The National Center for Education Research (NCER) supports rigorous research that contributes to the solution of significant education problems in the United States.
|FY 2010||FY 2011|
|Applications received and reviewed||994||903|
|New research and research training awards||110||90|
|Total award amount||$309 million*||$139 million|
* The FY 2010 awards included $113 million in Reading for Understanding awards.
The new FY 2011 awards cover a wide range of topics including research on mathematics and science education, behavioral interventions, early learning, English learners, education technology, teacher effectiveness, and school accountability. Below are four examples of new projects.
In addition, NCER awarded funding for a new research and development center on postsecondary education. The National Center on Postsecondary Education and Employment will analyze state and national longitudinal data to identify the employment and earnings benefits of specific postsecondary educational pathways and awards. It will also examine the institutional programs and public policies that are associated with postsecondary completion and employment and earnings outcomes. The Center will analyze outcomes for a full range of undergraduate degrees and pathways but will focus on occupationally oriented educational pathways leading to credentials, particularly at the sub-baccalaureate level.
NCER launched the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative last year to develop effective approaches for improving and assessing reading comprehension. All five intervention teams have been developing curriculum materials for their grade spans. Four of the five teams have completed initial versions of their curriculum materials, and two of the teams have completed teaching trials, in which classroom teachers have implemented these initial versions, and been engaged in the ongoing revision of these materials. The fifth team has completed a detailed mapping of learning trajectories in literature, history, and science, which is informing development of their secondary curricula intended to support comprehension. Simultaneously, teams are gathering cross-sectional and longitudinal data which will enable mapping of the development of cognitive, linguistic, and reading skills from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. Analysis of these data will be complete by the fall of 2011 and will feed directly into the revision of the intervention materials. Across the teams, cognitive researchers are examining how linguistic features of the learner and of the instructional texts shape observed learning outcomes. Finally, the assessment team has completed a draft assessment framework and is exploring the costs and benefits of different item formats that can be used to assess comprehension of complex texts.
Through the SBIR program, NCER provides awards of up to $1.05 million to small businesses and their partners for the full-scale development of products that facilitate student learning and teacher efficiency, or for tools to improve education research. One measure of program success is commercialization of products developed under program auspices. In September 2010, Measured Progress, a New Hampshire-based not-for-profit specializing in the development of state- and district-level assessments, acquired Nimble Assessment Systems, a two-time recipient of SBIR awards. Measured Progress will incorporate Nimble Assessments Systems' computer-based testing tools—NimbleTools and NimblePad systems—into its product line.
Another SBIR awardee, Polyhedron Learning Media, Inc., developed a web-based virtual physics laboratory for use in introductory college physics courses. In a pilot study of the technology, students in introductory-level physics classes were randomly assigned to the virtual lab or to a traditional hands-on lab. Results suggest that students in the virtual labs are able to learn as much as students in the hands-on lab. In 2010, Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning signed a contract with Polyhedron for exclusive rights to distribute Virtual Physics Lab to colleges, universities, and Advanced Placement high school physics programs.
Quantum Simulations, another SBIR recipient, has developed a suite of web-based artificial intelligence (AI) tutors and assessments for chemistry and math education that serve students at the kindergarten through adult levels. The AI tutors support learning through an interactive process that poses questions, analyzes the students' answers, provides feedback, and adjusts to the student's level while answering the student's questions. Quantum has commercialized its tutors through direct sales, as well as distribution partnerships with textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Studies completed by NCER researchers in 2010–11 include:
Evaluation of Tennessee's Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program NCER's Evaluation of State and Local Education Programs and Policies program supports the evaluation of programs and policies that states or districts have implemented. Under this program, a team of researchers at Vanderbilt University is evaluating the impact of Tennessee's voluntary pre-kindergarten program on the school readiness of economically disadvantaged children and their subsequent academic performance. The project includes two studies. One is a randomized controlled trial of oversubscribed programs, which assign the limited available places in the program by lottery. The second study is a regression discontinuity study comparing children who are eligible for the program based on their age at the cut-off date to children who have to wait a year because they just missed the cut-off date. The data show substantial improvements on school readiness outcomes for children who have access to the state pre-kindergarten program.2
Early Childhood Education Research conducted by the National Center for Research on Early Childhood Education indicates that many young children who are at risk for school failure attend classrooms of mediocre quality that do not maximize children's learning to the extent found in high-quality classrooms. For example, analyses of state-funded pre-kindergarten programs in 11 states with mature programs indicated that just over half the school day was spent on learning activities.3 Children in early childhood classrooms may participate in very few of the types of interactions that are associated with improved school readiness.4
Perceptual Learning A team at the University of California, Los Angeles decided to exploit the potential of perceptual learning by developing computer-delivered modules, in which, for example, students are asked in 30-minute practice sessions to match multiple instances of different representations of the same equation (e.g., matching a number sentence to the correct word problem or graph). Students are asked only to identify the representations that are equivalent but not to solve the equations. This repeated exposure to examples, with feedback to the student regarding whether his or her match is correct, draws upon the human capacity to seek out structure. In an experiment with high school students, the perceptual learning module was found to substantially improve students' performance on mapping the relations between word problems, equations, and graphs.5