It was a clean sweep as all seven finalists seeking federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grants for California schools received word that they won. Together, they’ll get nearly $31 million, plus an additional $5.2 million in matching funds to develop or expand innovative programs designed to improve student achievement, reduce the dropout rate, increase high school graduation rates or boost college enrollment and success, especially for English learners and low-income students.
This marks the third year of the i3 program, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Twenty nonprofit organizations, universities and school districts were selected out of a pool of 727 applications in three categories. Validation grants fund programs that show promise, but need more research to prove their effectiveness. Development grants fund projects that seem to have a lot of potential but are “relatively untested,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. No grants were awarded in the Scale-up category for programs that are ready to be replicated.
A key component of the projects are partnerships with school districts, which U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described as “vital to supporting teachers and students as they tackle some of the toughest issues in education.”
The California winners cover a range of issues from improving academic achievement for English learners to training school leaders in early math intervention programs.
California Association for Bilingual Education: Project 2INSPIRE
i3 grant: $2,988,945
Matching funds: $449,725
The connection between schools, families and the community is elusive but important. Research indicates that when parents are active participants in their children’s education, their kids do better in school.
Project 2INSPIRE, developed by the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), already has some data to support this premise, based on the last five years of running training programs for
immigrant parents throughout the state. These include an in-depth twelve-part program in some San Bernardino County schools that covered everything from how to communicate with schools to what parents need to know about technology to how to set academic goals for children to prepare them for college.
With its i3 grant, CABE will expand Project 2INSPIRE into a research-based collaborative project involving ten elementary schools and four preschools in four districts – Los Angeles, Ontario-Montclair, Garden Grove and Santa Ana Unified. All the districts have a majority of Hispanic students, ranging from 53 percent to 93 percent of their enrollment, and many of the parents have limited English skills and never finished high school.
The project will also bring teachers and principals into the training cycle through professional development and a two-day principal institute. “Many times what we found when we interviewed principals was they didn’t know how to engage parents,” said project director Maria Quezada.
Their goal is to train 700 parents in the first year, and 1500 in years two through five in order to increase parent engagement in the schools by 80 percent by the end of the grant. They’re also seeking to shrink the achievement gap between English learners and other students, institutionalize a school district infrastructure for effective parental engagement, and develop materials that other districts can use to replicate the program.
The grant will also fund a formal evaluation that documents the impact of the program on student achievement and behavior and examines the changes that take place in the schools and classrooms. Until now, said Quezada, teachers had a sense of what was happening with parents in the
training, but not in a systematic way that included a rigorous evaluation of the students whose parents were involved.
Quezada said an important consequence of the early training was that parents built a new community to replace the one they lost when they moved to the United States, and that helped improve their children’s achievement.
“We saw that by building that sense of efficacy, parents felt they could make a difference in the lives of their children,” she said, and they moved from “advocating for their own children to advocating for all children at a school.”
California League of Middle Schools: Families For College
i3 grant: $1,975,107
Matching funds: $297,180
The California League of Middle Schools, in partnership with Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) and others, will help guide several hundred middle-school English learners on the path to college success through intensive school and family interventions and engagement.
Like the other i3 validation grants, this project, Families For College, is both a study and an intervention. The outcomes for these students will be compared with those of a control group selected by an external evaluator.
The program will work with a cohort of 360 students and their families from the start of sixth grade through the fall of tenth grade. It will focus on students at six middle schools who are considered “high need” based on family income and who are classified as long-term English learners, meaning they’ve been in school here for more than six years, yet are not academically fluent.
The goal is to improve the students’ English language development during the critical period of middle and high school, when they are most likely to fall behind academically and to drop out, explained Peter Murphy, executive director of the California League of Schools – which encompasses the League of Middle Schools – and project director for this grant.
“The research is pretty clear: If you can get kids into tenth grade then a very high percentage of students graduate,” he said.
Students and their families will have to sign a promise to participate and the entire family will be involved in this effort, said Murphy. Families in Schools, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, will work with the district to make schools more welcoming to families and also help parents understand their role in supporting their children’s academic success.
