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.
(November 6, 2014) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced today the 26 highest-rated applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s $129 million Investing in Innovation (i3) 2014 competition aimed at developing innovative approaches to improving student achievement and replicating effective strategies across the country.
These 26 potential i3 grantees selected from 434 applications and representing 14 states and the District of Columbia, must secure matching funds by Dec. 10, 2014, in order to receive federal funding. All highest-rated applications in previous years have secured matching funds and become grantees. To date, the Department’s signature tiered-evidence program has funded 117 unique i3 projects that seek to provide innovative solutions to pressing education challenges.
(March 18, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education announced the start of the $134 million 2014 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition on March 14th, 2014 with the release of the program’s invitation for pre-applications for the i3 “Development” grants (up to $3,000,000 each). In its fifth round of competition, the i3 program continues to develop and expand practices that accelerate student achievement and prepare every student to succeed in college and in their careers. The i3 program includes three grant categories: Development, Validation and Scale-up. The Department plans to announce applications for the Validation and Scale-up categories this spring.
“We’re excited to begin this year’s i3 Development competition to support promising efforts in the field. The initiatives supported by i3 are not only designed to boost students’ success, they also improve our understanding of what works for students and educators,” said Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Nadya Dabby. “We look forward to supporting new ideas to help all students—especially our highest need students—achieve.”
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.
A New York City school student and parent, with the help of a software developer, view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Innovate NYC Schools)
“The lack of innovation in education is not due to a lack of creativity, but the misalignment of student and educator need to the market supply of innovations.” That’s the guiding premise of Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee that is using technology to increase the degree of alignment and making students and teachers integral to the change process. The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.
Two dynamics in school system bureaucracies combine to stymie innovation: On the one hand, changes in policy only get you so far; they “don’t lead to durable improvements in practice,” contends Steven Hodas, Innovate NYC Schools’ executive director. Moreover, this fact, he says, often causes the most innovative companies on the outside of the school bureaucracy to take a pass on responding to school systems’ RFPs to develop new products or services.
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.
In today’s world, technology has changed and, for the most part, improved the way we do everything from shopping to connecting with friends and family to managing our finances and our healthcare. But for a number of reasons, technology has not yet transformed the way our students learn on a day-to-day basis — at least not on a broad scale. Of course, there are many exciting examples across the country of schools and districts that have harnessed the power of technology to improve student learning, but these are not yet the norm.
One of the main barriers standing in the way is a lack of modern technology infrastructure in our schools that can support exciting and innovative digital-learning opportunities. (Although nearly every classroom in the country has basic Internet connectivity, the majority do not have fast enough bandwidth speeds to support their current needs.) This is why, as part of his ConnectED initiative, President Obama challenged the Federal Communications Commission to modernize the existing E-Rate program to upgrade our schools’ technology infrastructure to support ultrafast broadband speeds.
This morning, the Department of Education announced the release of the Notices Inviting Applicants to the i3 program’s competition in the Scale-up and Validation categories.
Earlier this spring, the Department began the 2013 i3 competition with the release of the Notice of Final Priorities and the Notice Inviting Applicants to submit pre-applications for the Development category. Nearly 600 pre-applications were received.
Potential applicants for the Scale-up and Validation categories have until July 2, 2013, to submit an application. Click here for more information about the i3 program and competition.