Education and the FY2011 Budget

Details are starting to trickle in on how the U.S. Department of Education will be affected by the budget deal cut late Friday by President Obama and congressional leaders.  And how does our little education space shake out?

The Winners
* Additional $700 million for Race to the Top (though still likely for states, not districts)
* Additional $150 million for Investing in innovation
* Additional $20 million for Promise Neighborhoods (added to original $10 million)
The Losers
* Every ED program (a 0.2%, across-the-board cut for all programs)
* Striving Readers eliminated ($250 million)
* Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) grants eliminated ($100 million)
* $97 million cut to Safe and Drug-Free Schools
* Smaller Learning Communities eliminated ($88 million)
* $73 million cut for Teaching of Traditional History
* Even Start eliminated ($66.5 million)
* LEAP eliminated ($63.9 million)
* Robert C. Byrd Scholarships eliminated ($42 million)
* Arts in Education eliminated ($40 million)
* National Writing Project eliminated ($25.6 million)
* $25 million cut for TRIO
* Reading is Fundamental eliminated ($24.8 million)
* $20 million cut for state assessments
* $20 million cut for GEAR UP
* Literacy Through School Libraries eliminated ($19.1 million)
* Teach for America eliminated ($18 million)
* $15 million cut for English Language Acquisition State Grants
* $13 million cut for Regional Education Labs
* $13 million cut for Recordings for the Blind
* Grants to Gulf Coast States eliminated ($12 million)
* National Board for Professional Teaching Standards eliminated ($10.6 million)
* $10 million cut for School Improvement Grants (SIG)
* Special Olympics eliminated ($8.1 million)
* Javitz Gifted and Talented program eliminated ($7.5 million)
* $5 million cut for Comprehensive Centers
* $5 million cut for Teacher Quality State Grants
* Thurgood Marshall Legal Scholarships eliminated ($3 million)
* STEM foreign language teacher training eliminated ($2.2 million)
* Underground Railroad program eliminated ($1.9 million)
* Close Up Fellowships eliminated ($1.9 million)
* $1 million cut for ESEA evaluation
And, perhaps most devastating, the Historic Whaling and Trading Partners program was eliminated, at a tune of $8.8 million.
As a parting gift, it looks like Congress will set us a new 1 percent competitive grant program, about $29.4 million, in the Teacher Quality State Grants program.  This will allow some eliminated efforts — like TFA, NBPTS, and the Writing Project, to compete for some additional funding.
Of course, none of this should come as any surprise.  For the past two presidential budgets, the White House has offered up all of the above programs for either elimination or consolidation.  So when Congress is looking to make cuts, the logical place to go is after those programs that President Obama himself has signaled as non-essential (even if he intended to allow them to compete for consolidated money through a competitive grant program).

Presidential Education Budget Redux

Yesterday, President Obama released his FY2012 Budget.  And it was hardly a “the new phone books are here” sort of moment.  In an era of supposed budgetary belt-tightening, we all knew that the U.S. Department of Education was facing a budget increase.  The major question was how much of that increase would go to Pell and how much to P-12.

