IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Advancing High-Quality Data and Evidence at the U.S. Department of Education

March 5, 2021: A post from Greg Fortelny, Chief Data Officer and Matt Soldner, Evaluation Officer, U.S. Department of Education

Last year, the education landscape changed dramatically as the effects of the coronavirus swept across the country. Overnight, families were confronted with the twin challenges of keeping their children, loved ones, and communities safe while establishing learning environments which enabled students to succeed and achieve. With each passing day, our schools are one step nearer recovery. But here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), our work is far from done. Among the many lessons learned in the wake of the pandemic is that we must take full advantage of every opportunity to strengthen education systems and improve outcomes for all learners. From where we sit, making the most of those opportunities depends on two things: high-quality data and evidence.

Basing education policy and practice in strong evidence that is rooted in high-quality data can accelerate learning for all students, speeding efforts to recover from the pandemic’s effects. As the stewards of education data and evidence at ED, it is our charge from the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) to improve the collection, analysis, and use of high-quality data and evidence. By doing so, we hope to help educators and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels make the most effective decisions possible on behalf of the learners, families, and communities they serve.

In the two years since the passage of the Evidence Act, the Department’s Office of the Chief Data Officer (OCDO) has made progress in supporting ED’s mission to improve education outcomes by effectively leveraging data to support evidence-based policy and data-driven decision-making.  The Department’s Data Governance Board (DGB) was created to lead these efforts and, with the launch of its inaugural Data Strategy in December 2020, ED has established guidance and goals to go further to improve data quality and enable evidence-building in service of our nation’s learners.

The work of evidence-building is a collaborative effort, coordinated by ED’s Evaluation Officer housed at the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences. In this first phase of Evidence Act implementation, the Department has published a new agency-wide evaluation policy that governs the generation of its most rigorous evidence and is preparing to release its inaugural Annual Evaluation Plan. As part of the agency’s strategic planning process, ED will also develop and publish its first-ever Learning Agenda, documenting its evidence-building priorities for the next four years.

Even prior to the passage of the Evidence Act, ED has made data and evidence a priority. For decades, ED has been collecting and publishing data on students, teachers, schools, colleges, grants, student aid and more.  Now, with the launch of the ED’s Open Data Platform (ODP) in December 2020, educators, researchers, stakeholders, decision-makers, and the public can explore the array of taxpayer-funded education data and profiles through a user-friendly interface, with all data accessible from one central online repository.

At OCDO, we developed the ODP to link to research and ED data tools that serve to engage and inform the public through various displays of that publicly available data.  One rich example of these tools is the recently enhanced College Scorecard.  Visited by more than 1.4 million users in 2020, ED’s College Scorecard now enables students and their advocates to more easily search field of study identifiers and compare similar fields of study within an institution or across different institutions.  And with recent updates including  information on loan repayment rates and parent PLUS loan debt, prospective students now have even more data to make more informed enrollment decisions and to find the right postsecondary fit. 

In addition to making existing data more accessible to decision-makers, the Department invests in new discoveries in the education sciences that have the potential to dramatically improve student outcomes and strengthen education systems. For nearly 20 years, the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has worked to bring rigorous, independent, and objective education statistics, research, and evaluation to bear on challenges from early childhood to adult and postsecondary education.   

Through its National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), IES supports several programs dedicated to improving the use of data and evidence in education practice. NCEE’s Regional Educational Laboratories (REL) program works in partnership with state and local educators and policymakers to develop and use research that improves academic outcomes for students. It’s What Works Clearinghouse™ reviews existing research on education programs, practices, and policies in education to help families, teachers, and leaders answer the question “what works” in the nation’s schools, colleges, and universities. And, through its Evaluation Division, NCEE conducts independent, high-quality evaluations of education programs supported by federal funds.

In recent months, much of the work of both OCDO and IES has pivoted to address the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. At IES, we have developed a wide range of COVID-related resources for families, educators, and policymakers. And our National Center for Education Statistics has recently announced a new survey designed to collect vital data on schools’ approaches to learning during the pandemic, critical to safely reopening America’s schools and promoting educational equity.  

OCDO also has also created valuable new resources in response to the pandemic. The new Education Stabilization Fund Public Transparency Portal provides public transparency and accountability for the over $30 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, the Governor's Emergency Education Relief, and the Higher Education Emergency Relief funds established through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic (CARES) Act. The grant funds were awarded to states, schools, and institutions of higher education last spring. Continuously updated to reflect new activity, this portal provides the public with accurate, reliable, and accessible data on one of the largest federal investments in education in our country’s history.  The portal will soon include similar accounting of the awards made to states, districts, and colleges through the $81.9 billion in Education Stabilization Funds authorized through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, 2021. 

