the students what impacts the programs had on the school and them. They spoke about the access to more AP courses, the heroic efforts of the new academic specialists to keep kids in school, the impact of grant-funded college visits, and the difference tiny amounts of resources made to teachers who cared but had nothing to work with. Then one standout student I had met earlier in the day, Rex, said:

I know I talked about the AP classes; but that’s not the most important thing.  And, I know I talked about the resources—ROTC students finally having real equipment after having used brooms for years—but that’s not the most important thing. CCHS used to be an I-can’t-school… Now, we are an I-can-school… I can take AP courses. I can go to college. I can do better than my parents.

Evidenced-based programs, technology, professional development, funding — I firmly believe all these are important; but in the end, nothing is more powerful than schools, teachers, and students that believe they can.

The question that motivates me is, what combinations of tools, resources, and know-how can make every school an I-can-school?

Jim Shelton is assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education

Click here to keep up with news and other developments of the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) by receiving email alerts about new posts on the OII news page

Reading Recovery: i3 Grantee Has Immediate Impact on Young Readers

When young children struggle to read, they can quickly fall behind their classmates in a number of subjects. Teachers with the 27-year old Reading Recovery program work one-on-one with 1st graders to rapidly reverse that descent, developing tailored strategies that respond to individual students’ unique hurdles in processing text.

“Over the past few weeks, I have seen such a change in my students,” said Amarisa Fuentes, an Elkins Elementary teacher in Fort Worth. “They came to me knowing only a few words and now they are reading and taking risks without fear of failure.”  Thanks to Texas Woman’s University’s $3.7 million share of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, her school is offering the early literacy intervention program for the first time.

A child and teacher use magnetic numbers.

Magnetic letters are often used in Reading Recovery lessons as children learn how letters and words work.

Texas Woman’s University is one of 19 colleges nationwide that is benefitting from a $46 million i3 grant that ED awarded to Ohio State University in 2010 to expand teacher training for Reading Recovery with the goal of training enough teachers to help 88,700 students by the end of 2013.

Reading Recovery is a research-based intervention strategy developed in New Zealand in the 1970s that came to the U.S. through Ohio State in 1984.  As noted in its i3 Scale-up application, “Reading Recovery has gone through a 25-year period of development and validation, producing the largest impacts on student reading skills of any intervention reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse. With its evidence of effectiveness in beginning reading intervention in all four reading domain outcomes — Alphabetics, Reading Fluency, Comprehension, and General Reading Achievement — the successful application was one of only four Scale-up grants in the initial round of i3 funding.

“We target 1st graders who are in the bottom 20% of their class for reading development and work with them daily for 12-20 weeks to bring them up to average level for their class,” said Jim Schnug, project administrator of Reading Recovery’s i3 grant at Ohio State University.

The i3 grant funds year-long professional development that even longtime teachers find “intensive.” Along with graduate coursework, the training requires future Reading Recovery educators to conduct lessons with coaches and classmates observing and providing feedback.

“It’s good to have another set of eyes and ears with you in the classroom.  It causes you to be very reflective about what you do and why you do it, and to learn new strategies,” said Eastgate Elementary School teacher Benita Smith, a 17-year veteran educator in Ohio’s Columbus City Schools who is now a Reading Recover teacher-in-training in OSU’s program.

Data bear out Reading Recovery’s success.  According to Schnug, the program has successfully enabled 75 percent of its students to reach their classmates’ average reading levels.  They then return to regular reading lessons with their peers and most maintain average or better proficiency with occasional “check-ups” from Reading Recovery.  Perhaps the most stirring proof of the program’s results come from those who know its students the best, though.

After having a tough time in kindergarten, 1st grader Jaylen Gamble “likes to show off by reading to everybody,” said Jaylen’s grandfather Dan Cunningham.

“My son is now reading everything he sees – magazines, stuff on cell phones….even the back of our bottle of bubble bath,” said Brandie Poindexter of her son, Ikiam Pass. “I’m so proud of him.”

“One parent told me he had never seen his child make so much progress in a short amount of time,” said Fuentes, in describing the impact of Reading Recovery in her class. “Tears came to his eyes as he watched his son read a book for the first time.”

With children’s self-confidence a precious and easily-lost commodity, time is a critical element of the program.

“We use the word ‘acceleration’ a lot.  We can’t waste time,” said Schnug.

–Julie Ewart and Patrick Kerr are the communications directors in ED’s Chicago and Kansas City Regional Offices

Duncan Talks College Affordability in South Carolina

Secretary Duncan and Congressman Clyburn

Secretary Duncan and Congressman Clyburn are greeted by a student at James Simons Elementary School in North Charleston

“If college is unaffordable, then it will become unattainable,” Secretary Arne Duncan tweeted while in South Carolina last Friday during a one-day, three-city visit that focused on innovative education reform and keeping college affordable for America’s families.