So when the details of the budget were revealed, Eduflack’s primary response was, “didn’t we just have this discussion last year?”  New rounds of Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation.  A handful of programs eliminated.  A good number of programs “consolidated” into a series of competitive buckets.  So while some of the specific dollars may be a little different (more for RttT this year than last, less for i3), Eduflack comments on the FY2011 budget seem to be fairly evergreen, all things considered. 
Of course, there are a few things that make this year a little different:
* Political realities — For those eagerly waiting to cash checks based on FY2012 presidential projections, please remember we still haven’t passed the FY2011 budget yet.  FY2012 is largely a do-over because FY2011 never became law.  The Administration is to be commended for sticking to its guns and staying with the same policy priorities.  But we can’t forget these priorities couldn’t get passed in a Democratic Congress in 2010.  If the current fight over the FY2011 continuing resolution is any indication, Congress (particularly House Republicans) have a VERY different view of where our education budget should head.  So let’s realize that the President has essentially put forward a “ceiling” for education spending.  The House will drive it down some, and both the House and Senate will swap out some of the president’s programs for their own favorite funding recipients.
* Reauthorization — Much of the “big thinking” in this year’s presidential budget is based on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Based on yesterday’s ED presentation, all those interesting new programs and the continuation of RttT and i3 are all linked to successful ESEA reauth.  What happens, then, if reauth rolls out at House Education Committee John Kline (MN) wants — incrementally?  Or what happens if Dems in the Senate can’t agree on a strategy?  Another year of ED CRs means none of these big ideas are funded.
* Early childhood education — Kudos to the Administration for the creation of the Early Learning Challenge Fund.  The President is now addressing his 2008 campaign pledges about the importance of ECE.  Even more important, he is placing the responsibility for 21st century early learning with the U.S. Department of Education (instead of over in HHS with the Head Start office).  Could it be we may actually see a P-20 education continuum run through Maryland Avenue?  One can only hope.
* Title I Rewards — Perhaps the most intriguing new idea is that of a Title I Rewards program.  And it is interesting because of what we know, and what we still don’t.  Based on yesterday, it seems that ED will provide $300 million in new Title I dollars directly to the states, based on current Title I formulas.  It will then be up to the states to divide that money up among those Title I districts who are demonstrating the most progress in student achievement improvement.  So will dollars go to a select few districts or most?  Are rewards simply the thanks of a grateful nation, or are they to be designated for specific interventions or to scale particular improvements?  Lots of questions, with lots of opportunities.
* Teacher training — Last year, the Administration took a beating for the perception that it was scrapping its commitment to preservice education for teachers, instead handing the keys over to alt cert providers and programs like Teach for America.  This year, the President is offering up $975 million for the recruitment, reward, and retention of new teachers.  We’re looking at recruitment programs, scholarship efforts (particularly those targeting minorities), and an emphasis on science and math teachers.  This seems like an awful lot of real capital to begin supporting the initiative.
And who is getting condolence cards today?  Those 13 programs slated for elimination (including the Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners, which is experiencing another year of life and another $8.8 million under the CR).  The 38 programs targeted for consolidation, while a few are destined for greatness in the competitive grant process (I’m looking at you, TFA), most may go the way of those Whaling Partners.  Career and Technical Education, which seemed to be the big loser, as some well-meaning program had to sacrifice to make this year’s number, and CTE seems to be the recipient of such cuts.  And I’d also put ARPA-ED on the list, simply because after all of the build up it received in the week leading into the budget, the total dollar figure allotted to our very own DARPA seems small by comparison.
Now the fun begins.  Anyone willing to bet more than half the new funding makes it through the House of Representatives this fall?

Should Kids Compete for a Good Education?

“Why should children compete for their education?”  That is one of the questions that EdWeek’s Michele McNeil reports came out of yesterday’s face off between EdSec Arne Duncan and local school board members from across the nation who came to Washington as part of the National School Boards Association federal conference.

It is an interesting question, posed among many of similarly interesting points and concerns raised by local school boards across the country.  McNeil also highlights board members’ concerns of issues such as teacher incentives, ELLs and testing, and even ESEA itself.
(Full disclosure, Eduflack is an NSBA member, a delegate to the Virginia School Boards Association, and the Vice Chairman of the Falls Church City (VA) School Board.)
The notion of children competing is tied to the Obama Administration’s efforts to move almost all of our nation’s discretionary education spending into a competitive grant process.  By doing away with many of the federally funded programs local schools have long counted on and using U.S. Department of Education dollars to fund an instructional version of American Idol, the story goes, we are jeopardizing our classrooms and learning processes.  
Forget that federal education spending represents less than 10 cents of every dollar spent on K-12 education.  Forget that most of that federal education money is committed through formula spending programs like Title I.  Forget that too many kids, despite high per-pupil expenditures, are still getting a lousy education.  The real problem right now is that a small portion of federal education money is being given to those who can demonstrate a real plan and who are committed to showing efficacy and impact?
Our communities should be competing for their educations.  If Congress and ED and the state legislatures are effective stewards of taxpayer dollars, they should want to see ROI for their spending and know the money is producing results.  With so much of the federal commitment to K-12 going to formula spending, what is wrong with wanting to see that results and evaluation, along with need, factor into who gets what?
At the end of the day, competitive programs such as those envisioned by ED are intended to serve as test cases for school improvement.  We sprinkle some seed money in a particular district or state, measure the outcomes, and see if such an investment is warranted at a larger scale.  Such an approach — of early adopters, if you will — works in other industries.  What is so wrong by trying new approaches, gathering the data, and they saying if it can work in Indiana (or Massachusetts or South Carolina or Nevada) or it can work in Dallas (or Atlanta or name your urban district) then it can work in a state, a district, or a school like mine?
A little competition is a good thing.  Meaningful competition, where school communities (SEA or LEA) change their behaviors and approaches to trigger changes in the outcomes (student achievement) is an even better thing.  
Our schools already compete for Title I funding.   Districts and states compete with each other on everything from teacher pay to student achievement.  Kids are already competing for a good education.  We should be focusing on turning more kids into winners in the competition, rather than looking to hand out a slew of participant trophies.

Can We Innovate to Improvement?

Is there real, honest-to-goodness innovation entering the K-12 education space?  We seem to use the term “innovation” a great deal, but few seem to know what it really means.  The dictionary definition is “something new or different introduced.”  When the U.S. Department of Education issued its Investing in Innovation (i3) program last year, innovation was driven by what was research proven and evidence based.

Without question, i3 inspired a significant number of school districts, non-profit organizations, and thought leaders to give real thought to innovation in education.  Nearly 1,700 entities submitted applications for i3 funding.  Forty nine applicants became i3 winners.  But hundreds and hundreds of other projects, particularly some at the school district level, received high scores, indicating the opportunity and potential these education innovations could have.
This week, the Aspen Institute is hosting its Education Innovation Forum and Expo.  With a goal of leveraging the interest in i3 to “drive an innovation culture” in education, Aspen and its partners offer up a series of objectives for this meeting and the partnerships and relationships that should come from the gathering, including:
* Create a national stage to feature investment ready non-profit and for profit educational innovations
* Foster an education policy environment that is more innovation and investment friendly
* Showcase high-scoring i3 projects
* Attract more private equity investment to promising education innovations
* Provide an enduring platform for connecting innovators with venture capitalists, social innovation investors, educators, and policymakers
* Engage thought leaders from other sectors in creating a robust education innovation and R&D infrastructure
For those who have been slogging in the ed reform trenches for years, many of these objectives are discussions and actions that we simply have not engaged in to date.  Despite interest in additional dollars, the education community, on the whole, has been slow to embrace the role of for-profit interests — particularly as a partner — in public education.  We are a sector that still can’t agree on what innovation is.  And despite popular opinion, we simply have never invested in a true R&D infrastructure, at least not the way other policy sectors do.
So kudos go to Aspen, the U.S. Department of Education (an “in cooperation” partner of the event), and the partners and sponsors who are jumpstarting the discussion.  When everyone from Arne Duncan to Alan Greenspan, Mark Ecko to Joel Klein, and Paul Pastorek to Mike Johnston takes the time to spur this discussion toward a real, innovative, R&D focus, it merits some attention.
In listening to the conversations and formal discussions across the Washington Convention Center, it also raises a few observations:
* Private-sector, and even philanthropic, support for school improvement is meant to be a catalyst.  Such funding is not intended to supplant current funding from the state or local community.  Private investment is also not intended to be an unending stream of dollars for as long as a new program remains in favor.  Such dollars are a way to jumpstart the system, allowing true reformers to move change in an environment often loathe for such.
* Reductions in traditional funding streams, coupled with the possibility of new streams from the private sector, should force us to move away from the status quo.  When we are being asked to do more with less, we can’t keep funding what we have done because it is what we have done.  New dollars need to be focused on the future and on return on investment.  Innovation is an investment in promising practice, not a way to prop up what hasn’t worked in the past.
* We still do not know if we can bring innovation to scale.  Currently, we have approximately 15,000 school districts across the United States.  In the past decade, Teach for America has been deemed by many the most successful ed reform/innovation effort in public education.  According to the TFA website, the organization is working in 39 placement regions, including many of the larger, urban school districts.  If TFA increased its regions by 400 percent next year, it would be up to 1 percent of our total districts.  This is no knock on TFA, but it is a realization that we still don’t have a working model to bring innovation and reforms to scale in the United States.
Hopefully, the Aspen forum will help drive some thinking toward answering these questions.  How do we fund a true R&D research agenda?  How do we decide what is worthy of funding?  How do we make sure funding is used as intended and drives ROI?  And how do we define scalable reform in an industry so tied to the status quo?
As is typical for education, lots of questions.  If today is indication, we have real people with real influence committed to answering the questions.  We have real checkbooks to back up some of the rhetoric.  Now we just need the real ideas and real measures to move the discussion to true action.

