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Welcome to the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), where our mission is to accelerate the pace at which the U.S. identifies, develops, and scales solutions to education’s most important or persistent challenges. OII makes strategic investments in innovative educational programs and practices, and administers more than 25 discretionary grant programs managed by four program offices: Charter Schools ProgramParental Options and Improvement, Teacher Quality Programs, and the Office of Investing in Innovation. In addition, OII is home to ED’s STEM initiatives team and ED’s liaison to the military community.  OII also serves as the Department’s liaison and resource to the nonpublic education community through the Office of Non-Public Education.

This home page provides news about OII — its programs, grantees, and initiatives — through articles, blogs, press releases, and links to the Department’s home page.

Click here to see a list and descriptions of OII’s programs and here for key staff.

Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: How IDEA Public Schools is Closing the Gap

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and Secretary Duncan’s visit to South Texas, today we are highlighting IDEA Public Schools, a Texas-based Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) grantee that’s been recognized for helping Latinos, particularly English language learners, make strong achievement gains. Just last month, the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics named IDEA a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education.

In 2012, IDEA won a Race to the Top – District (RTT–D) award aimed at personalizing student learning and closing achievement gaps. IDEA is also a past recipient of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant and grants from OII’s Charter Schools Program. IDEA’s network serves approximately 24,000 students in 44 public charter schools across Texas. More than 90 percent are Hispanic, and a third are still acquiring English speaking, reading, and writing skills.

For nine consecutive years, 100 percent of IDEA’s graduating seniors have been accepted to college, and achievement scores have consistently been above the state’s average. We checked in with Tricia Lopez, IDEA’s Director of Special Programs, about what’s behind the network’s success and how the RTT–D grant has been helping the network meet its goals.

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In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new program under the Charter Schools Program (CSP), called the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools program. This competition provides money to help successful public charter schools serve more students. The Department has now invested over $260 million in charter management organization (CMO) grantees working to launch over 500 schools—of which about 250 have already opened—across 20 states. Just this week, we announced the newest cohort of these CMO grants—so it seemed like the right time to explore how a current CMO grantee is helping students succeed. Aspire Public Schools is a two-time grantee under the CMO competition—with demonstrated success in getting students into college.

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The Children’s Literacy Initiative

In this conversation, Gina Post, a bilingual 2nd-grade teacher at Sumner Elementary School in Camden, N.J. discusses her work with the Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI). CLI is a Philadelphia-based organization that supports teachers focused on early literacy. In 2010, CLI won a $21.7 million Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant, and has demonstrated significant impacts on students & teachers. You can learn more about their i3-supported work here.

Q. Can you describe CLI’s approach to training?

A. The training was very methodical and hands on. The coaches were very involved. My teaching practice just seemed like it changed overnight for the better. The way it would generally work is my coach would come in and we would have a pre-conference. We would decide what I was going to teach that day and then we would walk through it. My coach also was there during the lesson, and she would model the best practices.

Q. How did CLI change your classroom?

A. It’s now very print rich. Everything hanging up was made with my students. When my students come in at the start of the year, the classroom is bare. Every time we put something up, we’ve created it together or they’ve created it. They reference what’s on the wall when they’re doing independent work. Or, I reference routines and procedure. We agree on these as a class community, we write it down, and hang it up during the first weeks of school.

CLI also created a classroom library for me with about 50 new, high-quality, bilingual books. They’re beautiful award-winning books, and half are in Spanish. When I came in to my classroom, the teacher before me had retired. I inherited what she had. Also, a lot of the materials we get in urban environments tend to be pre-fabricated books or a part of a set curriculum. They’re not individual books like you can find when you go the library or if you want to study an author.

Q. How did CLI change your teaching practice?

A. Before CLI, my writing lessons weren’t as explicit. I wasn’t as sure how to focus the students’ writing. It was much looser. As an example, I didn’t do the mini-lessons at the start of a persuasive writing lesson with an explanation of phrases the kids might start with. I also didn’t have an anchor chart with sentence starters, which I can use to send the students back to as a reference while they’re working. The way it works now with writing assignments is each day I’d add another step and another one and by the end of the four-week unit on opinion writing, seven-year-olds have crafted amazing pieces. Writing was much more of an open-ended activity before. It wasn’t explicit.

Q. Can you share a story of success from your classroom that you attribute to this new approach to reading and writing?

A. In the spring, I was reading the book “A Cricket in Times Square” with my students. We worked on it for about a month, and I had them make paper-bag puppets of their favorite character and do an in-depth analysis of the narrative from point of view of their character. When it was time for a share out, they came to the circle with their puppets and took turns sitting in the author’s chair. My English language learners, who previously didn’t want to speak out loud because they were afraid they’d make mistakes and were afraid they’d be made fun of, started having intelligent conversations out loud about characters in the book. These quiet, shy kids were comparing and contrasting events in the story. They were having this really thoughtful discussion about the book. I was simply there to make sure everything went smoothly. I was just so excited to see that.”


When we think of arts education, what comes to mind for many is our students’ eye-opening engagement with the world through music, visual arts, or filmmaking. But as we celebrate Arts in Education Week (September 13-19), it’s important to remember that those rich artistic experiences couldn’t happen without the time, effort, and planning of our nation’s dedicated arts teachers.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (the Kennedy Center) a $6.5 million grant under its Arts in Education National Program. The Kennedy Center is a national leader in helping schools and teachers offer rich arts education experiences. For more than three decades, the Kennedy Center has partnered with schools in both the D.C. metro area and nationwide to make the arts an integral part of every child’s education. Two of the major programs supported by this grant are Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) and Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child (AGC).

