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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.

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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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Posted in Arts, Educational Opportunities, Magnet Schools Assistance, Parental Options and Information, POI, School Choice, STEM | Leave a comment

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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Posted in Arts, Early Learning, Grants, Reading | Leave a comment

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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i3 Development Competition Completes Initial Phase

The Investing in Innovation (i3) Development competition supports projects that accelerate student achievement and drive innovation in K-12 education. Today, the U.S. Department of Education posted the highly rated pre-applications for the 2014 i3 Development competition.

The Department of Education received 395 pre-applications for the initial phase of the Development competition, and has invited 118 pre-applicants to submit full applications. Other pre-applicants may also choose to submit a full application and can find additional information here.

The i3 Development grants are up to $3 million total over three to five years. Crucially, each i3-funded project will be part of an independent evaluation to better understand and share what works, so that educators and researchers can build on the successes and challenges of these efforts.

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Charter Schools Program Non-SEA Grant Competitions Announced

The U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) announced two new Non-State Educational Agency (Non-SEA) grant competitions, with an application deadline of July 11, 2014.

The CSP’s Non-SEA Planning, Program Design, and Implementation competition provides grants directly to charter school developers so they can plan, design, and complete the initial implementation of their schools. The Non-SEA Dissemination competition provides grants directly to existing public charter schools, which they can use to assist other schools in adapting the charter school’s program (or certain aspects of the charter school’s program) or to disseminate information about the charter school.

For FY 2014, the Notice Inviting Applications for New Awards includes one absolute priority — improving achievement and high school graduation rates in high-poverty schools; only applications that meet this priority will be considered for an award.

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Arizona Teacher Residency Model Gets High Marks

Arizona State University’s college of education has given new meaning to the old expression, “hit the ground running.” The iTeachAZ program, with support from a $24.7 million OII Teacher Quality Partnerships (TQP) grant, improves readiness of new teacher candidates by extending their student teaching experience into a year-long residency.

Essentially, the program creates a seamless transition from the student teaching experience to the K-8 classrooms where iTeachAZ candidates find themselves after graduation.

The program is getting high marks from both local superintendents and principals because of what they observe in the classrooms of iTeachAZ graduates in their “first year” as new teachers. “This is not a first-year teacher; this is an iTeach teacher,” is how local superintendent Catherine Stafford describes the level of preparation that the extended residency model provides. Principal Randall Watkins aggressively recruits iTeachAZ graduates for classroom openings because he knows “they will be ready to come in and provide high-quality instruction.”

The program is unique in Arizona and was recently added to the Innovations Inventory of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, an online database highlighting innovative practices that provide educator candidates a competitive edge in the field.

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Iredell-Statesville Schools Find a Boost from “Investing In Innovation”

N.B. Mills Elementary School's intervention time, a COMPASS component, gives students the ability to grow and learn from each other while another group works with a teacher. (Left to right) 5th-grade students Ashley, Sitaly, Jose, Jasiah, and Bobbie work together during their science intervention time as they discover the meaning of "force.” (Photo courtesy of Jada Jonas and the Iredell-Statesville Schools)

N.B. Mills Elementary School’s intervention time, a COMPASS component, gives students the ability to grow and learn from each other while another group works with a teacher. (Left to right) 5th-grade students Ashley, Sitaly, Jose, Jasiah, and Bobbie work together during their science intervention time to discover the meaning of “force.” (Photo courtesy of Jada Jonas and the Iredell-Statesville Schools)

Serving more than 21,000 students, Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) in North Carolina ranks among the 20 largest school districts in the Tar Heel State. The district serves 36 schools in Iredell County — a diverse blend of urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods — 40 miles north of Charlotte. Four years ago, the district faced a dilemma: While it ranked in the top 10 percent of North Carolina districts in academic performance, it needed to increase teacher effectiveness and boost the academic achievement of its high-needs students, English learners, and students with disabilities. And while district leaders had a plan to achieve this ambitious goal, the annual I-SS budget resided in the basement of the state’s 212 districts, in the bottom five percent.

The plan to achieve their North Star goal of equity in student achievement was aptly called COMPASS — Collaborative Organizational Model to Promote Aligned Support Structures — with the route to success predicated on targeted professional development that focuses on use of data, curricular improvements, and instructional approaches to identify where students are struggling and address their individual academic needs. I-SS teachers would be equipped with the tools to ensure that all of their students are on track to achieve their learning goals. Integral to this approach is the alignment of the school’s support structures for teachers and deepening existing professional learning communities where educators collaborate, analyze student performance data, and share best practices.

In 2010, I-SS entered their COMPASS plan in OII’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition and received a $4.99 million Development grant, setting them on a multi-year journey that would begin with bolstered professional development, followed by piloting the new approach in several schools, and eventually result in district-wide implementation.

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Posted in Grants, Innovation in the Field, Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), Race to the Top District, School Improvement | 1 Comment

i3 Arts-Integration Project Delivers Content in Special Education Classrooms

For teachers in New York City’s District 75, which serves more than 20,000 special needs students across the city, an innovative arts-integration approach to instruction is improving students’ social-emotional and communications skills and helping students and teachers to achieve both individual and classroom goals.

Supported by a $4.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from OII in 2010, the Everyday Arts for Special Education (EASE) project is also being adapted by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where special education leaders are using the project’s arts-integration techniques to help achieve a system-wide goal of reducing the number of self-contained classrooms and schools. The Urban Arts Partnership, which manages the EASE grant for District 75, began leading professional development sessions for LAUSD teachers two years ago, and this year is working with 45 teachers in L.A. and nearly 350 in New York City.

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Students Learn About the Power of the Arts and Serendipity

Eighteen middle and high school students from Los Angeles and Lawrence, Mass., learned about the power of serendipity at the ED headquarters on May 15. The students — from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles and the Elevated Thought Foundation — were there to demonstrate their artistic achievements and speak to both the importance of arts education and the power of student voice in education reform. The lesson on serendipity was courtesy of ED’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows program.

Former Teacher Ambassador Fellow Linda Yaron shares the experience she and her students had in preparing for their art exhibit and exposition on what it means to be a learner.

Former Teacher Ambassador Fellow Linda Yaron shares the experience she and her students had in preparing for their art exhibit and exposition on what it means to be a learner.

Linda Yaron, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) at the ED headquarters, worked with seniors from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities to showcase their art and writing in response to the question: “What does it means to be a learner?” As plans for the exhibit were discussed with the Student Art Exhibit Program team this past winter, current Washington TAF Emily Davis shared her experience with students from Elevated Thought, an extra- and co-curricular program in Lawrence that uses the arts to examine societal issues that the 12- to 18-year-old participants encounter in their community.

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California Teachers Serve Home Communities Thanks to OII Grant

Lupita Prado Machuca, once an English language learner, teaches students from the same community where she grew up and helps them to see the importance of an education that prepares them for college and the workforce.

lupitaLupita is the product of efforts in Kern County, Calif., to change the face of teacher preparation. California State University Bakersfield (CSUB), with funding support from an OII Teacher Quality Partnerships grant, brings mentor teachers into classrooms of first-year teachers and provides teacher candidates with field experience from day one, increasing their confidence and abilities when taking on their own classrooms.

The five-year, $10.5 million grant, which began in 2009, supports a partnership among CSUB, California State University Monterey Bay, and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, along with two K-12 partners — Kern County and Tulare County school districts — in the central region of California. Known as the Edvention Partners, their combined efforts address the diverse needs of schools, teachers, and students within a large geographical, primarily rural, area.

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Posted in Grants, Teacher Education, Teacher Quality, Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program | Leave a comment