Some Resolutions for 2011

Another year about to go down in the history books.  Are we any closer to truly improving our public schools?  For every likely step forward we may have taken in 2010, it seems to be met with a similar step back.  For every rhetorical push ahead, we had a very real headwind blocking progress. 

So as we head into 2011, your friendly neighborhood Eduflack offers up a few “resolutions” for all on the education reform boat to consider as we start a new year.  We need to come to accept the following:
1.  True reform does not happen at the federal level.  The federal government is an important lever in the school improvement process, offering some necessary financial resources and some bully pulpit language to inspire reform.  But true improvement happens at the state and local levels.  It is about what our SEAs and LEAs do with those resources and whether they embrace the call from the bully pulpit.  Just as all politics is local, so too is all education reform.  Why do you think groups like DFER are so keen on launching new statewide efforts, like the new one in California?
2.  ESEA reauthorization really doesn’t matter.  As much as we want to fret about when ESEA is going to be reauthorized and what will and won’t be included, it doesn’t have much impact on the game at hand.  At the end of the day, EdSec Duncan could work from the current NCLB, make a few tweaks, and be just fine for the next few years.  Those thinking a major sea change is coming with reauth will be sadly mistaken.  If we see reauth this year (put at about 60 percent), expect it to simply be a kinder, gentler NCLB.  Nothing more.
3. Education technology matters.  For years now, we’ve placed ed tech in the perifery when it comes to school improvement, trying to define it as simply the adoption of a particular piece of hardware.  Ed tech needs to be at the center of 21st century school improvement.  It is important to instruction and student achievement, teacher quality, and all-around turnaround efforts.  If we are to realize its impact, we need to ensure it is a non-negotiable in the process.
4. We cannot forget about reading instruction.  Nine years ago, Reading First was born, emphasizing the importance of literacy instruction in the elementary grades.  We cannot boost student test scores and we cannot ensure that all kids are college and career ready if everyone isn’t reading at grade level.  RF taught us a great deal on how to teach reading (and how not to advocate it politically).  Building on those lessons, we need to redouble our efforts to get each and every child reading proficient.  And that now includes focusing on middle and high schools, where too many students have fallen between the cracks.
5. Superintendents matter.  Many of our largest and most influential school districts will experience change at the top this coming year.  These new leaders can’t forget that the role of instructional leader is essential to their success.  Shaking things up is good.  Sweeping out the old is fine.  Doing things differently is great.  But at the end of the day, being a superintendent is all about teaching and learning and measurement.  Magazine covers are nice, but rising test scores are far more rewarding.
6. We still need to figure out what teacher quality is.  Is it just student test scores?  Does it include preservice education requirements beyond HQT provisions?  Are their qualitative factors?  Can we accept a “we’ll know it when we see it” definition?  With increased focus continuing to be placed on the topic of teacher quality, we need a true defition and a true measurement to really launch a meaningful discussion.  We’ve spent too much time talking about what it isn’t or what it shouldn’t be.  It is time to determine what it is.
7. Research remains king.  In 2010, we spent a great deal of money on school reforms and improvement ideas.  Most of these dollars were an investment in hope.  Now it is time to verify.  We need to determine what is working and what is not.  We need to know not just that the money is being spent (as ED typically sees evaluation) but instead need to know what it is being spent on and what is showing promise of success.  We need to redouble our investments in evaluation.  Other sectors have made real advances because of investments in R&D.  It is about time for education to do the same.
8. We need to learn how to use social media in education.  It is quite disheartening to see that states like Virginia are exploring banning teachers from using tools like Facebook with their students.  It is also a little frustrating to see that media like Twitter are still being used for one-way communications.  We need to see more engagement and dialogue through our social media.  An example?  How about more Twitter debates like those between @DianeRavitch and @MichaelPetrilli ?
And as we look forward to the new year, some predictions on what is hot and what is not for 2011.
HOT — Accountability (and its flexibility).  Assessments.  International benchmarking.  Rural education.  Alternative certification.  Special education.  Competitive grants.  Local control.  School improvement.  Local elected school boards.  Online education.
NOT —  Charter schools.  Early childhood education.  21st century skills.  STEM.  ELL.  Education schools.  RttT/i3.  Education reform (yeah, you heard me).  Teachers unions.  Mayoral control.  AYP.  Early colleges.  Edujobs.
Happy new year!  

