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Welcome to the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), headed by Assistant Deputy Secretary Nadya Dabby. OII’s mission is to accelerate the pace at which the U.S. identifies, develops, and scales solutions to education’s most important or persistent challenges. OII makes strategic investments in innovative educational programs and practices, and administers more than 25 discretionary grant programs managed by five program offices: Charter Schools Program, Improvement Programs, Parental Options and Information, Teacher Quality Programs, and the Office of Investing in Innovation. OII also serves as the Department’s liaison and resource to the nonpublic education community through the Office of Non-Public Education.

This home page provides news about OII — its programs, grantees, and initiatives — through articles, blogs, press releases, and links to the Department’s home page.

Click here to see a list and descriptions of OII’s programs and here for key staff.

16 University Museums Showcase the Work of Their Youngest Students

Student artists officially open the exhibit with a ribbon cutting. (Department of Education photo by Tony Hitchcock)

10-year-old art opening speaker Anthony Madorsky signs postcards of his artwork at the Museums: pARTners in Learning art exhibit opening. (Department of Education photo by Tony Hitchcock)

On July 23, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) was proud to host the grand opening of the student art exhibit Museums: pARTners in Learning at its headquarters in Washington. In their second collaboration, ED and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) worked for more than a year to present the visual artwork and creative writing from the arts education programs at 16 academic museums. Students, family members, teachers, and art museum directors from across the country celebrated the opening of the exhibit of magnificent work by students ages 5–17.

Deputy Under Secretary Jamie Studley welcomed guests to the Department and thanked AAMD for its partnership, adding that “we [at ED] are all about partnerships because we recognize that it is only in working together that we can achieve our goals.” Studley not only emphasized the critical partnership for learning between art and other classroom subjects, such as chemistry, history and math, she also noted the importance of art “as a source of inspiration and a way to practice discipline, build skills, and get better at doing something.”

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National History Day Contest Deepens Understanding and Appreciation of History

My colleague, Mia Howerton, and I were invited to serve as judges for the National History Day (NHD) competition finals in College Park, Md., on June 17, 2014. History is an area of special interest for us, as we both serve as program officers for the Teaching American History program. Mia also taught social studies at the middle school level for six years in Richmond, Va. It was refreshing to have the opportunity to leave our Washington, D.C. office for a day and interact with students. Being able to see the exemplary projects students have created in pursuit of their quest for historical knowledge and understanding helped us to better appreciate the impact that national education programs can have on individual students.

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary “The Mark of McCarthy.” (Photo by  Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

Students from Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the group documentary “The Mark of McCarthy.” (Photo by Route 1 Multimedia, courtesy of National History Day)

NHD offers middle and high school students the opportunity to create a history project of their choosing based on an annual theme — Rights and Responsibilities in History for 2014. The project categories are exhibit, performance, documentary, paper, and website. All project types can be done by individuals or groups, except for papers, which must be individual. Projects are judged on three evaluation criteria: historical quality (60 percent), relation to the theme (20 percent), and clarity of presentation (20 percent). Prizes are also awarded to projects that focus on particular themes in history, such as the Civil War History prize sponsored by the Civil War Trust, the Outstanding Entry on an International Theme prize sponsored by The History Channel, and the Native American History prize sponsored by the National Park Service.

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Teacher Residency Program Provides Tools for Classroom Success

The 31 graduate students in the Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR) are not your typical teacher candidates, and the Virginia Commonwealth University master of teaching degree program is not your typical graduate program for new teachers. Like other urban school districts, the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) faces unique challenges, not the least of which is providing its 25,000 students with outstanding teachers. For RTR, that means persons with “extensive content knowledge, along with the heart and vision to create a more equitable outcome for all students.”

Among the 31 aspiring teachers in this year’s RTR program, several are Peace Corps veterans, some have come to teaching from other professional careers following college, and others are fresh from their undergraduate degree programs, but often without undergraduate teaching experience. These “nontraditional” teacher candidates experience an intensive, year-long residency in Richmond City Schools’ classrooms, in a teacher-training model adapted from the field of medicine.

Creating a pipeline of extraordinary teachers

The RTR program is part of a national effort — the Urban Teacher Residency United Network — and a grantee of ED’s Teacher Quality Partnerships (TQP) grant program, which supports model teacher preparation programs through reforms by higher education institutions working in collaboration with high-need schools and districts. As it is with the RTR program, TQP places an emphasis on recruiting effective individuals, including minorities and persons from outside the teaching profession.

