In February 2009, President Obama stood before a joint session of Congress and announced that by 2020 the United States would once again have the highest percentage of college-educated adults in the world.
We need new solutions to achieve that ambitious goal, and as a nation we cannot afford to fail. Soon, the Department of Education will request applications to the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, which will support the development of path-breaking new ideas, the validation of approaches that have demonstrated promise, and the scale-up of our nation’s most successful and proven education innovations.
i3 takes a new approach to funding education programs: small grants to develop new ideas; significant money for moderate evidence; and, if you want the biggest dollars, you need to demonstrate not just great results but also prove that those results can scale to benefit large numbers of students. Those working in and around schools know that this work takes place against a backdrop of flat funding (at best) for education at the local and state level. Producing far better outcomes, for many more students, with the same resources as we have today, is a daunting challenge, but one we must accept.
We know that educators and others are working everyday to meet these needs. That is why one of the most exciting features of i3 is that it finally provides a way to identify the best ideas and practices from our nation’s teachers, schools, districts, and non-profits; highlight them on a national stage; and provide unprecedented resources for them to expand while we learn whether and how they work at scale.
Another new effort with a similar aspiration, the Open Innovation Portal (http://innovation.ed.gov), provides a public forum for all who wish to participate in creating opportunities for partnership and local private and public funding - potentially multiplying many times over the federal funding opportunity. We are hopeful this community of innovators and supporters will be another way that the best our country and the world has to offer spreads to serve more students.
Secretary Duncan has called the reform effort “education’s moonshot” a reminder of our nation’s ability to reach higher goals. Surely, with our children’s futures at stake, we can go there again.
Jim Shelton is the Education Department’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement