Input Sought on Mechanisms for Educational Technology

On Jan. 13, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy posted a Request for Information (RFI) on advancing learning technology through “pull” mechanisms.

Traditionally, the federal government has favored “push” mechanisms, such as grants, contracts, or tax incentives, which pay for inputs; a problem must be solved and an organization is paid to try a particular approach, regardless of whether that approach is successful in solving the problem. “Pull” mechanisms, however, pay for outcomes, without specifying a course of action. Established pull mechanisms have been used in government and in other sectors; these include prizes; pay-for-success strategies, such as social impact bonds; and advance market commitments.

OII’s mission is to “accelerate the pace at which the U.S. identifies, develops, and scales solutions to education’s most important and persistent challenges.” An integral part of this work is serving as thought partners and collaborators in considering new and innovative structural solutions. A number of pull strategies are promising and could have strong applicability to learning technologies and our students’ future.

For more information, check out the White House’s blog post on the RFI.

Posted in Educational Productivity, Innovation in the Field, Technology | 2 Comments

Importance of District-Wide Reform is Focus of Annual Magnet Schools Meeting

On Dec. 5 and 6, the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) team hosted the MSAP Project Directors Meeting in Washington, D.C. Each year, this two-day conference brings together more than 200 members of the MSAP community, including project directors, project evaluators, magnet school principals, magnet school coordinators, curriculum developers, content specialists, and recruitment staff, in order to network, discuss the administration of federal grants, and learn of available technical support, best practices, and resources. For the first time, superintendents of school districts that receive federal funding under the MSAP program participated in order to build support for magnet programs within the larger context of district-wide reform.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier talks with students during a Broad Foundation research team tour of Ortiz Middle School in May 2013. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Independent School District)

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier talks with students during a Broad Foundation research team tour of Ortiz Middle School in May 2013. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Independent School District)

The conference keynote was offered by Superintendent Terry Grier of the Houston Independent School District (HISD). Under his leadership, HISD, the largest school district in Texas, has improved its student outcomes in remarkable ways — its dropout rate declined to an all-time low of 11.8 percent, while its graduation rate remains at an all-time high of 78.5 percent; scholarship dollars to graduating seniors have more than tripled; the number of students scoring a three or higher on AP exams has increased by 45 percent; and the achievement gap has shrunk in a noteworthy manner. All of this led HISD to be named a 2013 recipient of the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education — the only two-time winner of the prize. And in December, HISD was one of five school systems to receive federal Race to the Top-District grant funding. Most recently, the HISD placed fourth among more than 100 American school districts in The Education Choice and Competition Index, the Brown Center on Education Policy’s annual guide to the conditions of K-12 school choice in the nation’s largest school districts.

In his remarks, Superintendent Grier outlined his vision for magnet schools within the larger context of district reform in Houston ISD and discussed the role that HISD’s approximately 100 magnet schools play in both fostering equity and diversity in the public school system and expanding community/business partnerships. Audience members characterized his keynote as both highly engaging and inspiring.

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Posted in Grants, Parental Options and Information, STEM | Comments Off

New Jersey Teachers Discuss History and Civics with Supreme Court Justice

Every year, hundreds of American history teachers participating in Teaching American History (TAH) projects across the country gather in our nation’s capital to experience our history, politics, and culture firsthand. For many of these educators, this travel-study experience is their first journey to Washington, D.C., and, as such, marks an important milestone in their careers. For a group of 18 teachers from Ridgewood, New Jersey, however, a summer trip in 2013 also represented their first engaged discussion with experts in government and politics who are in elected and appointed offices of the federal government. The capstone event of the Ridgewood TAH project included a private audience with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Breyer:  Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discusses a range of topics with the Ridgewood TAH project teachers.  (Photo courtesy of John Domville of Ridgewood High School)

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer discusses a range of topics with the Ridgewood TAH project teachers. (Photo courtesy of John Domville of Ridgewood High School)

In preparation for this event, the participating teachers read and discussed The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction by Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times journalist Linda Greenhouse. In addition, under the guidance of the project’s three master educators, the TAH teachers developed a list of discussion topics to share with Justice Breyer. A number of the selected topics were relevant to Justice Breyer’s vast experience and expertise in legal theory and administrative and constitutional law; others were more pertinent to the teachers’ classroom work and efforts to improve civic engagement in their schools and communities, such as the roles of civic education in public life and the federal government in K-12 education, and the impact of Supreme Court decisions in American life, among others.

As a result of their experience at the Supreme Court, the teachers have developed lessons on equality (14th Amendment) and the interpretation of language in the U.S. Constitution (Federalist Paper #56). All of the lessons integrate one or more of the Common Core State Standards and use the Understanding by Design instructional framework.

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Posted in Grants, History, Professional Development, Teacher Quality, Teaching American History | 3 Comments

i3 Director Looks to Retirement as Latest Change Opportunity

Carol Lyons farewell

Carol Lyons (center) is joined by members of OII’s i3 Team to celebrate her 39 years of federal service and wish her well in retirement.

Earlier this month, OII said goodbye to Carol Lyons, who directed the Investing in Innovation (i3) Program since 2011. Carol retired after 39 years of federal service.

