Creating an Engine for Breakthrough Innovation in STEM Education

Every organization can benefit from an internal group that focuses on promoting and creating game-changing innovations.1 To avoid falling behind, organizations must look to the future while also improving performance and practices in the present. Here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), we’re working hard to build the foundation for an advanced research infrastructure that can uncover breakthrough innovations so that our schools, educators, and students once again lead the world.

Before joining the team at ED, I spent 22 years in different Department of Defense (DoD) research settings, working closely with a variety of civilian research agencies. What I learned leading projects at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is that most research (both public and private) is stove-piped into two categories: basic and applied. Basic research seeks new knowledge and understanding, while applied research — as the name suggests — takes existing knowledge (i.e., the results of basic research) and creates new applications for it. Applied research can improve performance incrementally by leveraging the results of already-established basic research. This is an important and essential function. But by definition, the impact of applied research is limited by the horizon of current knowledge, which means it is not well-suited to producing dramatic breakthroughs.

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Opportunity to Succeed: A Jesuit Approach to Education

When the Washington Jesuit Academy (WJA) was founded in 2002, its leaders sought to answer an important question: “What more can we do for our students, our families, and our community to change the face of urban education?” During a recent visit, staff from the Office of Non-Public Education sought to identify lessons that could be shared with other educational leaders who are trying to answer this same question. WJA, a Catholic middle school for boys from low-income neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., has established a model that seeks to defy the city’s opportunity gap and prepare its students for long-term success. The school provides tuition assistance as well as social, nutritional, and health services to nearly 100 students, an enrollment intentionally kept low to ensure students receive focused, individualized attention.

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Arts Education Helps Bilingual Students Thrive

America’s public schools instruct more than four million students who are English language learners. The NEA Task Force on the Arts and Human Development will host a webinar to share how one innovative program is using dance and theater arts education to help ‘emerging bilinguals’ learn English and flourish in school.

Carol Morgan, deputy director for education at ArtsConnection, and Jennifer Stengel-Mohr of Queens College, New York will discuss findings from their research on the ArtsConnection’s program, Developing English Language Literacy through the Arts (DELLTA). DELLTA reaches English language learners and their teachers in 15 New York City public schools. This work was developed with support from the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination and Professional Development for Arts Educators grant programs.

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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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It’s Up to Us: A Commitment to Equitable Services

“We really don’t care if it’s public or private” stated Veronica Tate, director of the Office of Administration and Accountability at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). “We want to make sure parents have the right and most up-to-date information to make good choices.”

In April 2014, the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE) facilitated a promising practices webinar in which officials from the VDOE and Virginia Council for Private Education discussed their successful partnership to launch a state-level equitable services working group. The state takes its obligation to provide equitable services seriously, and has taken a deliberate review of the law and associated guidance. “It is up to us,” Tate emphasized, to “ensure that our students, parents and the teachers … are served.” In addition, she indicated that technical assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) influenced the state’s efforts to help districts understand their obligation to provide equitable services under applicable federal education programs.

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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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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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