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.
Want to contribute to the exciting education innovations happening in New Orleans? Believe in schools that center every decision around the needs of students? Ready to challenge outdated assumptions about school and launch a bold, new school model in a city on the cutting edge of education innovation and school transformation? Then consider the NOLA Future of School Challenge from New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) and 4.0 Schools (4.0), with the support of Khan Academy.
The NOLA Future of School Challenge is looking for bold, out-of-the-box individuals who can bring to life a new generation of responsive, student-centered schools, and will provide them with an opportunity to test their ideas, prototype their designs, and vie for funding and support to become a charter school that opens its doors in fall 2016.
(Nov. 8, 2013) The U.S. Department of Education today announced results for the fourth round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, which will award the 25 highest-rated applications (HRAs) more than $135 million to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. These 25 potential grantees, selected from 618 applications and representing 13 states and the District of Columbia, must secure matching funds by Dec. 11, 2013, in order to receive federal funding.
“In this era of rapid change, we must make sure that our students are keeping pace with the rigor, relevance, and changing demands of the 21st-century job market,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “I am encouraged by the innovative ideas to accelerate student achievement demonstrated in these applications.”
Of the 25 HRAs, 18 are in the “Development” category and seven are in the “Validation” category (see list of applicants below). This year, the Department did not identify any potential grantees for the “Scale-up” category, instead choosing to invest in promising projects in the other two categories. The Development category attracted the greatest participation similar to the past three years of the competition. With the 18 Development HRAs from this competition, there will potentially be a total of 77 Development i3 grantees nationwide implementing new, promising practices to improve outcomes for students.
Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in several events that explored the intersection and promise of education and technology. Although each conference covered distinct topics, considering them in retrospect reveals a common question worth exploring: given recent developments and trends, is it inevitable that technology will improve education and opportunities for our kids? Technology clearly has tremendous potential to improve education, but there are some real barriers that prevent that change from being inevitable. That’s hardly a controversial statement, but I’ll say more in a moment.
The Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement and the i3 team are looking forward to a successful competition, beginning with the pre-application process for the Development competition, to be followed by the announcement of the Validation and Scale-up competitions later this spring. This year’s competition includes a few changes from previous i3 competitions that are designed to incorporate lessons learned from the first three years, while maintaining the dual goals of supporting new innovations and scaling effective ones.
The Department is currently seeking peer reviewers for the FY 2013 Arts in Education – Model Development and Dissemination Grants Program (AEMDD) competition. Persons interested in serving as peer reviewers need to submit their resumes and a completed copy of the “AEMDD Peer Reviewer Checklist” to Clifton.Jones@ed.gov by Friday, April 12, 2013.
Today, Edutopia.org released a new video featuring one of OII’s i3 grantees — Bellevue School District’s Sammamish High School in Washington state. The video documents the transformation from the school’s use of traditional curriculum to problem-based learning. The district was awarded an i3 Development grant in 2010 for the development and implementation of a scalable, sustainable, 21st-century, skills-based program. This type of learning allows teachers to facilitate conversations and provide more effective classroom instruction; it also allows students to take more ownership in the learning process — how they connect to and learn the material, and how they put new knowledge into practice.
“We have reached another ‘Sputnik Moment,'” in terms of the opportunity for the United States to transform education, according to Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. His remarks were part of the subcommittee’s Feb. 14 hearing, “Raising the Bar: How Education Innovation Can Improve Student Achievement.” The assistant deputy secretary focused on three core ways that learning technology is poised to transform education: increasing access and equity; transforming teaching and learning; and accelerating and enhancing educational research and development. Other hearing witnesses were John White of Digital Learning Now, Preston Smith of Rocketship Education, and Holly Sagues of Florida Virtual School. Click here to view the full hearing to hear what Jim and his fellow witnesses shared about innovation and technology in education.
Each time I have a conversation with a questioning child or watch a teacher help a student grasp a new concept or make an important new connection, I am amazed. The potential of children and the power of teachers to change lives — moment-by-moment — are both awe inspiring. When those two phenomena intersect, you know that you are witnessing something special.