Getting Caught In the Net(P)

With all of the talk about innovation, 21st century skills, college and career readiness, and much of the remaining buzz words surrounding school improvement this past year, little has actually be said about the old innovation workhorse, education technology.

Back in February and March, President Obama’s budget proposed zeroing out a number of the programs that served as dedicated ed tech funding for states and school districts, with a promise that ed tech would be better integrated in ESEA (and in ESEA reauthorization), and that increased dollars would be available for competitive ed tech programs that reach directly into school districts and schools.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education finally released its National Education Technology Plan, or NETP 2010.  Wrapping itself around the topics of readiness, global competitiveness, performance, and accountability, ED planted a new flag for the direction of education technology programs, injecting a little 21st century into our national blueprint.

According to ED, “NETP presents a model of learning powered by technology, with goals and recommendations in five essential areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. The plan also identifies far-reaching ‘grand challenge’ R&D problems that should be funded and coordinated at a national level.”

How novel.  We are connecting the issues of school tech with actual learning and teaching in the classroom.  We are connecting ed tech with assessment and student performance.  And most importantly, we are addressing the “R&D problems,” important shorthand for how grossly underfunded education R&D, particularly in the area of technology, has been at the government level.  (Don’t believe Eduflack, at the percentage of the federal health budget committed to R&D and compare it to the percentage of the ED budget committed to R&D.  And don’t even get me started on the horrific shortage of private-sector education R&D.)

The release of NETP 2010 is important.  What is equally important, though, is how the rhetoric will be moved into practice.  How are these goals being integrated into ESEA reauth planning?  How are these goals weaved into evaluations for both RttT and i3 efforts in 2011 and beyond?  In our national commitment to better integrate ed tech into the infrastructure of K-12 education, how are we ensuring the necessary funding?  And in answering all of the above, who will champion a renewed federal interest and investment in ed tech on Capitol Hill?

For too many years, the ed tech community has been forced to play defense, trying to protect programs from deeper cuts, year after year.  NETP 2010 provides a greater sense of hope, a verbal agreement that ed tech is a priority of this Administration and this nation.  Now that verbal just has to carry over to the written contracts of this coming February’s Presidential Budget and long-expected ESEA action.


Over the weekend, Darrell Issa (CA), the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, made clear that investigations are a-coming to our nation’s capital in 2011.  The new GOP majority in the US House of Representatives plans to investigate the Obama Administration on a host of policy and political issues, all in the name of transparency and accountability.