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Ready To Learn Series Gets the Red Carpet Treatment

Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) program manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL program officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Woods)

Billy Aronson (second from left) and Jennifer Oxley, co-creators of “Peg + Cat,” a production of the Fred Rogers Company, share their Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series” and “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design” with Ready to Learn (RTL) Program Manager Brian Lekander (left) and RTL Program Officer Adam Bookman. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peg + Cat, the animated PBS KIDS math series launched last fall, won three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last month, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Funded in part by ED’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat, as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math concepts along the way. The series provides young viewers with a new way to experience math and highlights its importance in a variety of everyday situations. Music is used as a teaching tool throughout the series and each episode features an original song.

Series co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Oxley also received the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design. Oxley made her first film at the age of 7 and has devoted much of her professional career to educational television and film, including direction of 15 short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please. Eleven-year-old Hayley Faith Negrin, the voice of Peg and the youngest nominee at this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, received the award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program.

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San Antonio Promise Zone Progress on Display at Town Hall

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited San Antonio last month to participate in a town hall discussion on how the President’s Promise Zone initiative is helping the city’s Eastside community create ladders of opportunity to ensure that all children can achieve social mobility. San Antonio is one of five Promise Zones announced earlier this year, and one of three in which Promise Neighborhoods, a program of the Office of Innovation and Improvement, are playing an integral role.

Since 2010, the Eastside Promise Neighborhood has worked to improve educational opportunities for the community’s children, beginning with preschool education. And the efforts are paying off, according to Secretary Duncan, who noted a reduction in chronic absenteeism for 8th graders from 33 percent to 8 percent and an increase in graduation rates at Sam Houston High School from 46 to 84 percent. ”Where a whole community embraces the importance of education,” he noted, “that sets an example for the rest of the nation.”

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NWP Report Contributes to National Dialogue and Action

nwp teacher voicesThe National Writing Project (NWP) released the third installment in its Teacher Voices series, Teaching Young Men of Color. The report is a welcome addition to the national conversation about expanding opportunities for minority males, the focus of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Resulting from a collaboration of the NWP and the College Board, Teaching Young Men of Color delivers the insights of 12 extraordinary classroom teachers, who reflect on their students’ experiences in the academic world and society at large.

These educators, from diverse geographic and racial backgrounds as well as academic disciplines, offer powerful insights about young men of color that could only be derived from years of successful classroom teaching. The insights fall roughly into two broad themes:

  • Gender: Along with factors such as race, language, and socioeconomic status, gender plays a critical role in the teaching and learning process.
  • Effective classroom practices: There is an abundance of classroom practices that teachers surveyed for this report identified as effective for minority males. Some are tied to the fundamentals that undergird all good teaching, and others are specific to particular populations.

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KIPP Schools is 2014 Broad Prize Winner

Bruce Reed, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (second from left), and Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (far right), congratulate representatives from KIPP Schools for winning the 2014 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools: from left, Stephen Mancini, director of public affairs, Carissa Godwin, chief development officer for KIPP Delta Public School in Helena, AR, and Eric Schmidt, school leader of KIPP Courage College Prep in Houston. (Photo courtesy of Al Powers for The Broad Foundation)

Bruce Reed, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (second from left), and Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (far right), congratulate representatives from KIPP Schools for winning the 2014 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools: from left, Stephen Mancini, director of public affairs, Carissa Godwin, chief development officer for KIPP Delta Public School in Helena, AR, and Eric Schmidt, school leader of KIPP Courage College Prep in Houston. (Photo courtesy of Al Powers for The Broad Foundation)

The KIPP Foundation, a network serving 50,000 students in 141 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia — and current grantee of the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) and Investing in Innovation (i3) program — is the winner of the 2014 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The $250,000 award, which will support college readiness efforts for KIPP students, was announced on July 1st at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference in Las Vegas.

