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Common Core and Arts Integration in Philadelphia

Adapting teaching methods to learning standards is not always an easy task. Teachers and school administrators working with new or updated standards, like the Common Core State Standards, are faced with developing and recalibrating methods to ensure alignment. So imagine the challenge of redesigning a $1.1 million federal program right in the middle of a four-year grant cycle. That was the daunting task that faced the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) as it worked alongside the School District of Philadelphia to integrate the arts into the curriculum in four Philadelphia schools.

PAEP was awarded a four-year grant through the Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Program (AEMDD) in 2010. Entitled Arts Link: Building Mathematics and Science Competencies through an Arts Integration Model, the grant aims to integrate the arts into the math and science curriculum in grades two through five. The end goal is to increase student achievement in these subjects by presenting the material through lessons and in ways not done previously.

National Conference Highlights Federal Grants to Charter Schools

When charter schools and their supporters are looking for federal funds, most head straight for the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s (OII’s) Charter Schools Program (CSP). With a FY 2013 budget of about $242 million, the CSP administers eight grant programs, which have contributed to what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently described as the “extraordinary accomplishments” of charter schools in the past two decades.

Topping the list of accomplishments, Secretary Duncan indicated in his recent keynote address at the National Charter Schools Conference, “is that high-performing charters have irrefutably demonstrated that low-income children can and do achieve at high levels.”

CSP’s grant programs aim squarely at helping disadvantaged children to achieve academically through the creation of more high-quality educational options. These include the Replication and Expansion for High Performing Charter Schools program, which provides funds for nonprofits, including charter management organizations, to grow existing charter schools or open new ones based on models that have demonstrated success.

But two other highly competitive and high-profile Department of Education grants outside of CSP have similarly supported at-risk children attending charter schools — the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund and the Race to the Top‑District (RTT-D) programs. One session at the national conference focused on these programs, which have allowed charter schools and charter management organizations to grow in number, in impact, and in quality.

The Arts in Early Learning: From the Classroom to the State of the Union

When President Obama announced his universal pre-K initiative during the State of the Union Address this past Feb. 12th, a preschool educator was listening from a very coveted vantage point: a couple of seats away from First Lady Michelle Obama in the House of Representatives chamber. Susan Bumgarner teaches four-year-olds at Wilson Arts Integration Elementary School in Oklahoma City. The school participates in the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program.

Since 1995, Susan and the other teachers at Wilson have attended professional learning programs sponsored in partnership with the Black Liberated Arts Center, Inc. The Kennedy Center program is a network of nearly 100 arts organizations and their neighboring school districts in more than 40 states that “partner” in offering professional development for teachers and teaching artists. The Kennedy Center program also offers a roster of trained teaching artists to support the Partners in Education sites.

Also offered by the Kennedy Center are national learning institutes on arts integration, online and traditional curricular and instructional resources and valuable lesson plans. Support for its programs is provided in part by the Office of Innovation and Improvement through the Arts in Education National Program grant.

U.S. Department of Education Awards $12 Million in Grants to Support Charter School Facilities

(July 18, 2013) The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that it awarded three grants totaling $12 million to three different organizations that are working across the country to help charter schools obtain facilities through the purchase, lease, or donation of real property, the construction of a new facility, or the renovation, repair or alteration of existing facilities under the Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities Program (Credit Enhancement). The recipients include a non-profit organization called The Reinvestment Fund, a consortium of non-profits called Build with Purpose, and the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency.

One of several grants under the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Charter Schools Program, the Credit Enhancement program helps to improve educational options for students and parents by targeting funds to areas with the greatest need for public school choice.

"Every child deserves a high-quality education in a safe learning environment," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "These grants help ensure that children learn in adequate facilities. The Credit Enhancement program supports charter schools, helps put the schools on stable financial footing and allows us all to continue working towards President Obama's goal of leading the world in college graduates by the year 2020."

Uncommon Schools is Broad Prize Winner

Uncommon Schools, a network of 32 public charter schools in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and current grantee of the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) — is winner of the 2013 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. Roberto J. Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for education, announced the winner on July 2nd at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference in Washington, D.C.

In a press release announcing the winner, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation congratulated Uncommon Schools for their “progress in raising student achievement and their steadfast commitment to ensuring that every child — regardless of family income or background — deserves a world-class education,” citing the schools’ students as the “real winners.” “It is our hope,” said Rebecca Wolf DiBiase of the Broad Foundation, “that the success of Uncommon Schools serves as an example for traditional public schools and others in the charter sector of what is possible.”

