'Old school' innovation

Federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grants totaling $650 million will go to 49 lucky winners, reports the New York Times. Teach for America (teacher recruitment) and the KIPP Foundation (charter schools) got $50 million apiece; the Success for All Foundation (elementary instruction) got $49 million and Ohio State (training teachers to use Reading Recovery) received $46 million.

Forty-five other nonprofit groups and school districts split the remaining money.

Fifteen second-tier awards of up to $30 million each went to groups with somewhat less-established programs, hoping to solidify their track record and expand. The winners of these so-called validation awards included the Smithsonian Institution, which won about $26 million for a proposal to advance “inquiry oriented” science education in hundreds of school districts, and Johns Hopkins University, which was given $30 million to advance its work in overhauling high schools with such dismal graduation rates that the university has identified them as dropout factories.

Thirty groups won grants of up to $5 million for intriguing but unproven ideas. Jefferson County Schools in Louisville will boost the instruction time in six low-performing high schools by 30 percent; the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee will provide extra literacy tutoring and after-school help.

Old School Reforms Win Big In i3, wrote Alexander Russo.

What was all that money for Ohio State actually for? Reading Recovery. That’s right. The costly, much-loved, completely out of fashion reading intervention program that was boxed out of Reading First and that most districts can’t afford even if they wanted to.

Then again, Success For All got one of the big grants, too, and no one talks about them any more, either. So perhaps education fashions aren’t a good guide for anything, or — just as likely — some of the programs getting the biggest “innovation” funding in 2010 go back ten or twenty years.

Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli agrees the money will not be a “game-changer” for education. He remembers New American Schools, a ’90s initiative that funded Success for All and Reading Recovery.

As one friend ruefully commented to me, “Innovation???  I bet there isn’t a chronically low performing elementary school in the country that already hasn’t been around the block at least once with one of these two.”

Charter schools and school turnaround efforts fared well, HechingerEd points out. Early childhood education did not.

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