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Institute for Innovation in Education

About the Institute

The Institute for Innovation in Education (IIE) takes an interdisciplinary approach in its pursuit of conducting educational and translational research and administering research-informed professional development initiatives with the goal of improving teaching and learning in Washington, DC, and beyond. Projects support and engage educators as they affirm, benefit, respect, and value traditionally underrepresented student groups (including students who experience racialized marginalization and students with disabilities). Researchers partner with practitioners to study educational policies and interventions using a wide-ranging set of methodological and analytical approaches. It is our belief that the complex contexts of learners, schools, and communities call for cross-disciplinary research by investigators from varied backgrounds with a scientific understanding of the processes, policies, and practices in education. Current initiatives include partnerships in early literacy intervention, teacher profesional learning, STEM teacher preparation and retention, teacher wellness, and inclusive education. 

Teacher and Girls with letter B

Early Literacy Intervention Leaders Program

The Early Literacy Intervention Leaders Program (ELI Leads) program provides funding for eight doctoral candidates in the School of Education's EdD in Education Policy and Leadership. In partnership with DC Public Schools, the project team will support ELI Leads scholars as they work to improve early reading outcomes for DC students. The scholars will gain the practical skills and leadership competencies necessary to prevent and remediate reading difficulties. Beyond coursework, the program includes three residencies, an internship in DC Public Schools, and a problem of practice dissertation focused on a real-world challenge in early literacy and special education. For more information, please visit the ELI Leads webpage


A person puts colored squares on a Pythagorean Theorem worksheetThe IIE’s work in special education teaching and learning focuses on the study of teachers’ interaction with learners and how they integrate evidence-based practices into the classroom. For the past three years, the IIE faculty and staff have partnered with the D.C. Office of the Superintendent of Education to implement the Leadership Institute in Secondary Special Education (LISSE). This intensive professional development program provides DC teachers with the resources and supports to develop leadership skills aimed at supporting the use of evidence-based practices to integrate college and career readiness, common core, and Individualized Education Program goals within the curriculum for secondary students with disabilities.

Teacher with child learning to readIn 2019, Sarah Irvine Belson, Executive Director of the IIE, was awarded a grant from the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs to support the Early Literacy Intervention Leads Program (ELI Leads). This project provided funding for eight doctoral candidates in the School of Education's EdD in Education Policy and Leadership. In partnership with DC Public Schools, the project team will support ELI Leads scholars as they work to improve early reading outcomes for DC students. 

A teacher and two students in lab coats look at an experimentAimed toward increasing the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in high-need D.C. schools, this program focuses on quality instruction, student achievement, inquiry, and assessments for instructional decision-making. Read more about the Lab2Class grant through the National Science Foundation's Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

A woman speaks at a podium in front of the School of EducationProgram directors and administrators of community-based heritage language schools, members of language communities involved in these schools, and directors and leaders from public/private/charter schools gather for an annual conference hosted by the Institute for Innovation in Education at American University to learn about heritage language work from national and international practitioners. To learn more, visit the Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools, as well as National Heritage Language Resource Center.

News and Events

Save the Date! Heritage Language Schools Conference

Join us October 4-5, 2024 for the 11th Annual Community-Based Heritage Language Schools Conference! This year's theme is The Role of Community-Based Schools in the Language Learning LandscapeThis two-day hybrid conference brings together administrators, teachers, and students of heritage language schools to explore the latest ideas and best practices in teaching and preserving Heritage languages.

Check out the Heritage Language Schools Conference page to view the 2023 conference sessions. Recordings and presentation slides are available for each session!

Introducing the 2020 Early Literacy Intervention Leaders Program (ELI Leads) Scholarship Recipients 

Learn more about the Leads:

  • Shareen Cruz, Manager of Elementary ELA, Curriculum and Professional Development, DC Public Schools
  • Kenneth Jebra' Neat, Jr., Early Childhood Teacher / Teacher Leader DC Public Schools
  • Rebecca 'Becky' Nolin, Teacher Leadership Innovation (TLI) Teacher Leader, DC Public Schools
  • Jasmine Rogers, Special Education Teacher-Resource Inclusion Teacher (K-5, DC Public Schools

Dr. Sarah Irvine Belson Contributes to Family, School, and Community Partnerships for Students with Disabilities

  • Dr. Sarah Irvine Belson is a contributing author with Anastasia Snelling and Jessica Young in Family, School, and Community Partnerships for Students with Disabilities (2019). Their chapter, "A Community-Based Approach to to Providing Health and Education Supports for Students with Disabilities in Affordable Housing," explores the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) framework as a model for improving health and education outcomes for students with disabilities (SWD).