Breaking Through to a Quality Education for Urban Children

Ten-year-old Roberto had failing grades and discipline problems in his Cleveland, Ohio, school, but his mother had high hopes for him — a quality education that met his particular needs and would help him to be college and career ready. Fortunately for her and Roberto, an expanding network of charter schools in Cleveland, Breakthrough Charter Schools, offered a nurturing environment in its Near West Intergenerational School, one of five new charter schools resulting from an OII Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant awarded to Breakthrough Charter Schools. Roberto’s story is the subject of a CBS News report that aired in late May.

The Power of 3: Reflections on the 2013 i3 Annual Project Directors Meeting

The number 3 dominated the thinking and actions of the more than 400 participants of the annual meeting of the Investing in Innovation (i3) grantees on May 20-21, in Arlington, Va. Let’s start with three examples:

  • They represented three years of funding (2010-2012) for this Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) program that supports the development and scaling of ambitious, effective practices that improve student achievement.

  • The 92 projects represented spanned three levels of federal support for i3 — 59 Development, 28 Validation, and five Scale-up projects.

  • Each project came to the meeting with three objectives: share best practices they have developed as well as challenges they face; learn about evaluation methods and receive technical assistance to improve their evaluations; and explore strategies for sustaining their projects’ impacts through private-sector support.

Almost as if to build on the theme of 3, Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, who led OII’s efforts to create and support i3 as the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement since 2009, encouraged the meeting attendees to share their stories and learn three new ones to take home with them.

i3 Projects Look Back on Progress and Lessons Learned

“We’re in the middle of the work and it’s a time to look back, also see the finish line, review data we’ve gathered, and do some reflecting,” is how Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton began a May 30th Education Policy Briefing i3 grantee representatives (left to right) Justin Jones (The Achievement Network), Debbie Kasak (Schools to Watch: School Transformation Network), and Robert Balfanz (Diplomas Now) with Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton. that featured three Investing in Innovation (i3) grantees whose work began two-and-one-half years ago. All are working to improve student achievement in low-performing schools with the support of national reform networks.

The grantees ─ Schools to Watch: School Transformation Network; Diplomas Now; and The Achievement Network ─ shared data and lessons learned with an audience of both ED staff and interested stakeholders that included the International Reading Association, the Learning First Alliance, the National PTA, the National Title I Association, and the Rural Education Trust.

The School Transformation Network i3 project is building on the Schools to Watch (STW) initiative of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform that began in 2002 to recognize academically excellent and socially equitable middle schools. With an i3 Development grant, the National Forum is engaging 18 high-poverty, low-performing middle schools in three states to adapt some of the core ideas that drove the Schools to Watch initiative and apply them to school turnaround.

Update on OII’s 2013 Grant Competitions

This year (fiscal year 2013, or FY13, which runs through September 30, 2013), the Office of Innovation and Improvement will be running six grant competitions: Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination, Charter Schools Program Non-SEA, Investing in Innovation (i3), Magnet Schools Assistance Program, School Leadership Program, and Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED). Five of the six competitions are already underway, and we anticipate launching the sixth—the Charter Schools Program Non-SEA competition—shortly.

OII is excited about these six competitions. Our grant competitions showcase some of the most interesting and innovative efforts taking place in schools and districts across country, and we are always thrilled to support the great work that is underway. However, due to the amount of funding made available under the FY 2013 Continuing Resolution, we expect to award fewer grants in these competitions than originally planned. In addition, we are unable to conduct a competition in the Promise Neighborhoods program.

Please continue to use the OII homepage as a resource for information, for updates on our grant competitions, and for stories from us and our grantees.

Feature: Wolf Trap Institute Unites the Arts and STEM in Early Childhood Learning

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman leads a preschool class in movement as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)When Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman arrives at the preschool classroom, all the children are excited that it’s time for dance — and for math. The teacher is amazed at how much the children love math, she tells Whiteman. She’s astonished that certain children who once showed little interest in school are absorbed and attentive during the classroom residency sessions. What’s happening in this Fairfax, Va., classroom to spark such a change?

Working side by side with the teacher in the classroom twice a week for approximately eight weeks to introduce the children to early math concepts through dance, Whiteman’s challenge is to “put math in their bodies.” How, she’s asked herself, can she use dance to help them make connections to math concepts?

Whiteman leads the young learners in the dance experiences they love to do, knowing they’re making important discoveries in the process. When she asks them to make a curvy or angular shape with their arms, they’re grasping the earliest concepts of geometry, while also learning to regulate their own bodies. When she asks them to alternate making high shapes and low shapes, they gain the vital math skill of pattern recognition as well as learning to create a dance phrase.

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