We desperately want our children to experience those moments as often as possible. We want them to love learning, to love school, and to use both to find their passions and fulfill their dreams. For many, even of those who did “well” in school, we want them to experience what we did not: to have those “special moments” be the norm rather than the exception, to have school be the place where the most exciting learning happens, to have every teacher be the teacher who “gets” them.
Each day in this country, we ask millions of teachers from preschool thru college to create those special moments for each child in their care — to match each student’s needs, interests, and personal circumstances with the perfect content, instructional approach, and support so they can make sense of that big idea or master that critical skill or negotiate that challenging person or situation. We ask them to do this for each of the 20 to 40 to 400 students in their class, each class of the day, almost every day of the week. And we ask them to do this well and do it with passion because those are so often one in the same.
We want all of this and we ask all of this and yet we have invested more in improving the buses that take our children to school, than we have in researching and developing the tools and resources that will help students and teachers achieve our lofty expectations and more importantly their incredible potential.
Over the last century, the capabilities of doctors, lawyers, engineers, farmers, drivers, artists, musicians, and countless other professionals have been transformed by technology. In less than a century, doctors have gone from literally “practicing medicine” to being able to diagnose and treat almost every known disease; and through technology, nurses now have capabilities that doctors, a few decades ago, only dreamed about. What’s more, these transformative practices are available to doctors and nurses in almost every corner of the country. Musicians can access compositions and performances instantaneously, produce scores from original music with the click of a button, and compose and jam together in real time from places that span the globe. Each of these professions can do more of what they do best in ways that take less time and effort than most in their fields would have imagined a short time ago. They have been empowered to take their crafts to another level, elevating their professions, increasing their reach, and allowing them to serve (well) people who previously would have been denied the opportunity.
We have the ability to do the same for our teachers and our students. We can put the resources of the world at their fingertips just when they want and need them, diagnose their needs and preferences at a pace, scale, and level of granularity and with so little burden that our current testing and evaluation debates will become anachronisms, and make teaching even more impactful, more sustainable, and more interesting for both teachers and students. However, this will not happen on its own or simply by holding teachers more accountable or by just putting technology in their hands or the hands of their students. These are necessary but insufficient conditions.
Research, Development and Innovation have been the keys to transformative improvements in almost every sector. Education underinvests in R&D relative to each of them. The U.S. defense and health R&D budgets are somewhere between 50 and 100 times bigger than the education R&D budget. This is not only inconsistent with our stated values and our highest aspirations; it is also counter to our national interests. As President Obama said, “we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”
Within the next four years, we can construct a new infrastructure for research, development, and innovation in education, leveraging technology to not only enhance learning but to accelerate the pace at which we learn about learning. For the first time in history, digital learning will allow us to (cost effectively) study the process of learning at greater levels of detail and insight than just the outcomes of learning, and to come to conclusions empirically on critical questions that have remained the fodder of ideological debates for as long as any of us can remember.
And, when we do, teachers will be empowered by new research, new tools, and greater capabilities, making their lives and those of the students, whom they touch, better for it.
No one asks if we invest in R&D to render doctors irrelevant or engineers or farmers for that matter. To the contrary, their associations advocate for more investment in R&D for their sectors. But who is advocating on behalf of educators, education and our children?
Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton, in a TEDx Mid-Atlantic talk last October, outlines a new infrastructure for learning about learning – one that capitalizes on digital learning’s potential to help all children, and adults, achieve their full potential.
Jim Shelton is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement.
February 6th is Digital Learning Day, a national celebration of educators that shines a spotlight on successful instructional technology practice in classrooms across the country. Participation is free, and a highlight is the National Digital Town Hall that will be simulcast live from the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
(December 18, 2012) Today the U.S. Department of Education announced all 20 of the highest-rated applicants in the 2012 Investing in Innovation (i3) competition have secured their required private-sector matching funds and have become official i3 grantees. Together, they will share more than $140 million in federal funds to expand innovative practices designed to accelerate achievement and help prepare every student to succeed in college and in their careers.
“We know private partners play a huge role in driving local education reform efforts when they can invest in promising ideas, and these grantees have proposed a variety of innovative approaches to close achievement gaps and ultimately prepare every student for lifelong success,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Partnerships like these are vital to supporting teachers and students as they tackle some of the toughest issues in education.”