The project will institute a new English language development curriculum, called English 3D, which is aligned with the new Common Core standards. Kate Kinsella, who helped develop the curriculum, will provide training and support to the district and schools. EL teachers will collaborate weekly in site teams as well as a monthly district-wide “professional learning community.”
“It is a very complex model and it has a lot of moving parts,” Murphy said. But he noted the purpose of this grant is to help create a model that other districts can follow.
“We’re collecting data on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We will refine this model so it can be used by other school districts,” Murphy said.
The grant has generated a lot of excitement among teachers and the community, said Martinrex Kedziora, assistant superintendent of educational services at MVUSD.
Kedziora described the project as a “game changer” for the students – and through them the entire community – by opening up a path to college.
“It has big dividends because people who go to college have more choices,” he said. “It’s going to be life-changing for them.”
Citizen Schools: Pairing STEM professionals with low-income students
i3 grant: $2,990,770
Matching funds: $450,000
About 16,000 middle and high school students will be immersed in hands-on science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) projects after school, guided by working professionals in the field, through a $3 million i3 grant awarded to Citizen Schools, which has been operating after-school and extended-day programs across the country since 1995. The organization plans to contribute another $2.3 million in matching funds from private sources for programs in 23 districts across the country, including Oakland Unified and Ravenswood City (located in San Mateo County) in California. About 2,400 students from these two districts will benefit from the grant.
The 3½-year grant gives students the opportunity to have fun doing math and science as well as gain access to STEM professionals so they can get a better understanding of what a career in a STEM field would be like. Citizen Schools currently offers such “apprenticeships” in many of its after-school programs, including in seven California schools. The grant will allow the organization to continue these programs and expand to other schools.
The activities get students thinking about careers and college, said Kilian Betlach, principal at Elmhurst Community Preparatory in Oakland Unified, where 230 low-income students are currently participating in an apprenticeship program. “They like building Lego robots, so we look at which colleges offer programs in robotics,” he said.
Eric Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, said the project helps close the “opportunity chasm” between the authentic learning experiences of lower- and upper-income students. Studies have shown that interest in STEM careers by 8th grade is a significant predictor of whether a student will graduate from college with a STEM degree, according to the grant application.
The project will be evaluated based on its impact on math and science standardized test scores and other pre- and post-apprenticeship assessments. Citizen Schools also plans to survey the students to determine if their interest in a STEM field as a career has changed.
LEED Sacramento: Project Lead the Way
i3 grant: $5,067,276
Matching funds: $508,291
A program that immerses high school students in engineering projects will be doubled to 40 high schools in the Sacramento area under a five-year, $5 million grant to the nonprofit Linking Engineering and Economic Development, or LEED.
LEED is the local sponsor of Project Lead the Way, a four-year high school elective currently offered in 4,000 schools nationwide that has shown promise in inspiring students to pursue careers in science, technology, math and engineering. LEED’s grant will fund an additional 1,600 students. Project Lead the Way currently is offered to 6,000 students in the Sacramento area.
Project Lead the Way involves hands-on learning, providing students with real-world skills. In ninth grade, students use AutoCAD three-dimensional software as part of the introduction to engineering design. In tenth grade’s Principles of Engineering, they build robots. Eleventh grade exposes them to circuits and microprocessors in a course on digital electronics. There is a capstone project in senior year, in which individuals or teams of students design a product or project, check patents and have it reviewed by outside experts.
As part of the grant, LEED will collect data on the impact of its program. It will measure Project Lead the Way’s effect on improving achievement in math and science, on closing the learning gap for minority and female students – both target populations in the grant – and in encouraging more kids to pursue a STEM-related major in college. LEED will compare these results with those students in the schools that aren’t taking the program.
The yearly per-student cost is $635 plus computer and software purchases, which, as LEED notes in its application, is less than the per-player cost of some athletic programs.
“Project Lead the Way is the premier program that encompasses all areas of STEM, especially engineering, with a high-value professional development to prepare great teachers for the program,” said Linda Christopher, the director of educational innovation for LEED.
i3 grant: $14,953,848
Matching funds: $1,500,000
For more than a decade, New York-based New Leaders has been training and mentoring hundreds of reform-focused principals for large urban school districts, including Oakland. Bay Area districts will vie for a piece of a $16.5 million i3 grant to expand the principal development program locally.