Despite the challenges we face, there is optimism, like the spark of an engaged student or the light of an inspired educator; we are eager to continue the work to serve learners through data.  The critical data priorities of ED are to empower users and leverage the data to address education equity gaps too often borne by our nation’s underprivileged students.  Rigorous evaluation identifies effective policies and practices, open and transparent data furthers research and public trust. Leveraging data to inform decisions not only improves ED operations but also helps guide schools and families in their efforts to support students and improve education outcomes. 

Your feedback is welcome, you can email us at data@ed.gov.

Subscribe to the Data Matters Blog at https://www.ed.gov/subscriptions , the NCEE blog at https://ies.ed.gov/blogs/ncee/, and follow OCDO on LinkedIn.

Yours Truly in Data and Evaluation,

Greg and Matt

P.S. Happy International Open Data Day Eve!

The Center for the Success of English Learners Launches Website to Support Policy and Practice for English Learners

Policies and practices affect English learners’ (ELs) education access and quality. Supporting these students requires alignment across all levels of the education system—from federal and state governments to districts and schools to individual classroom teachers and students. 

About the Center

To address these issues of policy and practice, IES funded the Center for the Success of English Learners (CSEL) with the goal of improving access and outcomes for English Learners across the United States. Specifically, CSEL’s focused program of research includes identifying and removing barriers related to ELs’ access to the classroom and developing and testing interventions that leverage transdisciplinary approaches (for example, foregrounding content knowledge and building knowledge and academic language simultaneously) to improve instruction for ELs in Grades 6 and 9 science and social studies. Some research questions that will be explored include:

  • How are potential barriers, such as educator attitudes and mindsets and stated policies, associated with school tracking practices?
  • How do educators encounter and/or overcome barriers to providing ELs with access to the general curriculum?
  • What is the impact of the CSEL developed lessons on student vocabulary, language, and content knowledge in science and social studies?
  • Can student outcomes be improved in science and social studies through integrated formative assessments that allow teachers to make meaningful interpretations of student learning and informed decisions to guide their instruction?

New Website Launched

CSEL has launched a brand-new website to engage with the larger education community to exchange ideas, disseminate information and resources based on their findings, and create learning and collaboration opportunities for state and local education agencies. Visit www.cselcenter.org for information to learn more about their research, resources, and events, including an upcoming event based on their recently published brief, Education English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment.

For more information about IES’s investment in improving opportunities and achievement for English learners in secondary school settings, please see here.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners Portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

 

Recent Research and Developments in School Finance

Education constitutes a significant investment at all levels of government, and understanding how funding structures, revenue streams, and spending practices influence student outcomes is important for education researchers and practitioners alike. The pandemic has underscored the significance of education finance, with projected funding shortages making the need for fiscal data and evidence-based spending practices that much more urgent. Although not in direct response to the pandemic, some recently completed and ongoing IES-funded research projects may contribute to a better understanding of education spending and how certain spending models and practices relate to student outcomes.

In 2017, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) awarded a grant to Dr. Marguerite Roza at Georgetown University to explore the weighted student funding (WSF) allocation strategy. Districts using WSF provide a fixed dollar amount to schools for each student, with larger increments going to students identified as having greater needs (including students with limited English proficiency, students with disabilities, and students who come from low-income households). This study examined 19 large, urban districts that use WSF to better understand the diverse ways in which these strategies are implemented and can influence student outcomes. Key findings indicated that, on average, WSF districts spend more on schools with higher concentrations of low-income students. In addition, test scores in English language arts and math were higher for the overall student population in districts that use WSF than in non-WSF districts in the same state. However, there was no evidence that WSF was associated with better test scores for Black or Hispanic students.

In 2020, NCER funded an efficacy study led by Dr. Sean Tanner at WestEd to evaluate the impact of fiscal flexibility in Title I compensatory revenue on student achievement, grade progression, and class completion. Fiscal flexibility refers to the policy that allows schools to spend Title 1 revenue across the school rather than for those services that specifically target at-risk students. Findings from this study could inform decisions around the level of autonomy schools should be given over how to use Title I compensatory funding to boost the success of the lowest performing students.

While the above projects are important contributions to the field, additional research is needed to address limitations in our understanding of how education funds are being spent and how dollars can be maximized to promote positive student outcomes. For example, research on special education spending is sorely needed. National data on special education spending are over 20 years old and pre-date many key changes to the way that students with disabilities are educated, including the rise in inclusive classrooms and multi-tiered systems of support.

