Reform & Innovation

Nothing is more important to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of our students.  The nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow. To build a solid and widely available cradle-to-career pipeline of college-ready students, the country must pursue and scale ideas that lead to better outcomes for students.

The following represent flagship initiatives by the Education Department to support the most promising efforts to reform and innovate public education among states, districts, higher education institutions, and non-profits.

College and Career Training Grants: A state-level grant program that creates and expands innovative partnerships between community colleges and businesses to educate and train workers with the skills employers need. Formally known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program, TAACCCT was developed and awarded through a partnership between the U.S. Labor and Education Departments. By September of 2016, nearly $250,000 individual earned a workforce certification through TAACCCT-funded programs.

ConnectED: A public-private initiative to streamline the use of low-cost digital services and content for teachers and students through a dedicated $2 billion investment in hardware and software resources that supports nearly 5 million students.

High-Quality Charter School Replication and Expansion: A competitive grant designed to catalyze access to high-performing charters schools for high-need students. Applicable schools or organizations were required to serve a majority of socio-economically disadvantaged students and demonstrate sustained success in student achievement. Achievement metrics were required to be diversified and robust, including performance on statewide tests, annual student attendance and retention rates, high school graduation rates, college attendance rates, and college persistence rates where applicable and available. Among low-income and other educationally disadvantaged students served by the applicant, academic achievement results were required to be above the average compared to peers in the same state. Additional school performance factors were also evaluated and considered, including student safety and financial management.

Investing in Innovation (i3): A competitive grant program for districts and nonprofits that develop cutting-edge reforms, pilot promising new programs, or scale-up proven programs. Through i3, the Department played a prominent role as an engine of innovation, investing in various promising-effective small-scale programs and resources through Development grants of up to $5 million each; Validation grants of up to $30 million each; and Scale Up grants of up to $50 million each. In total, $1.4 billion in 172 i3 projects across all 50 states. The program continues under ESSA as the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant competition.

My Brother’s Keeper: A national initiative aimed at building on successful and promising ideas from around the country by testing, implementing, and scaling-up strategies to close persistent opportunity gaps for at-risk youth, with a specific focus on boys of color. Within the first two years, the initiative attracted the support of nearly 250 communities in all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 19 tribal nations along with $600 million in private sector and philanthropic resources and $1 billion in low-interest financing. Together, localities and financial support fueled plans for increasing more productive academic, social, and career opportunities for boys and young men of color.

Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities: a 2016-17 district grant competition aimed at increasing diversity in schools and improving schools through student diversity. A $12 million investment in up to 20 districts or groups of districts was made available to fund the development of blueprints for increasing socioeconomic diversity in schools and complete inaugural activities focused on student diversity. Grantees were also able to promote student diversity by considering race and ethnicity in addition to socioeconomic factor in their efforts.

Promise Neighborhoods: A competitive grant program to propel community-led efforts working to provide a well-rounded education in high-need school communities. Between 2010 and 2016, almost $425 million was awarded to 64 community coalitions serving high-need areas with essential wraparound services through school communities such to access to longer school days and year, affordable food and healthcare, and extracurricular activities.

Race to the Top (RTT): A competitive grant program that fueled unprecedented rates of education policy changes, including the widespread adoption of college and career-ready standards. To qualify for grant funding, states built education reform plans framed around –

  • Adopting college-ready, globally competitive academic standards and tests
  • Building data systems to know and understand student growth
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-performing schools

Alternate versions of RTT were also created to invest in new college- and career-ready assessments and district plans.

Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge and Preschool Development Grants: Two federal early learning programs that together spurred states across the country to develop or expand seats in high-quality early education programs. Early learning programs are overseen by state and local authorities with historically little to no influence at the federal level despite incredible academic outcomes resulting from high-quality programs. The Obama administration launched these competitive grants programs to encourage states to advance early learning investments from more high-need, limited access families. Between the two programs, more than 40 states and territories applied.

School Improvement Grants (SIG): A formula grant awarded to states then competed out as subgrants to districts. Grants fund transformational plans to raise student achievement and improve school performance in a district’s lowest-performing schools. Low-performing schools were identified based on a number of performance factors, including schools labeled “dropout factories” where fewer than 60 percent of ninth graders graduate four years later. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of dropout factories fell by almost 20 percent, from about 1,750 high schools to roughly 1,425 high schools. And in 2015, the high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of  82.3 percent.

Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF): A competitive grant program to support the adoption, improvement, and evolution of performance-based compensation to recognize and reward high-performing educators and education leaders. TIF is now known as the “Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program”. TIF funded more than 130 projects to improve pay and reward effective teachers in high-poverty schools, reaching 2,000 schools in approximately 300 urban, suburban, and rural school districts in 36 states and Washington, D.C.