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Welcome to the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), where our 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. In addition, OII is home to ED’s STEM initiatives team and ED’s liaison to the military community.  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.

Education Department Awards Nine Partnerships of School Districts and Nonprofits to Help Bolster Academic, Social and Health Services

(Oct. 9, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $4.7 million to nine partnerships to help improve the quality of elementary and secondary education and bolster community-wide, comprehensive services for students, families and their communities. The Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) program supports partnerships between schools, school districts, and community-based and nonprofit organizations.

Three of this year’s grantees will support Promise Zones, a federal interagency initiative that aligns a range of resources to build ladders of opportunity in economically distressed areas across the country. The 2014 FSCS program was among the first programs to include a focus on Promise Zones. Of the five current Promise Zones designations, the three supported by FSCS are the Youth Policy Institute (Los Angeles, California), Berea College (Berea, Kentucky), and the San Antonio Independent School District (San Antonio, Texas).

“Across the nation, we’ve seen schools come together to partner with key organizations to support comprehensive services for students and their families in some of our toughest communities,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Great schools require the entire community to work together, and these grants will help leverage our resources to create a range of wraparound services that help all students grow in the classroom, and graduate ready for college and their careers.”

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U.S. Department of Education Awards $39.7 Million in Grants to Expand High Quality Charter Schools

(Oct. 8, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education announced 27 new grants today totaling $39.7 million under the Charter Schools Program (CSP) to expand high quality charter schools, and open new charter schools across the nation. These grants will support charter schools’ efforts to increase high-need students’ success, especially in underserved areas, in 12 states.

“These charter school grants will help open new charter schools and expand or replicate those with a record of success to help ensure that every student has access to high-quality educational opportunities that prepare them for college, careers and life,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

These grants are awarded by two CSP programs: one program is focused on helping high-performing charter management organizations open new charter schools, and the other program supports new charter schools located in states that do not have a state-level CSP subgrant program. This year’s competitions included a focus on charter schools that serve geographies designated under President Obama’s Promise Zones initiative, as well as promoting diversity and supporting military families.

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U.S. Department of Education Awards $13.4 Million in Grants to 34 Organizations to Enhance Teaching and Learning Through Arts Education

(Oct. 8, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $13.4 million to 34 organizations to help arts educators grow and improve arts instruction, and share effective models of arts in education that support student achievement in the arts and other areas.

“The arts are an essential part of a well-rounded educational experience, and all students deserve access to high-quality arts instruction,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Great arts educators can help students grow and succeed inside and outside of the classroom.”

These grantees are supported by two distinct programs, Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD), and Professional Development for Arts Educators (PDAE). AEMDD grants support school districts and non-profit organizations with arts expertise to create materials that can be integrated into arts disciplines across elementary and middle schools. The Professional Development for Arts Educators program supports professional development for arts educators that use innovative approaches to improve and expand arts education programs.

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2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Award Winners Featured at ED: They Gave Their Inspiring Voices and Visions

Each September brings a special day at the U.S. Department of Education: a day when the marble halls and foyers of the agency’s headquarters fill with excited crowds of students, teachers, families, local and visiting officials, and passionate supporters of the arts.

This year was no exception: on Friday, Sept. 19, winners of the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards were honored for their accomplishments. The Department sponsored the opening of two exhibits, one of awardees from around the country and one of Portland, Ore., awardees, with a total of 80 works of art. Among the honorees were the five newly chosen National Student Poets.

The day began with two workshops — one in the visual arts for the teachers of student winners, and one in poetry for the student winners.

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Magnet Schools Work to Promote Diversity, STEM Opportunity

Heldelberg school: Students at Heidelberg Elementary School, in Clarksdale, Miss., work on iPads in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of    )

Students at Heidelberg Elementary School in Clarksdale, Miss., work on iPads in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Clarksdale Municipal School District)

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear about magnet schools?

If you had asked me before this summer, I probably wouldn’t have been able to answer the question. I knew a lot of people who attended magnet schools as kids, but that was about it.

After this summer, however, I know a great deal more about magnet schools and the role they play in American education. As an intern for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), I spent my summer researching Office of Innovation and Improvement funding to magnet schools and the impact of that money in 12 states nationwide. Magnet schools are free public schools that offer a specialized curriculum — like performing arts, International Baccalaureate (IB), or science — to students interested in a particular theme or focus.

The MSAP provides federal grants to local education agencies (LEAs) or consortia of LEAs to implement magnet school programs to achieve the primary purposes of promoting racial/ethnic diversity in schools and improving academic achievement.