As i3 director, Carol supervised two busy years of complex grant competitions, annual project director meetings, and day-to-day monitoring of an ever-increasing portfolio of i3 grantees, including the recently announced 2013 cohort. While her time as the i3 director was likely the most hectic, she has had many wonderful opportunities in the federal government throughout her career. Carol worked at the Library of Congress, on Capitol Hill, and at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, before it was split to create the Department of Education as we know it today. She also taught school briefly before embarking on her federal career.

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Promise Zones Launched in Five Communities

On Thursday, Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones,” where local communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety. Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zones Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class.

The first five Zones — in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma — have put forward plans for how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity. Click here for a fact sheet on the Promise Zones Initiative and the key strategies of each of the five Zones.

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Posted in Community Engagement, Grants, Promise Neighborhoods | Comments Off

The End’s the Beginning for TQP Director Peggi Zelinko

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Last month, OII said a fond farewell to Director of Teacher Quality Programs Peggi Zelinko. Peggi retired at the end of November after 19 years of service at the Department of Education.

Peggi was named the Director of the Teacher Quality Programs (TQP) in OII in 2005. In that role, she oversaw a number of discretionary grant programs focusing on teacher quality and school leadership. These programs have included Transition to Teaching, Troops to Teachers, Teaching American History, the National Writing Project, the School Leadership Program, Supporting Effective Educator Development, and Teacher Quality Partnerships. She also served for a year as acting director of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, while maintaining her leadership role of TQP. Before her leadership role with TQP, Peggi served as a program officer for the Transition to Teaching program and team leader for the School Leadership Program in OII, and as the program officer for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s teacher quality initiatives.

Peggi was a practitioner as well as a policy maker. Formerly a staff member with the U.S. Department of Labor and the West Virginia State Department of Education, she also worked as a teacher educator at the collegiate level and as a high school marketing teacher. Her work at ED was defined by this background in education. One of her chief goals as a program director was to ensure that programs show results. “To what end?” was one of her signature comments when assessing grant program activities.

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Posted in Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), School Leadership, Teacher Quality | Comments Off

Time-Tested Routines at Heart of Common Core Transition

As states, districts, and schools implement the Common Core State Standards, a new resource to help them with the change process is available from The Achievement Network (ANet), an OII Investing in Innovation (i3) grantee. Focusing on the How: Guidance for School and District Leaders on Supporting Teachers Through the Transition to the Common Core addresses the uncertainty that educators may have about the transition to the Common Core.

Educators’ traditional sources of stability and direction are undergoing change as they implement the content changes associated with Common Core. It is “time-tested routines,” according to ANet, that can provide an infrastructure for implementing the new standards. These include “consistent, collaborative routines for planning from standards, evaluating student progress, and adapting instruction based on student needs.”

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New ED Resources Offer Reform Insights and Help

Just in time for the New Year, the Department of Education has launched two new education reform resources. Bookshelf is a series of ready-made presentations that highlight numerous focus areas in education. The presentation slide decks present facts, charts, data, and other information reflecting progress and challenges in improving education, as well as ED programs and initiatives that aim to close achievement gaps and foster equal educational opportunities. The presentations are available to the public for download and use.

The Department has also created a new blog, Progress: Teachers, Leaders, and Students Transforming Education, to highlight state and local innovative ideas, promising practices, lessons learned, and resources informed by the implementation of K-12 education reforms. These lessons from the field showcase reforms in action spurred by programs such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, School Improvement Grants, Promise Neighborhoods, and ESEA Flexibility. The new blog is intended to provide insight into the exciting transformations taking place in classrooms, schools, and systems across the country through the leadership of teachers, school, district and state leaders and their partners.

Plan to visit these new Web resources in 2014 in addition to staying connected to OII’s home page. Not subscribed to our home page yet? Click here to subscribe and follow us on Twitter @ED_OII.


Posted in Educational Improvement, Innovation in the Field, School Reform | Comments Off

Department Announces Highest-Rated Applications Secure Match Funding and Become Grantees for Investing in Innovation 2013 Competition

(Dec. 13, 2013) The U.S. Department of Education today announced that the 25 highest-rated applications (HRAs) for the fourth round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program competition have secured private-sector matching funds and will be awarded approximately $134 million by the end of December to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement.

The 25 grantees were selected from 618 applications, representing 13 states and the District of Columbia. With this new cohort, the i3 program will encompass a total of 117 projects that are using more than $1 billion in federal funds and nearly 200 million in private-sector dollars to address some of the most important challenges in education.

“In this era of rapid change, these i3 awards will help grantees prepare students for the rigor and changing demands of the global job market,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “The collaborative efforts of these grantees and their private-sector partners will further our focus on ensuring students are successful in education and careers.”

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Video Series Reveals How i3 Science Project is Unfolding

Want to get a firsthand look at how elementary school teachers in Virginia are changing the way they view science and how they teach it because of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant? You can by tuning in to the VISTA Voices: Inside the Elementary Program video series. Teachers from across the state attended summer institutes where they worked with students, gained hands-on practice using new teaching methods, and made plans for implementing new approaches, both individually and as school-based teams — all part of the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA).

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Posted in Grants, Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), Professional Development, STEM | Comments Off