K-12 Education:

Characteristics of the Investing in Innovation Fund

GAO-14-211R: Published: Feb 7, 2014. Publicly Released: Feb 7, 2014.

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What GAO Found

From fiscal years 2010 to 2012, Education awarded over half ($493 million of $937 million) of Investing in Innovation (i3) grants funds as validation grants, and most awards went to partnerships involving nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations partnering with school consortia accounted for a large portion of i3 funds largely because they have won four ($170 million) of the five scale-up grants that Education made in competitions through 2012.

Education has the flexibility to change the selection criteria for any given i3 competition; however, four criteria have been included in each i3 competition. Education relies on outside peer reviewers to rate each application based on the selection criteria. Peer reviewers apply the same selection criteria to each type of i3 grant, but the maximum number of points peer reviewers may give for each criterion may differ depending on the type of grant.  Education officials said they make final awards based on peer reviewers’ scores and other factors.

i3 projects most often support one of four of the priority areas that Education identified for the 2010, 2011, and 2012 competitions and use methods that often rely on teacher and principal development. i3 projects most often address one of four priorities: (1) supporting effective teachers and principals; (2) using high quality standards and assessments; (3) turning around low-performing schools; and (4) improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Through 2012, 62 i3 projects include teacher or principal professional development as a means to achieve their project goals.

Education supports i3 grantees through monitoring and technical assistance. According to Education officials and i3 monitoring protocols, i3 program officers communicate regularly with grantees to ensure that projects comply with Education’s regulations, funds are spent appropriately, and progress is being made. Education hired contractors to provide technical assistance and to support implementation and evaluation of projects. According to Education officials, the technical assistance provided for project evaluations helps maximize the strength of the project evaluations.

Why GAO Did This Study  

The i3 program provides competitive grants to expand the use of innovative practices that improve student achievement and attainment. The i3 program provides grants to three types of groups: local educational agencies (LEAs), nonprofit organizations partnering with LEAs, and nonprofit organizations joining with school consortia. The program awards 3 types of grants: scale-up, validation, and development, which differ based on the level of prior evidence required to demonstrate an innovation’s effectiveness and its readiness to expand in scale. For example, scale-up grants require applicants to show strong evidence that the innovation works and can be scaled to a national level. From FY2010 to FY2012, the Department of Education (Education) awarded 92 grants totaling about $937 million.

This report was prepared in response to a mandate in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This report describes (1) the distribution of i3 awards across grant and recipient types; (2) the criteria Education has used to make awards; (3) the distribution of i3 funds among the priorities that Education specified for the program; and (4) how Education supports grantees in implementing and evaluating their projects.

GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; analyzed publicly available data on grantees; and interviewed Education officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations.

For more information, contact  George Scott at 202-512-7215 or scottg@gao.gov.

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