Investing in Innovation Fund (“i3”): Why It Will Likely Not Yield Expected Results

After returning from a family vacation, I came across an article that referenced the part of the Education Stimulus funding that I am most intrigued about:  the $650 million Investing in Innovation (“i3”) fund. The reason for my interest is that this particular fund was meant to attract more resources from the private sector, as the application expected candidates to obtain at least a 20% matching investment from the aforementioned sources.  However, the article correctly identifies the material flaws in the construction of the fund guidelines, many of which I noticed when I reviewed the application a few months ago:

  1. 12% of the applicants are requesting special waivers from the Dept. of Ed. because they will not be able to secure the 20% in matching funds from the private sector (surprise, surprise)
  2. Tom Vander Ark appropriately validated what I have been evangelizing all along, which is that you cannot leave the school districts in control of the grant applications because the establishment, no matter what the industry may be, does not have a good track record at innovating, whether sustaining or disruptive innovation.
  3. The winners will likely be folks from the existing cast of characters, which would include select, large-scale charter school franchises, progressive organizations such as Teach for America, and other mature nonprofit organizations.  The grant was not designed to support early-stage enterprises.
  4. My points are illustrated best by reviewing the evaluation criteria:  need for a quality of the project; evidence; applicant’s track record of success; quality of proposed evaluation of a winning project; ability to scale up; sustainability; and quality of the management plan and personnel
  5. Some candidates tried to improve their chances by either pitching several diffferent proposals or supporting other proposals.  For example, the Boston Public Schools is a partner in more than 20 different applications!


When I first reviewed the application guidelines, my initial reaction was that this was yet another example of why the real innovation in education will emerge from outside the estabilishemt.  The government must be used to create the optimal conditions for creating innovation ecosystems, not in using signiificant amounts of taxpayer funds to incentivize the establishment to innovate from the inside-out.  Unfortunately, disruptive innovation, and even transformational innovation, does not work this way.

Nevertheless, no one would be happier than me if I can be ultimately proven wrong.




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