Tag Archives: federal grants

Evaluators Bring Superpowers to Your Federal Grant Application

Yesterday, my colleague Lina Bankert wrote about three new federal grant competitions that have just been posted. Those who are new to federal grant competitions may find the evaluation requirements and research-design options (explained below) overwhelming. Federal grant applications typically require:

  • An evidence-based rationale for the proposed project’s approach, such as a logic model
  • Citations of prior research that support key components of a project’s design and meet specific thresholds for rigor specified by the What Works Clearinghouse
  • Expected outcomes and how applicants will measure those with valid and reliable instruments
  • Explanation of how the proposed project will be studied to understand its impact

Proposals may be scored by two kinds of individuals: reviewers with programmatic expertise and reviewers with evaluation expertise. Sections of the grant are allocated a certain number of points, all of which total to a final score that drives which proposals receive awards. The evaluation section of these proposals can represent up to 25% of the total points awarded to applicants, so having a strong one can make or break an application. 

red letters that say "KAPOW" coming out of a blue and yellow comic-style explosion

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Writing these sections requires a sophisticated understanding of research methodology and analytical techniques in order to tie the application together with a consistent and compelling evidence base. Our evaluation team at Bellwether has partnered with a number of organizations to help them design programmatic logic models, shore up their evidence base, and write evaluation plans that have contributed to winning applications to the tune of about $60 million. This includes three recent partnerships with Chicago International Charter School, Citizens of the World Charter Schools, and Grimmway Schools — all winners in the latest round of Charter School Program (CSP) funding for replication and expansion of successful charter networks.

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Applications Open for 3 Federal Grants: Tips From Bellwether

In the past few days, three major education-related federal grants have opened their application processes.

The Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) Grant Program, the Teacher and School Leader (TSL) Incentive Grants, and the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Fund collectively offer approximately $266 million in funding to eligible education entities. (All three currently list a June 2020 application deadline.)

Teachers at Skyline High School meet with community partners to plan work-based learning opportunities for students.

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

These programs closely align with Bellwether’s mission of supporting underserved students: 

  • SEED: “Increase the number of highly effective educators by supporting […] practices that prepare, develop, or enhance the skills of educators”
  • TSL: “Develop, implement, improve, or expand comprehensive Performance-Based Compensation Systems or Human Capital Management Systems for teachers, principals, and other school leaders […] especially [those] who […] close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students”
  • EIR: “Create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students; and rigorously evaluate such innovations”

While these grants require complex applications and can be highly competitive, Bellwether is here to help. Since 2010, we have successfully partnered with many organizations in their successful bids for federal grants. These include the following organizations, some of which have won several times with our support: Harmony Public Schools, IDEA Public Schools, Louisiana Department of Education, National Math and Science Initiative, New Schools for New Orleans, RePublic Schools, Rhode Island Department of Education, and Tennessee Department of Education.

Back in 2016, I shared a series of tips on writing a successful federal education grant application, so we’re re-upping that conversation today.

But first, a few 2020 additions to our 2016 thoughts:

First, it is worth naming that we are navigating through highly uncertain times precipitated by the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders across the sector are urgently attending to foundational needs and may see a grant application as yet another item on top of an already packed to-do list. We empathize — and also believe that now is an opportune moment for organizations to think ahead and consider how to evolve to address changing needs, either by accelerating existing work or by pursuing a bold new innovation.

Second, don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Many strong grant proposals are developed in partnership. We encourage organizations to have conversations early on with potential partners who can bring particular expertise or serve as a “test lab” for an initiative. (My colleague Allison Crean Davis will write a companion post tomorrow about the evaluation capabilities needed for a winning grant — and how we can support on that front.)

Finally, even if your application does not rise to the top, consider yourself a winner. Grant development can help you get clarity on where you’re headed and highlight gaps that you need to close before taking on a big new initiative. Going through the process of identifying strengths and opportunities can be just as valuable as actually acing the competition. Continue reading

Warren Wants to Slash the Program I Evaluate — But I’ve Seen It Work

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren released her education plan, where she proposed slashing federal funding for the expansion of public charter schools by ending the Charter School Program (CSP). Warren claims that the CSP is an “abject failure,” citing a report by an anti-charter organization that the federal government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools. (The report’s lack of substance and evidence has already been raised by others.)

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren visiting Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. She spoke to a group of about 400 students to outline her K-12 education plan, answer questions, and pose for selfies.