What does all this mean for education?  Possibly quite a bit.  We still have many people about town licking their wounds from the investigations into the NCLB-era Reading First program.  So what could Issa and the “Investigations Committee” have up their sleeve for education in the coming Congress?

Stimulus Funding — According to the US Department of Education, $89 billion has been provided through the Recovery Act for education, saving an estimated 300,000 education jobs.  How has that money actually been spent?  Why is so much of the available education stimulus funding still untapped?  Are states spending the dollars, or holding them back for a rainy day?  How real are those job estimates?  The Stimulus may be a bigger topic for for Issa and company, but how billions of dollars has been spent by the K-12 establishment is likely to be a storyline.

Race to the Top — By now, we all know about the $4 billion spent on RttT.  So let’s look into the Round 1 scoring and the discrepencies across review panels.  What about the huge differences in Round 2 scores before and after oral defense?  How hard were states’ arms twisted to change laws and adopt policies in order to qualify for money they never got?  And then, more importantly, how is the money being spent?  What vendors are now raking in the big RttT bucks?   It may be greatly unfair, but many a pundit and so-called policy maven will expect to see tangible results in Tennessee and Delaware next year, only a year after winning the grant.  If we don’t see marked improvement …

Investing in Innovation — The i3 program brings many of the same questions coming to Race.  Why were so many school districts unsuccessful in winning, while advocacy groups and “friends of the program” won big?  What about discrepencies across the different review panels?   

Edujobs — Just because so many folks seem to dislike the program, it would make a great investigation, particularly since many school districts are holding the money back for next school year or the following.  Did it actually save a job for the 2010-11 school year?  And at what cost?

General Favoritism — This was the great hook of the RF debacle.  The Bush Administration allegedly steering contracts, funding, attention, and well wishes to their closest friends and family in the reading community.  What goes around, comes around, I fear.  Imagine those hearings to see what orgs are sitting at the table to write the education stimulus and ESEA reauth?  Who helped develop criteria for RttT, i3, and other programs?  What orgs are now reaping the benefits of their “help” on moving education improvement forward?  And who is in the pipe to benefit from proposed funding consolidation and competitive grants, as proposed in the president’s budget?

Are such investigations fair?  Hardly.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t happen.  Education is one of those interesting policy topics, where everyone believes they know best.  We all went to school, after all, and thus our ideas are the most important.  Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent a great deal of education dollars.  There have been real winners and real losers.  And if the House GOP is serious about reducing federal spending and federal power, going after federal education can be a powerful rhetorical device. 

So what’ll it be, Mr. Issa?  Is federal education on the hit list, somewhere between healthcare reform and cap and trade? 

Education Policy and 2010 Elections

This time tomorrow (or possibly this time Thursday or Friday, depending on how close some elections out west may be) we will know what the 112th Congress will look like and we will have a clear sense of who will be sitting in the big desks in governors’ offices across the nation.  You have to be living in a cave (or be in complete denial) not to know that big change is coming.  So how will such change affect education policy plans for 2011 and beyond?

ESEA Reauthorization — We will likely see ESEA reauth in 2011, and it may actually be helped along by Republicans taking over the U.S. House of Representatives.  Rep, John Kline (MN) has already been working closely with Chairman George Miller (CA) on the legislation.  So while Kline is likely to give the draft a greater emphasis on local control and rural schools, it should still move. 

And the U.S. Senate will follow the House’s lead.  It is expected that Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) will remain in charge of the HELP Committee.  But major changes on the committee (due to election results and retirements) may change the Senate perspective.  If anything, it may help focus Harkin and get him to move on a meaningful piece of legislation.

Common Core Standards — Tomorrow, we are likely to see a lot of governor’s offices change parties.  Inevitably, that is going to lead to many seeking new GOP governors to reconsider their states’ adoption of the Common Core Standards (all in the name of local control).  And we may well see a few states pull out of the process, particularly if said states were RttT losers and are particularly proud of their state standards.  Texas and Virginia can serve as the model for these “rebel” states.

Phase Three Race to the Top and Phase Two i3 — Many are hoping for another round of both RttT and i3.  But additional rounds mean additional dollars.  And if the lead-up to today’s elections mean anything, it is that folks are frustrated with how many federal dollars have been spent over the past 18 months.  If we are seeing new RttT and i3 processes, it likely means having to move money from existing programs and existing priorities, a task that can be difficult during the reauthorization process.

Early Childhood Education — ECE has been the big loser in the last year.  Despite a great deal of rhetoric about the importance of early childhood education and plans on what should be done, ECE simply hasn’t been shown the budgetary love.  And that is unlikely to change.  ECE advocates will likely be fighting for the scraps in the larger picture for the coming year, particularly if they cannot find new champions on the Hill from both sides of the aisle.

Public/Private Partnerships — We have long relied on public/private partnerships to help move education issues forward, and STEM education is the latest in a long line of such efforts that the education establishment and the private sector have been able to work together on.  But will the Administration’s attack on business, particularly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, make it more difficult to cut a deal to advance STEM in 2011?  Or will the business community move forward without Obama and company?  Only time will tell.

Teachers — EdSec Arne Duncan’s Teacher campaign is off and running, and it is likely to gain speed following the elections and stronger GOP representation in the states.  Many see the Teacher effort, led by Brad Jupp, as an alt cert campaign (an unfair characterization, but it has stuck).  So an anti-teachers union sentiment could give the recruitment effort some legs, particularly as new Republican governors look to model their administrations after NJ Gov. Chris Christie.

And what are the likely unsung issues in our post-election environment?  Parental and family engagement is at the top of ol’ Eduflack’s list, as folks see the need for community buy-in on reauth and other issues in a difficult budget year.  The assessments aligned with the Common Core will pick up steam.  And we are likely to see state legislatures take on an even stronger role in education issues, particularly as we look at the future for ESEA and Common Core.  And with all of our focus on reading for the past decade, math is likely to step into the forefront, particularly as more and more people raise issues with the math common core.

And so it begins …

About Those i3 Matching Funds …

By now we’ve all seen the list of the big Investing in Innovation (i3) winners.  Nearly 1,700 contestants entered the squared circle, and only 49 emerged as “winners,” with the survivors now left to prove that their research-based innovation is the best damned innovation in the entire education land. 

(Bear with Eduflack, I’m trying to build up the hype here.  I’m amazed by how little excitement or enthusiasm has come from the announcement of $650 million in i3 grants earlier this week.  This should be a much bigger deal than it is.)

When I first saw the list on Wednesday afternoon (thank you Michele McNeil and Politics K-12 for giving us the list a day before we all expected it), I was taken by a few things.  The first was the absence of the Chicago TAP program from the list.  For the past year, I have been all but certain that TAP would win one of the $50M biggies.  Perhaps the recent study on TAP’s effectiveness was more damaging that most expected.

The second was how few school districts actually won i3 grants.  Throughout the process, most talked about how these were LEA based.  We all knew that some non-profits and institutions of higher education would win.  In fact, we expected that some of the larger grants would go to reform-minded non-profits (as it did).  Yes, I am surprised so many IHEs put in winning applications.  But I am more surprised how the list seems to say that innovation is coming from outside influences, and not from the entities (the districts) entrusted with educating our children.

Yesterday, I (and I’m sure much of the free world) received an email from the good folks over at the NewSchools Venture Fund, as it congratulated nine “NewSchools supported ventures” that won i3 grants.  And it got me really thinking.  This week’s 49 winners all need to find a 20 percent match to actually receive their oversized checks from the US Department of Education.  I assume that these nine NewSchools groups (including Teach for America and KIPP) will be able to find the outside funding necessary.  But what happens to those orgs that may not be able to secure a few million in outside funding in short order, in this economy?