Duncan began the day in North Charleston, and joined Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.), students, teachers, business leaders and policymakers for a roundtable discussion on school reform, bullying and community engagement. “Education is an investment, not an expense,” Arne said at James Simon Elementary. “We have to education our way to a better economy.”

The Secretary and the Congressman also stopped at Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton where they joined former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley to speak with students and teachers about the school’s “Creating a Corridor of Innovation” program.

With the help of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from ED, Scott’s Branch is implementing a New Tech High School model that is infused with the latest technology for education, and implements a project-based learning approach that can help increase college and career readiness in high-poverty rural areas.

Duncan and Clyburn ended the day by hosting a college affordability town hall with students at Allen University in Columbia, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

Click here for more information on the Obama Administration’s plan to keep college affordable.

i3 Grant Puts “I” in Team

As a 9th grade counselor at St. Louis Park Senior High School in suburban Minneapolis, Angie Jerabek was jarred by the 45 percent failure rate posted by the school’s freshmen in 1998.  She responded to the challenge by developing a structured, tag-team approach called Building Assets Reducing Risks (BARR) that cut her school’s 9th grade failure rates in half. It also more than doubled the number of students choosing to take rigorous Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes over the past 14 years.  St. Louis Park—a diverse school of about 1,300 students with about one-third of them low income—additionally credits significant decreases in truancy and discipline problems to BARR.

St. Louis Park Students

St. Louis Park students get extra math help at a learning lab implemented this year as part of the Search Institute’s i3 grant. From left to right are 12th grader Sam Lieberthal, Math Resource Teacher Will Tanberg, 12th Grader Shukri Ali, 10th grader Avril Bowling, and 9th grader Eric Ndon. Photo courtesy of St. Louis Park Senior High School.

In 2010, ED awarded a $5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to fund BARR’s expansion to 10th-12th grades at St. Louis Park, and to 9th grades at three high schools in Maine and California. The grantee is the Search Institute, the long-time training and technical assistance collaborator with BARR. Another partner is College Possible, a nonprofit that employs AmeriCorps members to help low-income students get into college and succeed there through intensive coaching. 

I visited St. Louis Park earlier this month to learn firsthand about this innovative program and had the opportunity to talk with Jerabek and others. The premise is simple. Currently, teams of 9th-grade teachers, counselors, social workers and others are assigned “blocks” of freshmen. They regularly collaborate to discuss individual students’ progress, identify challenges and prescribe interventions as needed. All team members are responsible for the overall progress of all students in their blocks.

“High school teachers tend to work in silos,” said Jerabek, now the i3 BARR Innovation Project Director for the Search Institute.

“We have a different mindset here.  We’re teaching people, not math,” said St. Louis Park Principal Robert Metz, a former elementary school principal. He sees correlations between the strong teacher-student relationships typically developed in primary grades and the connections that BARR builds in high schools.

The team concept itself isn’t new to all high school teachers, and “some arrive at St. Louis Park jaded by other districts’ efforts,” said Justin Barbeau, a veteran teacher who is now St. Louis Park Public Schools’ i3 coordinator.

“The difference here is the structure,” said Barbeau.  “Not all teachers are good at making or leveraging relationships.  BARR provides training and clear steps that make this work.”  The i3 funding expands that training to St. Louis Park’s teachers who work with 10th - through 12th-grade students. It also includes scaling up the program for 9th grade teachers and students in Bucksport and Sanford, Maine and Hemet, Calif. schools.  Ten new positions have been created at St. Louis Park as a result of i3 funding, and it’s supporting four new jobs at the Maine and California schools.

The individualized attention afforded students through the BARR approach also makes strong impressions on parents—critical partners in the program’s success. “A mom—new to St. Louis Park – raved about a call she’d gotten from a teacher,” said Brad Brubaker, a teacher helping to lead the 10th grade transition. “The teacher just wanted the mom to know that her daughter was doing really well in all of her classes. This mother had never gotten a call like that from a teacher before.”

Julie Ewart, Office of Communications and Outreach, Great Lakes Region   

‘Investing in Innovation’ Creates STEM Awards

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

The Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition provides funding to school districts and non-profit organizations around the country to develop new approaches to longstanding challenges in education.  Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 23 applicants who will receive grants from the 2011 i3 competition. For the first time, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education was a priority of the competition.  Five of the 23 awards will address that critical area and include programs devoted to:

Other areas that i3 grants will address include teacher and principal effectiveness; high-quality standards and assessments; turning around low-performing schools; and improving rural achievement. Some of the projects in these areas will:

In addition to the $148 million in funding provided by the Department of Education, the applicants raised $18 million in private-sector commitments from a wide range of philanthropic organizations, local businesses, and individuals.