Photo of Elizabeth Warren via Flickr user tabor-roeder

I know Warren is wrong firsthand. As part of my work at Bellwether Education Partners, I serve as an external evaluator for three CSP grantees (as my colleague Cara mentioned yesterday). Our unbiased, rigorous, and data-driven evaluations indicate that when implemented well, high-quality charters use their CSP funds to improve their model and successfully serve more students. These charter schools are the reason their students experience gains in achievement beyond their traditional public school peers. 

Let me step back. The CSP began in 1994 as an amendment to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It has three goals:

  1. To create promising new public charter schools,
  2. To replicate high-quality public charter schools, and
  3. To disseminate information about effective practices within charter schools.

In 25 years, CSP has awarded close to $4 billion to charters serving disproportionately more low-income and diverse students than traditional public schools. The average award is about $500K. In exchange for CSP replication funds, the schools expand to serve more students. CSP replication grantees are required to evaluate their progress, and it is strongly recommended that they use an external evaluator to do so. The evaluation must demonstrate that the grantee is doing what it said it would do and compare the achievement of its students to students attending nearby traditional public schools for evidence of impact. This is how the CSP holds grantees accountable. 

My colleagues and I use advanced statistical modeling techniques to compare charter-attending students to similar students attending nearby traditional public schools on a 1:1 basis. In the model, when all things are considered, the difference in achievement found can be attributed to the school. In fact, an emerging trend in our current data analysis suggests that the longer a student attends a well-implemented, high-quality charter school, the larger the gains in achievement over their traditional public school student peer become. Continue reading

If Trump’s Serious About Championing Women and Families, He Should Start by Supporting Home Visiting

In celebration of NAEYC’s “The Week of the Young Child” April 24 – 28, Bellwether looks at programs that improve the lives of young children.

Earlier this week, Ivanka Trump got boos and jeers in Berlin when she called President Trump a “champion for supporting families” and an “empowerer” of women. This has been her line since the campaign trail, often accompanied by a deeply flawed child care plan.

If Ivanka wants to start making those talking points a reality, and maybe even get cheers from the early childhood community, she should talk to her father about home visiting programs.

In these programs, pregnant women and families with young children at-risk of poverty or other factors receive regular at-home visits designed to encourage healthy parenting, support maternal health and child development, and connect families with other services. Home visiting is growing, but currently these programs reach only about 5 percent of the over 3 million American infants and toddlers living in poverty.

Supporting home visiting programs sounds like something everyone can agree on, right? So why are they missing from Trump’s budget proposal and Ivanka’s “women and children” speeches?

On one hand, it is hard to imagine President Trump supporting any program that was a cornerstone of Hillary Clinton’s campaign promises in early childhood, not to mention the fact that federal home visiting grants were originally created as part of the Affordable Care Act. On the other hand, with a solid evidence base across multiple program models and geographies, home visiting has garnered praise and support from both sides of the aisle in recent House hearings and Senate briefings, and it’s the kind of cost-efficient preventative program that can save money in the long term.

While home visiting programs like these have been around for decades, when the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting grant program (MIECHV) was established in 2010, it helped spread home visiting across the country. There are 18 home visiting models that meet federal evidence standards, and most of these allow for lots of variation, so home visiting programs can take many forms on the ground. Here are two examples:

  • Last summer, my Bellwether colleague Marnie Kaplan described the HIPPY program  after Hillary Clinton touted it. HIPPY focuses on preschool-aged children, and offers families training and materials to support early literacy and language development in weekly home visits.
  • Another highly-rated program is Healthy Families America (HFA), which primarily serves families with infants (birth to 12 months), and focuses on preventing child abuse and neglect by encouraging nurturing parent-child relationships. Home visitors screen for child development and family risk factors, teach families about child development, promote health and nutrition, and help parents develop positive knowledge, skills, and attitudes towards parenting.

Home visiting programs are not a replacement for more intensive early care and education programs, like Head Start, but they can provide important supports for families in a cost-efficient and flexible way. Part of the beauty of home visiting programs is that they are locally-run and administered, and are flexible to a variety of community contexts — for example, training home visitors within rural communities can create jobs, ensure community-responsive services, and reach more people than a single brick-and-mortar social services site.

While the Trump administration has been quiet on these programs so far, hopefully the combination of strong evidence, local control, and cost-efficiency could protect programs from looming budget cuts, or even see them grow in the future. If Trump commits support and resources for programs that work for children and families, that could be something to applaud.