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Investing in Innovation Fund

The Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Innovation and Improvement supports the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) which promotes public and private investments in local educational agencies and non-profit organizations to improve student achievement and attainment in low-income communities, and create an education sector supportive of the rapid development and adoption of effective solutions.  Initially funded through the 2009 Recovery Act, i3 provides competitive grants to school districts, nonprofit organizations working with districts, or a consortium of schools with a record of improving student achievement and attainment, and demonstrated public-private commitments.  Grants awards vary based on the type of activity:  scale-up, validation, or development.  All grantees are expected to obtain private-sector matching funds or in-kind donations to support their program.  In Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, ED awarded over $645 million to support four scale-up, 15 validation, and 30 development grants.  In FY 2011, over $148 million was awarded to support one scale-up, five validation and 17 development grants.  The Department of Education has announced the 20 highest rated 2012 applications. See more here.

These grants are expected to expand the implementation of and investment in innovative and evidence-based practices, programs and strategies that significantly:

  • improve K-12 achievement and close achievement gaps;
  • decrease dropout rates; and
  • increase high school graduation rates.

Evidence Standards and Evaluation:

Grants are awarded to support Scale-up, Validation, or Development activities depending on the level of evidence.  A scale-up grant must be an approach already supported by strong evidence, which can be scaled to the national, regional or state level.  Validation grants must be supported by moderate evidence, with the ability to scale up to the regional or state level.  Development grants support approaches based on reasonable research findings or hypotheses, including related research or theories in education and other sectors, with consideration for future validation or scale-up i3 grants.

For sale-up grants, “strong evidence” means evidence from previous studies whose designs can support causal conclusions, and scaling up to the state, regional, or national level as demonstrated by the range of participants and settings to support (i.e., high internal and high external validity).  Previous studies supporting strong evidence may include:  (1) more than one experimental study, or quasi-experimental study that supports the effectiveness of the practice, strategy, or program; or (2) one large randomized controlled, multisite trial that supports the effectiveness of the model.

“Moderate evidence”, for the purpose of i3 validation grants, means evidence from previous studies whose designs can support causal conclusions but have limited generalizability (i.e., high internal validity with moderate external validity), or studies with high external validity but moderate internal validity.  This may include: (1) at least one experimental or quasi-experimental study supporting the effectiveness of the model, with small sample sizes or other conditions of implementation or analysis that limit generalizability; (2) at least one experimental or quasi-experimental study that does not demonstrate equivalence at the time of entry between the intervention and comparison groups but that has no other major flaws related to internal validity; or (3) research demonstrating success through an intermediate variable strongly correlated with these outcomes, such as teacher or principal effectiveness.

Development grants are expected to demonstrate theoretical support for the proposed approach that is based on research findings or reasonable hypotheses, and some empirical evidence of the promise of the proposed approach based on prior implementation and evaluation of something similar, albeit potentially on a limited scale or in a limited setting.

All i3 grantees are required to conduct an independent evaluation of the project and are expected to disseminate the results broadly through formal (e.g., peer-reviewed journals) or informal (e.g., newsletters) mechanisms.  For scale-up and validation grants, grantees are also expected to ensure the data from their evaluations are made available to third-party researchers consistent with applicable privacy requirements.