More information about all of the 2011 grantees is available on the i3 website. Information about all applicants is available at data.ed.gov.

Jefferson Pestronk is Special Assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education

A Network of Strong Supporters for Brown Street Academy, Milwaukee

Many senior staffers at the Department of Education hit the road last week as part of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour. On Thursday, ED’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss, visited Brown Street Academy, a designated Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to accompany Weiss and several members of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on a tour of this facility. Later we met with educational stakeholders who are deeply invested in Brown Street’s success.

Walking into the school quickly took me back to my own elementary schools days some 35 years ago. Bright sunshine streamed in through the tall windows as the sound of our shoes echoed on the polished wood floors. I peeked in through open classroom doors to see butterflies on bulletin boards, desks in neat rows, and students peeking back out at me. I began to wonder, “What is so special about this school?”

At the conclusion of the tour, we were led to a room where fifteen individuals were eagerly waiting to share the ways they are engaged in improving reading proficiency at Brown Street Academy. Representatives from non-profit and business groups, parent organizations, teachers and others described their contributions to the i3 Milwaukee Community Literacy Project–now located in seven elementary schools. Students identified as struggling readers are assigned to an AmeriCorps tutor. The tutor is trained by and works closely with the site teacher and University of Milwaukee facilitators. Parent liaisons open up and maintain the lines of communications with parents. Business partners and non-profits augment grants with additional funds to keep everything running smoothly.

Weiss seemed impressed by combined efforts and commented, “I challenge you to continue to promote community connections…and scale up and share what you’re doing with other communities.”

Yes, community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools are working together to increase reading proficiency, but they are also promoting a sense of ownership in the process. As Tom Devine, Executive Director of Wisconsin AmeriCorps said, “We are interested in the test scores but we are also really interested to see if these kids volunteer at a later date. When we see neighbors helping neighbors, that’s a success story.”

Leah Lechleiter-Luke

Leah Lechleiter-Luke is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches English and Spanish in Mouston, Wisconsin.

See an article on the OII homepage about early learning projects supported by the i3 Fund by clicking here.

Launching the FY2011 Investing in Innovation (i3) Competition

Today, the U.S. Department of Education launched the 2011 Investing in Innovation (i3) competition.  This second round of i3 makes $150 million available to school districts and non-profit organizations to continue support of innovative approaches that significantly improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement, engagement and attainment.

In 2010, the i3 competition received an unprecedented response. Nearly 1,700 applicants vied for $650 million in funding, and 49 organizations received awards ranging from $3 million to $50 million dollars. Information about last year’s applicants is available at data.ed.gov.

This year’s competition has changed to take into consideration feedback from the field, what Secretary Duncan has called the “new normal”—the need to do more with less—and the administration’s focus on preparing our young people to win the future by improving STEM education.

The 2011 i3 competition marks an important milestone in realizing the full vision of the program—to find and fund the best ideas of educators and non-profits throughout the country in order to create a robust portfolio of innovative solutions with evidence of their effectiveness.  The design of i3—three levels of grants, from $3 million to $25 million, based on the simple notion that promising ideas with little evidence can receive limited funding and proposals supported by a lot of evidence can receive substantial funding—reinforces the Department’s conviction that evidence matters and the goal of creating a pipeline of promising solutions that grows what works.

In response to substantial feedback from prior applicants and other stakeholders, the Department has simplified the i3 competition for 2011. The simplifications include fewer selection criteria and a smaller percentage of required private sector matching funds.

The Department also has included new priorities in the i3 competition that reflect key areas of reform. STEM education, a cross-cutting Administration priority, is now an absolute priority. In recognition of the need to improve educational opportunities for rural students, improving rural achievement is also now an absolute priority. Two new competitive preference priorities, improving productivity and improved use of educational technology, reflect the “new normal” and the need for schools and districts to improve performance with flat or declining budgets.

Other key design components that remain from the 2010 competition include:

  • Requirement to implement practices, strategies, or programs for high-need students;
  • Emphasis on sustainability and scalability; and
  • Rigorous independent evaluations of all grant projects.

To support potential applicants, the Department will be hosting three pre-application workshops and webinars.  The Development, Validation, and Scale-up application packages, including the competition notices and supporting materials, and information on the pre-application workshops, can be found on the i3 webpage.  Applications for the 2011 i3 competition are due on August 2, 2011, and awards will be made no later than December 31, 2011.