On Thursday, September 16, a three-line email from the Department of Education made it official: Erikson’s Early Mathematics Education Project had been declared a winner in the 2010 “Investing in Innovation Fund” (or i3) competition.
The project, which is already narrowing the achievement gap in 300 Chicago Public Schools, would receive $5 million over the next five years to expand its efforts from preschool all the way to 3rd grade. Of nearly 1,700 applicants nationwide, only 49 had been chosen to receive awards, and Erikson had been the only institution of higher education in Illinois to make the cut.
Even as the congratulations of colleagues began pouring in, however, the project’s principal investigator, Professor Jie-Qi Chen, and its executive director, Jennifer McCray, were giving credit for their success where credit was due.
“If not for the $1 million match grant of the CME Group Foundation, we wouldn’t have gotten the i3 award,” says Chen.
She is referring to an important condition of the i3 process: To qualify for an i3 award, it wasn’t enough to have an innovative project backed by solid theory and performance. Applicants also had to have a match grant from the private sector of 20 percent of their proposal’s request. In the case of the Math Project, that 20 percent was $1 million.
Foundation chairman Jack Sandner describes the decision to make the grant that fulfilled the challenge. “We wanted to support an institution that can provide progress in early childhood math education, and we found through our analysis that Erikson stood very tall in the field.
“Math is inextricably connected to advancements in science and technology and is a tremendous learning exercise, even if you aren’t going to be a mathematician or a scientist,” he says. “And yet, we in the United States are not dedicating enough resources to math education and are not helping kids be comfortable with math.”
The i3 award and matching grant will expand the reach of the project even beyond Chicago. A portion of the funds will be used to create a print and multimedia manual for education trainers who work with teachers in Chicago and around the country to provide quality early math education.