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As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Back to School Bus Tour rolls through the Midwest this week, below we take a look at a neighboring Race to the Top – District grantee that is helping kids prepare for success by giving them real world media experience.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

For most kids, it’s a difficult question to answer—the possibilities are almost endless. But students in the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana are getting a head start on exploring at least one career path. That’s because Warren Township runs an innovative program called Frontrunner Media that gives students hands-on, real-world media experience while they are still in high school. Frontrunner is supported in part by the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Race to the Top – District (RTT–D) program. Below, the program’s managers and director discuss how it works.

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U.S. Department of Education Announces $25 Million for Science and Literacy-Themed Television and Digital Media

(Sep. 3, 2015) The U.S. Department of Education announced today two grant awards totaling $25 million to Twin Cities Public Television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the development of television and multimedia programs that will engage preschool and young elementary school children and their families in science and literacy-themed learning.

The awards, made through the Ready-to-Learn Television program, support the creation of television shows, games, websites and apps for young children and families to play and explore, with a particular focus on science and literacy. The grantees—two award-winning public telecommunications entities—will create digital experiences for children that teach the content and skills needed to succeed in elementary school. Today’s awards build upon the successful 2010 Ready-to-Learn competition, which facilitated the launch of the Emmy-award winning show, Peg + Cat.

“Children find inspiration to learn in many parts of their lives, including through exciting multimedia programs like those supported by Ready-to-Learn,” said Nadya Chinoy Dabby, assistant deputy secretary for Innovation and Improvement. “Today’s investments will support innovative organizations as they create programs and platforms that make learning literacy and science a fun and engaging part of young children’s experiences.”
Twin Cities Public Television will create and distribute nationally in English and Spanish a new educational program that will include 40 television episodes and 24 interactive games. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), will develop several new educational programs focused on science and literacy, as well as build upon existing successful programs such as The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That and Curious George. They will also launch a series of interactive tools and materials that motivate hands-on active learning. CPB/PBS member stations will manage 30 community collaboratives that will provide community-based outreach programs and engage such partners as libraries, Head Start, and housing authorities.

Click here for the Department of Education press release that includes the list of grantees, with their states and Year 1 amounts.

Becoming a New Leader In New Orleans


[Part 2 of 2 profiles of the U.S. Department of Education’s New Orleans grantees, and the difference they are making for children in the city. To see part 1 of this series please click here.]

She didn’t start her career thinking that she was going to be a principal, but all of that changed ten years ago this month.

In August 2005, Shimon Ancker was teaching in New Orleans East, a part of the city that was hit particularly hard by the Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. The day before the storm hit, she evacuated to Texas and moved in with her sister, where, at one point, she was among 16 people living in one house. About six months later, she was able to return to the city she called home, although it had been changed forever.

Today, Shimon Ancker is the new principal at the Einstein Charter School extension campus in New Orleans. She is a graduate of the New Leaders program, which in 2009 received a $3.7 million U.S. Department of Education (ED) School Leadership Program grant.

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How New Schools for New Orleans Helped the City Come Back


[Part 1 of 2 profiles of the U.S. Department of Education’s New Orleans grantees, and the difference they are making for children in the city.]

In the years since Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans have worked hard to rebuild virtually every aspect of their city. Yet few sectors have undergone as much change as the city’s educational system. Since 2005, the city has rebuilt how it educates its students.

It’s made a real difference in student outcomes—though there is still a great deal more to accomplish. For example, graduation rates are up 19 percentage points since 2005.

This transformation has been led by local educators and innovators. In many cases, their work has been helped by New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), a U.S. Department of Education grantee.

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New Funding Opportunity for Public Charter Schools: Non-SEA Competition Opens

  • On August 21, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) announced a $4 million non-State Educational Agency (non-SEA) grant competition for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of high-quality start-up charter schools. The grants will also support dissemination of best practices for charter schools that have a proven track record of success and have been in operation for at least three years.
  • These funds are for charter schools in states that don’t have existing—or do not win new—SEA grants in September 2015. Since the non-SEA competition has opened before new SEA grants have been awarded, non-SEA applicants may, in some cases, submit applications to the non-SEA competition and become ineligible for those grants if their state is awarded an SEA grant.
  • Despite that possibility, even if your state has applied for an SEA grant in this year’s round, interested charter school operators may still apply. If your state wins an SEA grant—making you ineligible for a non-SEA grant—you can likely repurpose much of your application if you apply for a subgrant from a winning SEA.
  • We anticipate awarding these non-SEA grants in December 2015. This timeline allows charter school operators that intend to open new schools in the 2016–17 school year to apply for federal start-up funding sufficiently in advance of those school openings—either via an SEA subgrant competition or the non-SEA grant competition. Again, even if your SEA has submitted an SEA grant application this year, interested charter school operators in those states may wish to apply for a non-SEA grant in order to maximize their odds of receiving funding in advance of the 2016–17 school year.
  • Interested applicants must apply by October 6, 2015 at 4:30 p.m., Eastern Time.
  • Please visit the Non-SEA Competition page to learn more.

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