When applications were solicited, it was made clear that such outside funding did not have to be lined up to win.  Securing that third-party funding could be done after selection, meaning you only needed to hustle for the dollars if you actually needed the money to close the deal.  So we now have 49 innovative education programs scurrying to secure $130 million in matching funds to qualify.  Once the Gates Foundation puts money down on the horses it is going to back, and other large foundations do the same, who is going to pick up the slack for the many remaining groups, particularly those in the “validation” category?  Will we see dollars coming from local foundations?  In-kind contributions of staff and benefits?  Creative book keeping to hit the magic mark?

It all raises a bigger question.  How many of the 49 selected applications will fail to meet all of the requirements (meaning the 20 percent private funding match) by September 8?  Will today’s winners be denied their checks tomorrow?  Personally, I’m willing to bet at least five of the winners will have to seek waivers and extend their private-sector fundraising efforts. 

Without question, those writing the checks want to put their money on winners, particularly in the education space.  And these 49 are as sure a bet as there is.  But 49 groups scurrying for $130 million in 34 days, including five weekends (one of them a holiday) is asking an awful lot, even for innovators like this lot.

Throwing Some Needed Cold Water on i3

For nearly a year now, school districts across the nation have been eagerly anticipating a piece of the Investing in Innovation grant program.  The promise of $650 million to continue innovative approaches to school improvement is too big a lure for many to pass up.  While districts and non-profits worried about how they could get their applications done, where they would find the staff time, and what to promote, they were not going to forgo the opportunity.

Final proposals were due this month, and by US Department of Education count, nearly 1,700 applications were submitted.  These applications range from the large (those seeking $50 million) to the small (those seeking $5 million or less for their plans).  They include proposals from urban, rural, and suburban school districts, consortias of school districts, colleges and universities, not-for-profits, and blends of all of the above.

Every one of them optimistic of their chances to get a piece of the $650 million i3 pie.  And that optimism was only heightened when the final i3 RFP and regs were released earlier this year, and ED talked about plans to award up to 300 grants (up to 100 in each of the three categories) before the end of the coming fiscal year.

That expectation (up to) 300 grants had Eduflack scratching his head a little at the time.  Expecting that most applicants would seek the maximum dollar amount for their category, By my meager math, I could only see 40 or so winners.  Think about it.  Development grants allow a max of $5 million, validation grants a max of $30 million per, and scale up grants a max of $50 million per.  If you awarded just eight grants in each of those three categories, you had already exceeded the $650 million available.  Account for a few winners asking for less than the max, or a few more development awards and a few less scale ups, and you might push 40 up to 50.  But 300 grants was never a possibility, at least not under Phase One of i3 (assuming, as most do, that EdSec Duncan will get Congress to offer up new funds for new rounds of i3).  You’d need billions ot hit that mark, unless applicants were just asking for a fraction of the available money.

This reality was confirmed earlier this week by none other than the good EdSec himself.  According to the usually reliable Eduwonk, Duncan revealed, at a Wednesday meeting that he expects 70 total i3 awards to come this fall.  So nearly 1,700 enter the i3 steel cage, with 70 or so emerging as victors.

Surprisingly, this declaration hasn’t been widely reported.  But it throws a real splash of cold water on the whole i3 process.  Even expecting 300 winners, the odds for most applicants was pretty low.  Winnow that down to 70, and many districts would have been better off buying scratch tickets or hosting a car wash to fund some of their “innovative” plans.

It appears that ED is building the i3 path based on the same blueprint it used for Phase One Race to the Top.  The goal is to award funds to those with the highest chance of success.  One IDs just a fraction of the 1,700 applicants, gives them the seed money, and watches it blossom.  Let those 70 or so winners show how i3 can be sucessfully used, how to measure ROI, and how to actually boost student achievement.  Reward some of those rural districts who feel left out of the Race.  Encourage partnerships.  And, most importantly, require all those enjoying i3 to both demonstrate real research findings to date and provide even stronger research moving forward. 

We’ll show you the money if you can show us the data, if you will.