Investing in (proven) innovation

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.

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  1. KIPP- drum out 60% of the kids who can’t or won’t meet their standards. How is that supposed to be scaled up?

  2. Stuart Buck says:

    That’s not what KIPP does — not even CarolineSF says that.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    Let’s say you are starting a school for at-risk students. You take all comers and promise high academic standards. Many of your students will be way below where your standards say they should be. You now have three choices:

    A. Put everyone in classes determined by age, and trust that the behind students will catch up, and that the teacher will differentiate instruction.

    B. Make sure that the behind kids are up to speed before they go into regular classes. Offer lots of personalized tutoring and strongly encourage them to put in lots of extra time and effort to make up what they’ve missed.

    C. Create a non-academic tier for the students who are behind and don’t seem very interested in academics.

    Alternative A is what most public schools do now. It pretty much guarantees failure. Many students are frustrated–and bored because they can’t follow. Some students act up and take others down with them.

    Alternative B is what schools like KIPP do. Inevitably, a significant number of students will not do all the extra work they need to in order to get up to the standards. If KIPP does not offer a non-academic program, these students will leave. How much they jump and how much they are pushed is an interesting metaphysical question. But in an academic school that maintains high standards, most will leave.

    I’d like to see more of alternative C. Instead, we set up poor kids for failure by requiring them to take an academic course load that they are not generally interested in, that they often don’t do well in, and that does not teach them any useful job skills anyway.


    But nationally, the report found, on average about 15 percent of students drop from KIPP cohorts every year, compared to 3 percent in public schools. Moreover, between grades 6 and 8, about 30 percent of KIPP students drop off of the rolls.

    I’ve provided proof Stuart Buck, let’s see yours.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mike in Texas,

    As one of your links says about KIPP, “The program requires an intense commitment, more than many families and children can — or want — to make.”

    Unfortunately, by the time lots of students get to 6th grade, this is the only way they can get up to grade level. Which means that many simply never will. So the question is what do you do? Do you keep them in class with everyone else and pretty much guarantee failure for them and many of the people around them?

    I think that is a cruel choice. Instead, we should swallow our pride and admit that academics are not important for everyone–and offer programs that people who do not value academics can succeed in.

  6. Stuart Buck says:

    Ah, you’re citing the Miron report, which is shoddy and amateurish — it doesn’t have student-level data, and so pretends that any drop in the numbers in a particular grade is because of attrition (a drop could be retention as well).

    A much more reliable source of information is the Mathematica study of KIPP middle schools, which DID have student-level data, meaning you can follow each student from year to year and see whether they left or were retained.

    That study concluded (page 9) as follows:

    “Over the entire course of middle school, cumulative attrition rates at KIPP schools in our sample are similar to those of schools in their surrounding district, on average. In the average site, the attrition rate at KIPP is 34 percent, compared with 33 percent in the district comparison group, and 35 percent in the district as a whole.”

    34 percent isn’t the same as 60 percent, which is what you claimed.