If It Works, Keep Funding It

Earlier this week NPR highlighted the fact that black and Latino Students in Dallas high schools pass the Advanced Placement exams at the highest rate in the country. According to the segment, much of this success is attributed to the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), a group formed with the intent of improving student performance in STEM subjects. Rachmad Tjachyadi, an AP Chemistry teacher at W.T. White High School in North Dallas, stated, “The way that NMSI helped us grow the program is by opening to doors to everybody—if you want to take this class, you can.” The NMSI program supports and offers the following incentives to both students and teachers:
  • For students, it provides Saturday study sessions, covers AP exam fees and awards $100 to each student who passes a math, science or English exam.
  • For teachers, it offers professional development and materials and lesson plans. The program also gives $100 to the teacher for each passing student.
But the great news is that this opportunity isn’t limited to just black and Latino students in Dallas. NMSI applied for and received a nearly $15 million federal Investing in Innovation (i3) validation grant in 2011. Because of early evidence of success, the U.S. Department of Education invested in the scaling and conducting further research of the program. Now, with the help of local partners, approximately 90,900 students in 180 high schools and feeder middle schools in Colorado and Indiana have access to these supports. For example, the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative (CLSI) is working with 23 high schools throughout the state to dramatically increase the number and diversity of students succeeding in math, science and English AP courses.

But These Investments Are at Risk

Although the U.S. Department of Education has funded over 140 unique i3 projects that seek to provide innovative solutions to common education challenges, and despite the fact that there is growing research to inform educators on what’s working and what’s not, the current proposal to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act does not include this (or a similar) program. Over 60 groups from across the country have asked Congress to include a fund in any rewrite of this K-12 education law that would “provide competitive grants using a tiered-evidence framework. This fund would support state and local entities in replicating education programs that have high levels of effectiveness and to develop and test promising new ideas.” The groups further state that:
The tiered-evidence approach has two breakthrough design principles: First, it provides more money to programs with higher levels of evidence. Second, it requires evaluations so that programs continue to improve. By prioritizing approaches proven to work, an evidence-based innovation fund like i3 would likely achieve higher average levels of impact. And, the requirement to evaluate results will provide a basis to improve programs across the spectrum of effectiveness. We believe that taking these steps will help support states, districts, educators, families, and communities as they prepare each young person for success in college, careers, and citizenship. We thank you in advance for considering these recommendations, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss them further.
Investing in evidence-based educational solutions doesn’t feel like a partisan issue—it seems like common sense and smart use of our federal tax dollars.
Ann Whalen
Ann Whalen is senior advisor to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Prior to returning to the U.S. Department of Education, she served as the director of policy for Education Post. Whalen has served more than five years in the Obama Administration with the U.S. Department of Education. At the department, Ann was director of the Implementation and Support Unit, providing technical assistance to ...

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