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24 New Teacher Quality Partnership Grants Totaling More Than $35 Million Awarded to Recruit, Train and Support More Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teachers

Major Progress on President’s Goal to Prepare 100,000 Excellent STEM Teachers

(Sept. 25, 2014) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced the award of $35 million for 24 new partnerships between universities and high-need school districts that will recruit, train and support more than 11,000 teachers over the next five years—primarily in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields—to improve student achievement. These awards are the culmination of this year’s Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant competition that President Obama announced in May at the White House Science Fair.

For the first time, this year’s TQP competition focuses on preparing STEM teachers, and increasing the participation of underrepresented groups—women, minorities and people with disabilities—in teaching STEM subjects. The 2014 TQP grantees will train teachers in a wide variety of approaches to STEM instruction, from early learning through high school levels. This advances on the goal that President Obama set in his 2011 State of the Union address to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade with strong teaching skills and deep content knowledge. In addition, answering the President’s call to action, nearly 200 organizations have formed a coalition called 100Kin10, all committed to the goal of increasing the supply of excellent STEM teachers.

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Huntsville Shows Off Its K-16 STEM Pipeline

Alabama A&M University leaders (l. to r.) Provost Daniel Wims; President Andrew Hugine, Jr.; senior-year computer science student Charlevester Wims; and College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences Dean Chance Glenn join OII’s STEM executive director, Russell Shilling (second from right), following Education Secretary Arne’s Duncan’s visit to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center. (Photo courtesy of Alabama A&M University)

As Education Secretary Duncan’s bus tour departed Huntsville, Ala., on September 9th, I remained to explore the STEM and technology education programs in the area. Huntsville, home to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center, has the advantage of being a small city with huge resources to support education. I wanted to see what they were doing that might be exported to a wide range of schools across the U.S.

After Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Space and Rocket Center and its Space Camp, I was greeted by the president of Alabama A&M University (AAMU), Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr., along with staff and students. Once on their beautiful campus, Dr. Chance Glenn, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences, discussed the various programs AAMU has developed to help students pursue and excel in STEM fields.

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Arts in Education Week: A Time to Validate the Importance of Hope

What’s hope got to do with it? When the “it” is the persistent achievement gaps for African American and Hispanic students, the answer is a lot.

I don’t know if Bill Strickland, a 1996 MacArthur Fellow and visionary arts education entrepreneur, and Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco public schools, have met (my guess is they have not), but they must be channeling one another.

The two have a lot in common, and at the top of the list is an absolute conviction to the role of the arts in creating the needed learning environment for minority students in high-poverty schools to achieve academically, thrive in and outside of school, and graduate career and college-ready. Coincidentally, Strickland and Carranza keynoted national forums on arts education — for the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), respectively, within the past month. The forums provided a propitious run-up to National Arts in Education Week, Sept. 14-20, so designated by the U.S. Congress in House Resolution 275. Click here for the full agenda of the AEP forum and a link to the video of Bill Strickland’s keynote address.

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Paving a New Path: The Growth of Illinois Charter Schools Outside of Chicago

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

During the past three years, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) has dramatically expanded its work to educate Illinois residents about the charter school model, and to support charter school “design teams”— made up of teachers, former educators, and community organizations, for example — that seek to launch new, high-quality public schools in their respective communities. With support from the Office of Innovation and Improvement, INCS has grown its Charter Starter Consulting program to deliver consistent content and counsel to design teams while maintaining a strong focus on customized services. As a result, INCS has planted the seeds for additional charter schools to thrive, especially outside of Chicago, Illinois’ largest city, and to raise student achievement for increasing numbers of Illinois students.

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Success in Arizona: A Focus on Increasing Quality Schools in Phoenix’s Urban Core

Vista Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Vista College Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Phoenix charter school leaders Jenna Leahy and Tacey Clayton believe that something has to change for students in the nation’s sixth-largest city. The majority of the 215 public schools in the Phoenix urban core serve low-income, minority students, and of those schools, only 8 percent received an “A” — the highest academic performance label — in 2014.

After two years of leadership and school development, Jenna and Tacey are poised to help change the life paths of Phoenix students, as CASA Academy opened its doors to 149 students in kindergarten through second grade this August.

CASA and six other schools are part of a new initiative, New Schools For Phoenix, that grew out of a three-year, $1,179,855 National Leadership Activities grant from OII’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) to the Arizona Charter Schools Association in 2010.

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