On Tuesday, some of our country’s most creative minds converged in Washington, DC for the first Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Project Directors’ Meeting.
The meeting brought together project directors and staff from school districts and non-profits who last year won grants as part of the Department’s i3 competition – a grant program that supports local efforts to start and expand research-based innovations that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes in high need districts. In September, the Department announced that 49 school districts, non-profit organizations, and institutions of higher learning were selected from a pool of nearly 1,700 applicants to receive a share of the $650 million fund.
The two-day event, organized by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, provided an opportunity to recognize the innovative projects successful applicants are undertaking, to facilitate networking among grantees, and to provide training in grant management and evaluation design.
Attendees participated in a number of breakout sessions and heard from a great line up of speakers including a surprise guest, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Addressing the packed hall, Secretary Duncan talked about the tremendous hope he felt being in a room with so many bold education innovators. “All of you represent the great hope of where our country can go,” he said. “If the collective force of this room can be replicated, we will really be able to break through as a country.”
Secretary Duncan also discussed the Department of Education’s aspiration to be a powerful engine of innovation, rather than a compliance-driven bureaucracy. He acknowledged that Washington doesn’t have all of the answers, and that many of the best ideas will come from communities across the country.
That’s why i3 grants were awarded to bold applicants like the Beaverton School District, which (in partnership with Young Audiences Oregon and Southwest Washington, Young Audiences Arts for Learning National Office, and the University of Washington) will use its grant to develop and implement a novel academic program focused on improving achievement in literacy, learning, and life skills among high-need students.
Speaking Thursday at the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum, Secretary Duncan continued to argue that the current global environment “compels us to challenge the status quo” with innovative thinking. “The education sector has been slow to transform how we do education,” he said. He encouraged innovators at the forum to bring forward products and services that help students to learn better and faster, indicating that there will be a market for products that help schools to achieve dramatically better results. “There are lots of folks who can do well by doing good,” he said. “We’re changing the rules of the paradigm.” (See photos from the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum and Expo.)
To learn more about other winning i3 applicants, check here (PDF, 285K).