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What is i3?

The Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), established under section 14007 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), is a federal discretionary grant program at the U.S. Department of Education, within the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII). It provides funding to support (1) local educational agencies (LEAs), and (2) nonprofit organizations in partnership with (a) one or more LEAs or (b) a consortium of schools.

These grants will (1) allow eligible entities to expand and develop innovative practices that can serve as models of best practices, (2) allow eligible entities to work in partnership with the private sector and the philanthropic community, and (3) identify and document best practices that can be shared and taken to scale based on demonstrated success.

What is the i3 Program’s Purpose?

To provide competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement and attainment in order to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on:

  • Improving student achievement or growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates
  • Increasing college enrollment & completion rates

How does i3 Work?

i3 aligns funding amounts with the rigor of supporting evidence. Under this program, the Department awards three types of grants, from greatest amount of funding available to least:  “Scale-up grants,” “Validation grants,” and “Development grants.”  In order to be eligible to receive the larger grants, applicants must provide increasingly rigorous evidence of the effectiveness of the strategies, practices, or products that they propose to implement.

i3 has explicit requirements that projects expand their implementation sites. The three types of grants also have different requirements for expansion that correspond with the amount of funding available.  The largest grants carry the expectation that the grantee will serve students in a number of districts and/or states.

i3 applicants also must obtain matching funds or in-kind donations from the private sector. The required match is a percentage of the total amount of the i3 grant award made by the Department, and the match percentage is established each year in the Notice Inviting Applications. 

What Makes i3 Different?

The novelty of i3’s approach means that i3 grantees confront a range of challenges.  Below are five of the key characteristics that distinguish i3’s approach from many other federal education grant programs:

  1. i3 aligns the amount of funding with level of evidence provided by an applicant. The more rigorous the evidence an organization has supporting its intervention, the larger the grant award it can potentially receive.
  2. i3 supports a portfolio of grants in different focus areas. Existing i3 grants address needs in a wide range of education reform areas, such as teacher and principal effectiveness or improving rural education.  They do this using a diversity of strategies and targeting their activities at a range of populations (including students, teachers, principals, parents, and others).
  3. Through i3’s tiered design, the program aims to explicitly scale effective programs by creating a pipeline of funding. i3 helps interventions move towards regional or national scale, while still providing funding for new approaches.
  4. i3 requires and provides substantial funding for independent evaluations of effectiveness. Throughout the grant, an evaluation technical assistance contractor helps grantees conduct project evaluations that have the potential to meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Evidence Standards. i3 grantees will be submitting their studies to be reviewed by the WWC, significantly adding to the amount of high quality research in education. These well-designed, rigorous evaluations will help populate the What Works Clearinghouse so that superintendent, principals, teachers, and others can find what works when they need it.
  5. Lastly, i3 applicants are required to secure matching funds or in-kind donations from the private sector in order to assist in bringing the project’s results to scale.