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Early Learning Programs Win Federal Innovation Grants

Posted by on in Education Policy
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Five of the 23 winners of the latest round of the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition included early learning as a focus. This means about $26 million from i3 will likely go to support early learning projects, focusing on children from birth through third grade. The winners will become official i3 grantees only after they secure matching grants, which they must do by Dec. 9.


Nearly 600 applicants vied for the $150 million pot; last year’s i3 competition was considerably larger, with $650 million available. Scale-up applicants were eligible for $25 million; validation applicants for $15 million; and development applicants for $5 million. (For a refresher on the i3 competition and what these three categories designate, read our June post on the competition.)


The Department and its peer reviewers selected and scored winners based on their evidence and capacity to scale-up an idea that has proven results, validate a promising idea, or develop an idea that has research to support it.  Of the 23 winners, one is a scale-up grant, five are validation grants and 17 are development grants. The Success for All Foundation – one of the early learning winners – was the only repeat.


The winners are pretty evenly split across the absolute priorities: Four applied under “teachers and principals;” five under “STEM;” five under “standards and assessments;” four under “turnarounds;” and five under “rural achievement.” (STEM refers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.) The scale-up grant went to a STEM project, meaning STEM efforts will receive the most money, 33 percent of the total pool. Both STEM and rural achievement were new options for applicants to choose from in this round. For the “competitive” priorities, the majority of winners focused on college access and unique learning needs, which include programs to support students with disabilities or English Language Learners.


Now let’s turn to the winners that included early learning as a focus area.



Project Title


Absolute Priority

Amount Requested

University of Minnesota

Midwest Expansion of the Child-Parent Center Education Program, Preschool to Third Grade





Temple University

Exceptional Coaching for Early Language and Literacy-Enhanced (ExCELL-E)



Teachers & Principals


Ounce of Prevention

Ounce Professional Development Initiative



Standards & Assessments


Success for All Foundation

Around the Corner: A Technology-Enhanced Approach to Early Literacy





Del Norte Unified School District

Responding Effectively to Assessments with Curriculum and Teaching (REACT)


Rural Achievement



The University of Minnesota plans to partner with eight school districts and nonprofits in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin to implement its Child-Parent Center (CPC) program. The project’s description states: “CPC provides intensive and continuous educational and family-support services through the entire school transition process, emphasizes basic skills in language arts and math and enhances family involvement in children’s education.” To validate its work, the University will target 2,400 preschool children in 34 schools and compare them with children in similar schools receiving regular school services. Researchers will follow the children through the end of the program in third grade.


Temple University will build upon its ExCELL-E professional development model, which has been shown to improve children’s literacy skills and teacher quality in preK through first grade. The aim of ExCELL-E is to use coaching and technology to support teachers in developing language and literacy among native English-speakers and English Language Learners.


The Ounce of Prevention in partnership with Chicago Public Schools intends to implement and evaluate the Ounce Professional Development Initiative (PDI), which focuses on the improvement of classroom instruction and school leadership in early childhood education settings. This professional development approach is a key piece of Educare, an Ounce early childhood program that has been replicated in 11 sites across the country. This proposal will replicate the core elements of the PDI, adapting them and their implementation to meet the needs of community-based early childhood settings.


The Success for All Foundation will create and evaluate “Around the Corner,” a technology-enhanced approach to early literacy that combines the Success for All Foundation’s Curiosity Corner preschool and KinderCorner kindergarten programs with content from the PBS show “Between the Lions,” as well as other multimedia content. The foundation will pilot the approach in 12 schools.


The Del Norte Unified School District in California plans to take its K-12 data coaching model, the Responding Effectively to Assessments with Curriculum and Teaching (REACT), district-wide. The model focuses on training teachers and administrators to use formative and summative assessments to conduct analyses of student performance and of the effectiveness of instructional practices, as well as to target instructional needs of students in the general and subgroup populations.


Last year, not all of the early learning winners matched the requirements of the early learning priority as specified by the Department of Education. Applicants must focus on:

  • Improving young children’s school readiness (including social, emotional, and cognitive readiness) so that children are prepared for success in core academic subjects;
  • Improving developmental milestones and standards and aligning them with appropriate outcome measures; and
  • Improving alignment, collaboration, and transitions between early learning programs that serve children from birth to age three, in preschools and in kindergarten through third grade.


Based on the project descriptions, the Del Norte Unified professional development initiative does not look like it includes pre-K teachers and it is unclear if, or how, the Ounce project connects with K-3. We will have to take a closer look at the applications to determine if they met the priority, and will look at the scoring sheets to find out if they received credit. The Department will likely make the applications and scores available to the public in the coming weeks.


The Department did make a few changes to how reviewers scored applicants this year. Last year, scores for the validation and development applications were standardized to account for easier and tougher judges, in an attempt to make scoring as objective as possible. But the method used was confusing and spurred some criticism. This year Department officials will not standardize the scores. According to Michele McNeil at Ed Week’s Politics K-12 blog, Department officials said they gave peer reviewers clearer numeric ranges for scoring and limited the number of applications each person evaluated.


Another change this year is in the match requirements. Last year, every winner was required to secure a 20 percent match to become an official grantee. This year, scale-up applicants must secure a 5 percent match; validation applications must secure a 10 percent match; and development applicants must secure a 15 percent match. There’s no doubt the selected applicants are scrambling to find and secure matches before the Dec. 9 deadline. Last year, the winners could apply to the i3 foundation registry for assistance. The registry is operating again for the  2011 i3 round.


If you are interested in reading more about the i3 winners, check out our sister blog Ed Money Watch. Our colleague Jenny Cohen wrote an interesting piece on the projects’ cost per student. She also provides some additional general information about all the winners.


We’ll be bringing you more analysis on the i3 winners as the Department makes the applications and score sheets public. We also plan to write more on last year’s i3 early learning winners and the progress they’ve made.

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Guest Sunday, 19 May 2019