The grant will enable New Leaders to run 140-145 new principals through an intensive residency program in 15 districts in areas including Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York. How many of these slots will be in the Bay Area, including a new program in West Contra Costa Unified, will be determined through a competitive process, said Kareem Weaver, executive director of New Leaders’ Bay Area office. Under the grant, New Leaders also will provide policy guidance to legislators so that their states can replicate the model.
New Leaders runs a selective process, starting with a year-long training in leadership skills for talented teachers in an Emerging Leaders Program. From there, about a third are expected to move on to a one-year residency in the Aspiring Principals Program, working under an experienced principal in a New Leaders district. During the first two years on their own, the principals will continue to be mentored as well.
Currently, 22 percent of Oakland Unified’s principals – 19 of 86 – are New Leaders grads.
“The application is an exceptional approach to addressing the improvement of achievement in low-performing schools because it ensures that each school has a highly qualified, effective leader that will increase student achievement,” wrote the evaluators of the grant application.
Internationals Network for Public Schools: Project RISE
i3 grant: $2,990,770
Matching funds: $450,000
Internationals is taking its curriculum that integrates academic content into English language classes for high-school aged immigrants and long-term English learners into a San Francisco high school with a significant number of EL students.
It usually takes about six years for an English learner to become proficient enough in English to be successful in school. San Francisco Unified has about 16,000 EL students in all grades and, of those, some 48 percent are still considered English Learners by their senior year, according to the district.
“High school aged ELLs have a short window of time to achieve college and career ready standards, making it even more urgent that interventions specifically target their unique learning needs,” said Claire Sylvan, executive director of the New York-based Internationals Network for Public Schools.
Internationals currently runs 17 schools across the country, including one in Oakland and one in San Francisco. Project RISE (Realizing Internationals Supports for English Language Learners) will transfer the successful model used in those schools to the partner school selected by San Francisco Unified and work with 120 English learners.
For the first two years of the five-year study, Project RISE will place coaches in the school two days a week to work with teachers so they’ll know how to integrate English into their subjects, whether it’s social studies or algebra. Teachers will also have collaborative time to meet and talk about what worked and what didn’t and to share techniques.
The American Institutes for Research will develop an evaluation to determine if EL students show statistically significant gains in achievement as a result of participating in the program. “The point is to find out if it’s worth scaling,” said Sylvan.
WestEd: Early Math Intervention
i3 grant: $14,947,796
Matching funds: $1,499,393
Low-income four-year-olds at 72 schools in California will be treated to a brand new math curriculum next year, thanks to a $16.5 million Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
WestEd, a San Francisco-based education research agency, won the grant with its proposal to train teachers in proven curricula based on Common Core standards for teaching math to the youngest students. WestEd cleared the final hurdle Friday by raising $1.5 million of the grant total from several private sources including The Bechtel Foundation, IBM and the Heising-Simons Foundation, which also funds EdSource Today.
The project starts in the next school year for nearly 800 public preschool and Head Start students. (A second wave of students will be added the following year.) Teachers at the schools will be trained on the new curriculum during the summer and will receive additional training and support throughout the year. In the second year, kindergarten teachers will be trained in a different, kindergarten-specific curriculum. Both curricula have undergone numerous evaluations and have proven to be effective with young children. A randomly selected sample of students who receive this instruction will be tracked through the end of first grade to determine what effect, if any, a rigorous early math curriculum has on student outcomes.
“Compelling research has found that mastery of early math concepts at a preschool level is a better predictor of later academic outcomes than literacy,” according to EdSource’s own report summarizing the recent research.
WestEd’s grant application states that prevention is usually less expensive than remediation. Getting better math skills into the hands of young students early on could negate the need for special education and remediation, according to the application.
A portion of the grant will be set aside for a data-driven analysis of how students treated to these curricula fare in school through first grade. The grant does not include funds for continuing to study these kids through the rest of their schooling.