How innovative is the Education Department’s $650 million Investing in Innovation program? By limiting grants to ideas with evidence of success, i3 tilted toward the “usual suspects,” concludes a report by Bellwether Education Partners for the Gates Foundation. Grant winners included Teach for America, KIPP and Reading Recovery.
The idea was to invest in “innovation that works” and that can be scaled up — not cutting-edge ideas — notes Education Week.
. . . the researchers give the department credit for encouraging partnerships between the philanthropic sector and K-12 public education by requiring winners to secure matching dollars and establishing an online registry where foundations and education entrepreneurs could find each other.
And, researchers said, the department took a bold and significant step in requiring varying levels of evidence for each type of innovation grant, acknowledging that some ideas and innovations might be worthy of government investment but have far less research to back them up. This evidence framework was “a giant leap forward” and “by far the most significant innovation that i3 brought to the table,” the researchers said.
But this rigorous evidence framework came at a cost, since it favored ideas that had been around long enough, and had enough financial backing, to make evaluations possible. The result, the researchers said, was a “pool of applicants and grantees made up of existing organizations that had already addressed K-12 schooling in some way.”
“It did not find innovative programs because it was not set up to find them,” Rick Hess told Ed Week. “They chose to write rules which required established evidence of effectiveness. That’s perfectly reasonable. You’re giving away $650 million in tax dollars.”
The second round of grants — $150 million this time — will be announced next week.