Bruce Reed, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, announces that KIPP Schools is the winner of the 2014 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools before an audience of 3,000 people at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Al Powers for The Broad Foundation)

Bruce Reed, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, announces that KIPP Schools is the winner of the 2014 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools before an audience of 3,000 people at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Al Powers for The Broad Foundation)

In a press release announcing the winner, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation congratulated the KIPP Foundation for its “ability to scale and to bring an increasingly high-quality education to thousands of low-income students and students of color who otherwise might not have the opportunity.” More than 86 percent of KIPP students are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch and 95 percent are students of color. Citing KIPP’s “no excuses” policy “when it comes to ensuring every student the opportunity to a great education,” Bruce Reed, president of The Broad Foundation, said, “KIPP Schools is providing a quality education to low-income students and students of color on a scale that naysayers of public charters thought was impossible.”

Stephen Mancini, the KIPP Foundation’s director of public affairs, said the results of KIPP’s efforts “are showing that demography doesn’t determine destiny,” and gave credit for the award to “the teachers, school leaders, and families who work hard to climb the mountain to get kids to and through college every day.”

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Connecticut Magnets Offer High-Quality Education

Students at Metropolitan Business Academy participate in the Student Ambassador Program, which promotes positive character development and a healthy and safe school community. Photo by Coppola Photography, courtesy of New Haven Public Schools.

Students at Metropolitan Business Academy participate in the Student Ambassador Program, which promotes positive character development and a healthy and safe school community. (Photo by Coppola Photography, courtesy of New Haven Public Schools).

As this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing legal racial segregation in public schools, now is a good time to reflect on programs that promote diversity in schools. As a program officer for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), I’m part of a team that manages funding awarded to school districts nationwide to implement magnet programs in their schools. The MSAP has two primary goals: 1) to promote racial/ethnic diversity in schools; and 2) to improve student academic achievement.

Magnet schools offer a unique, rigorous curriculum and theme (e.g., performing arts; global and international studies; Montessori; science, technology, engineering and math), in order to “attract” a diverse set of students to attend. MSAP focuses its funds on schools that use a non-selective lottery system (rather than academic criteria) for admissions, which helps support schools that offer educational choices to a broad array of students.

Last month, when I attended the Magnet Schools of America national conference in Hartford, Conn., I had the opportunity to see some successful magnet schools in action. Connecticut has a unique school choice system that resulted from the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill case, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the racial and socioeconomic isolation of Hartford school children violates the state constitution.

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Preschoolers “On the Go” at the Department of Education

Children begin their learning activities after receiving a sticker from the “Word Machine” (upper left). Each sticker has the name and picture of a vehicle. (Photo courtesy of HINN/Rodrigo Sanchez)

Children begin their learning activities after receiving a sticker from the “Word Machine” (upper left). Each sticker has the name and picture of a vehicle. (Photo courtesy of HITN/Rodrigo Sanchez)

“Things That Go” was the theme of a recent Family Day Event at the Department of Education headquarters that featured the latest efforts of the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network’s (HITN) Early Learning Collaborative (ELC), which uses an innovative transmedia approach to early learning.

More than 30 young children from the University of the District of Columbia Lab School and the Barbara Chambers Children’s Center of Washington, D.C., many of them English language learners, attended the event, along with their teachers, parents, and education professionals.

HITN Coloring (cropped)

A preschooler colors his vehicle as part of his journey to Baby Bird’s birthday party. (Photo courtesy of HITN/Rodrigo Sanchez)

Through a series of hands-on activities, the children and adults engaged in a rich variety of experiences based on ELC’s English language development transmedia PlayGround called “Things That Go.” The PlayGround includes non-digital and digital materials, Web-based games, and the PlaySet— ELC’s tablet-based app.

This transmedia approach develops pathways to early learning through play and multiple, interconnected platforms that include storybooks, puzzles, picture/word games, as well as Web-based games and highly engaging digital apps. In 2013, ELC launched the pilot phase of its transmedia preschool learning PlayGround and tablet-based PlaySet at the Newseum (see this OII home page article for more information).

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Charter Schools Program Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools Competition Announced

The U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) announced the 2014 Replication and Expansion of High Quality Charter Schools grant competition, with an application deadline of July 21, 2014. The FY 2014 Notice Inviting Applications for New Awards can be found here.

This program assists nonprofit charter management organizations, as well as other not-for-profit entities, in replicating or expanding high-quality charter schools with demonstrated records of success. Applicants must have experience operating more than one high-quality charter school.

The Department plans to award up to $26.5 million for this competition and estimates making between 14 and 19 awards (the Department is not bound by any estimates).

Applications are due by July 21, 2014, at 4:30:00 p.m. (EDT), and must be submitted through www.Grants.gov.

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