New i3 Guidelines Better for Rural Schools

Last Updated: June 26, 2011

This article appeared in the June 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Several changes important to rural schools were incorporated into guidelines for the 2011 federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program. Program information is now available on the Department of Education website Applications are due August 2.

These changes include the addition of a new Absolute Priority specifically for rural school districts; the elimination of the rural competitive preference points; and a shift in the kind of evidence required for certain grants.

The $148 million 2011 i3 program is intended to expand innovative practices to improve student achievement or growth, close achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, increase graduation rates, or increase college enrollment and completion rates.

Local school districts or non-profit organizations working in partnership with local school districts or groups of schools are eligible to apply.

As in the 2010 i3 program, applicants must file in one of three categories: Scale-up, Validation, or Development. Scale-up grants (up to $25 million) require strong evidence that the innovation has worked. Validation grants (up to $15 million) require moderate evidence, and Development grants (up to $3 million) require a reasonable hypothesis that the innovation will be effective. All three grant types require a percentage match, and applicants may request a reduction in the percentage required.

All applications must address at least one of five Absolute Priorities (one of which is the rural priority).

Applications will be rated by a panel of reviewers who will award up to 100 points based on the need for the project and its quality. Up to two additional points are available for applications that address one or more Competitive Preference Priorities.

Changes to Rural Guidelines

Several changes to i3 guidelines that could potentially help rural schools compete include:

Absolute Priority #5. The addition of Absolute Priority #5: Improving Achievement and High School Graduation Rates in Rural LEAs increases the likelihood that the i3 competition will generate proposals originated in and focused on the unique needs of rural schools and students. Applicants who apply for the Rural Absolute Priority are encouraged to also address another Absolute Priority. No other applicants are given this suggestion.

Rural Defined. The 2011 i3 announcement defines “rural” as an LEA eligible for the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) through either the Small Rural School Achievement (SRSA) or the Rural and Low-Income School (RLIS) programs. REAP eligibility is available here.

Competitive Preference Priorities. The 2011 guidelines eliminate the “rural competitive preference point.” This change should reduce incentives for urban programs to include token participation from rural schools as a way to gain points. (See the Rural Trust report “Taking Advantage” for an analysis of the rural implications of the 2010 i3 program.)

Evidence. A change that allows applicants for Development grants to present a "reasonable hypothesis" as evidence could strengthen the participation of rural schools, which have been largely overlooked in academic research.

Absolute Priorities

All applications must address one of five Absolute Priorities. These include:

Absolute Priority #1: Innovations that Support Effective Teachers and Principals

Increase the number and/or percentage of teachers and/or principals who are “highly effective,” defined as teachers or principals whose students gain at least one and one-half grade levels in a academic year

#2: Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education

Increase student access to STEM coursework; provide preparation or professional development for teachers in STEM subjects; or increase access to STEM coursework and training for students or teachers from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM

#3: Innovations That Complement the Implementation of High Standards and High-Quality Assessments

Support States’ efforts to transition to standards and assessments that measure students’ progress toward college- and career-readiness

#4: Innovations That Turn Around Persistently Low-Performing Schools

Whole school or targeted approaches aimed at persistently lowest-achieving schools; not limited to “turnaround” models (turnaround, restart, closure transformation) and may address non-academic barriers to achievement

#5: Improving Achievement in Rural LEAs

Accelerate learning and improve high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates for students in rural (REAP-eligible) LEAs

Competitive Preference Priorities

Applicants may earn a total of two points by addressing competitive preference priorities, each of which is worth one additional point.

#6: Innovations for Improving Early Learning Outcomes

#7: Innovations that Support College Access and Success

#8: Innovations to Address the Unique Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students

#9: Improving Productivity

Increase efficiency in the use of time, staff, money or other resources while improving student learning or outcomes

#10: Technology

Improve student achievement or teacher effectiveness through use of high-quality digital tools or materials

Reviewers with rural experience and knowledge are needed. Please consider nominating yourself or someone with strong rural knowledge as a peer reviewer. Downloadable applications for peer reviewers are due by July 8.

For more information visit the i3 website.

Read more from the June 2011 Rural Policy Matters.