Investing in Innovation (i3)

Investing in Innovation (i3)

Stem Chemistry Class

In less than five years, the STEM Academy program at Skyline High School in Longmont, Colorado, has transformed the trajectories of thousands of at-risk students by providing them with career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.1 And it wouldn’t have been possible without a $3.6 million grant from a federal grant program known as Investing in Innovation (i3).

STEM Academy begins with literacy and math interventions in the early grades at Skyline’s feeder schools and then builds on those supports by using interactive, technology-focused projects at the high school level.2 Students who complete the STEM Academy program requirements are granted automatic admission to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science—an agreement born out of a partnership between the high school and the university at the program’s inception.3 The STEM Academy at Skyline, which serves mostly Latino students and partners with dozens of businesses and corporations like IBM, exemplifies what it means to invest in innovative ideas at the K-12 education level.4 Once a struggling high school, Skyline is now offering its students a solid entry point into college and a pathway to a career that meets the technological challenges of the 21st century economy.

But despite this success story, and many others like it, some Republicans in Congress are threatening to abandon the progress made at Skyline and so many other schools across the country by eliminating the i3 program that has made this type of innovation possible. It is currently absent from Republican proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And unless the i3 program is included in that law, thousands of children stand to lose out on the type of programming that can push them to succeed in high school, college, and beyond, when they otherwise would barely have a chance. We would also be shutting off a major source of innovation in our schools—exactly the places where we know that we need more innovation, not less.

The i3 fund was established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 with the purpose of offering competitive grants to local education agencies (LEAs) and non-profits seeking to expand innovative practices that had already demonstrated a positive impact on student success at the district level.5 The program has dished out more than $1.2 billion for 143 projects since its beginning, and the results have been so impressive that nearly 120 education advocacy organizations, school districts, and institutions of higher education are now pushing hard to save it. As Alyson Klein from Education Week wrote in February, this widespread support of i3 in the advocacy community is due in large part to “its emphasis on evidence”—as the programs that receive these grants must already have proven success records and simply need funding to fully develop or scale up their innovative programs. Yet leaders in both the House and Senate continue to ignore this groundswell of support by refusing to include any mention of the program in their draft bills.

We believe we need to encourage innovation, not quash it, and we strongly support including the i3 program in a reauthorization bill. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) are championing this cause on Capitol Hill, attempting to extend the success of the i3 fund through their own Investing in Innovation Act.6 We hope they will succeed, because between i3’s focus on historically underserved schools and districts, groundbreaking ideas that bring together advocacy groups, corporations, and LEAs, and a laser focus on evidenced-based results, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should be able to get behind this program. In fact, if we are serious about investing in the future workforce by building up the educational programs that work and scaling back on those that don’t, it’s clear that the Investing in Innovation program is one that we must fight to preserve.

Topics
  • K-1241

Endnotes

  1. Diana Huffman, “i3 Grant Provides STEM Graduation Path for Colorado Students,” Home Room, The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education. Accessed March 13, 2015. Available at: http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/01/i3-grant-provides-stem-graduation-path-for-colorado-students-2/.

  2. Victoria A.F. Camron, “Skyline’s STEM Academy Impresses Education Secretary Arne Duncan,” St. Vrain Valley Schools, May 8, 2014. Accessed March 13, 2015. Available at:  http://www.svvsd.org/updates/skylines-stem-academy-impresses-education-secretary-arne-duncan; See also “St. Vrain Valley School District i3 Project Summary,” St. Vrain Valley Schools. Available at: http://www.svvsd.org/about/departments/investing-innovation-grant-i3/st-vrain-valley-school-district-i3-project-summary.

  3. Diana Huffman, “i3 Grant Provides STEM Graduation Path for Colorado Students,” Home Room, The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education. Accessed March 13, 2015. Available at: http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/01/i3-grant-provides-stem-graduation-path-for-colorado-students-2/.

  4. United States, Department of Education, Programs, “Colorado 2010 Development Grant Abstract.” Available at: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/innovation/2010/awards/development/co.html; See also Diana Huffman, “i3 Grant Provides STEM Graduation Path for Colorado Students,” Home Room, The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education. Accessed March 13, 2015. Available at: http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/01/i3-grant-provides-stem-graduation-path-for-colorado-students-2/.

  5. United States, Department of Education, Programs, “Update on the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund.” Available at: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/innovation/index.html.

  6. “Bennet, Schatz Introduce Bill to Spur Innovation in Schools,” Press Release, The Office of Senator Michael Bennet, February 27, 2015. Accessed March 13, 2015. Available at: http://www.bennet.senate.gov/?p=release&id=3265.