Late last week, the US Department of Education announced the 20 winners of the latest “Investing in Innovation” competition.

On its website, the Department has a number of documents worth checking out if you’d like to learn a little more about the competition itself and those awarded funds.  Here are the things that jumped out at me.

  • I had never heard of most of the winners.  Of late, the ed-reform community has become enamored of a number of flashy tech organizations that focus particularly on hybrid learning and the transition to Common Core.  Most of these winners are outside of that cool-kids lunch table.  Lesson to reformers: We should start grazing around the rest of the cafeteria.
  • Almost three times the amount of money was given to “validation” awards (up to $15m) than to “development” awards (up to $3m); no money was given to the largest “scale up” categories (up to $25m).
  • Grants were pretty well spread among the five absolute-priority areas, such as “Teachers and Principals,” “STEM,” and “Parent and Family.”  However, only one award was given in the area of “Standards and Assessments” (to Jobs for the Future for work in the Rio Grande Valley and Denver, CO).  This is a huge surprise, given the number of organizations that talk wide-eyed about the intersection of technology and Common Core.  I would’ve expected a bunch of winners in the area of formative/interim assessments, lesson plans, online courses, etc.
  • After lots of justified complaining that previous competitions didn’t give them the attention they needed or deserved, the rural-schools community won three grants, including one by the National Writing Project.  Mark this space: I think—and hope—that low-income rural schools will be the focus of increased activity in the years to come, though the obstacles to scale in this area are formidable.
  • WestEd won two grants.
  • Many in the ed-reform community consider institutions of higher education, especially educator-prep programs, as anything but innovative; but three won awards, one for English-language acquisition and two for school turnarounds, one of which went to a school “recognized as a pioneer in arts and media training,”
  • Both New Leaders and NBTPS won awards to improve educator effectiveness.  This category (“Teachers and Principals”) was the biggest winner, earning awards totaling almost $48m—about one-third of the entire pot.
  • The massive Clark County School district (which includes Las Vegas), the fifth-largest in the nation, won an award for STEM; as far as I can tell, it’s the largest district to be associated with a winning application.
  • I can’t seem to find the list of applicants that didn’t win.  I’m interested in which of the well-known education technology organizations won, didn’t win, or didn’t apply (perhaps because they have access to other streams of funds).
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