Newly funded research and upcoming data collection efforts may offer insights into how schools and districts spend money as well as opportunities for additional research:

  • In 2020, NCER awarded Dr. Marguerite Roza another grant to develop an open-access archive of school-level spending data. The project will build off the requirement in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for states to publish school-level financial data by making the data available and usable for researchers and policymakers.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is planning several revisions to the Annual Survey of School System Finances. Changes will include adding new items on special education spending, such as expenses for instruction, transportation, support services, and instructional staff as well as total special education expenditures.
  • NCES also plans to add new revenue and expenditure variables to the National Public Education Financial Survey related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
  • The National Center for Education Evaluation’s Study of District and School Uses of Federal Education Funds will examine how funds—and flexibilities—from five major federal education programs are used to support students.    

Understanding how resource allocation influences outcomes will only become more important in coming years as education settings grapple with the financial impacts of the pandemic. Through the research that NCER and NCSER fund (analyzing existing data and/or collecting primary data) as well as data collection efforts in NCES, IES hopes to contribute to a better understanding of education finance and inform practical decisions in this area. 

This blog was written by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, NCER and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) program officer, NCSER.

 

Career and Technical Education Month®: Improving Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities

February marks Career and Technical Education Month®, a public awareness campaign that highlights and celebrates career and technical education (CTE). CTE programs emphasize career preparation, skill trades, applied sciences, and modern technologies. CTE coursework integrates academic knowledge with post-secondary pathways and careers by directly preparing middle and high school students with coursework related to high-demand industries.

To encourage research to improve career readiness skills and transition outcomes for students with or at risk for disabilities, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) competed a special topic on Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities in FY 2019 and FY 2020. A previous blog post focused on the FY 2019 grant. In FY 2020, NCSER awarded two new research grants through this special topic:

CTE Teachers and Long-Term Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

The purpose of this exploratory project is to assess CTE teacher effectiveness for students with disabilities. Principal Investigator Dan Goldhaber at the University of Washington and his colleagues (co-PIs Kristian Holden and Roddy Theobold) will estimate CTE teacher effectiveness using high school attendance, GPA, persistence, and graduation probability as outcomes. They will also consider longer-term outcomes including college enrollment and employment, as well as whether CTE teacher effectiveness varies according to teacher licensure, pathway into teaching, and prior work experiences.

Supported College and Career Readiness for Secondary Students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems

In this study, Principal Investigator Lee Kern at Lehigh University and her colleagues (co-PIs Chris Liang and Jennifer Freeman) will develop and pilot test a multi-component program, Supported College and Career Readiness, that augments typical school-based college and career readiness activities (such as those associated with CTE). The research team aims to further support high school age students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), whom research suggests are insufficiently benefiting from college and career readiness activities. As a result, students with or at risk for EBD are frequently unprepared for career or postsecondary education pathways.

We asked each Principal Investigator to share the motivation for studying this research topic and what makes their study unique and impactful.

What inspired you to study this research topic?

Photo of Dan GoldhaberDr. Goldhaber: At CALDER, we have contributed to a large body of research on the impacts of math and ELA teachers on students. This body of evidence suggests that the quality of the teacher workforce is the most important schooling factor influencing students test and non-test outcomes. But we were surprised to find that, despite growing interest in CTE, there is a surprising lack of empirical research on CTE teacher contributions to student learning. We think this is a particularly important issue for students with disabilities for two reasons. First, CTE teachers have different pathways to teaching than academic teachers, and these pathways may provide less pedagogical preparation for the unique needs of students with disabilities. And second, students with disabilities are significantly more likely to be enrolled in these courses relative to students without disabilities. As such, this project lies at the intersection of our prior work on academic teachers, and our recent work on CTE participation for students with disabilities.

Photo of Lee Kern

Dr. Kern: Spending time with high school age students with emotional and behavioral problems brought me to truly understand how little they consider their futures. And, even when they have goals and dreams, they see scarce connections between what they are being asked to do in high school and realizing their goals. It occurred to me that finding ways to strengthen this connection might be an avenue not only to better prepare students for post-high school life, but also to reduce dropout. Indeed, the need to better prepare youth for life after high school has been increasingly embraced, especially in the last decade, evidenced in part by the adoption of career and college readiness (CCR) standards in almost every U.S. state. I witnessed many impressive CCR efforts and programs in high schools, yet it appeared that students with emotional and behavioral problems were failing to access these school-based CCR supports, some of which did not seem well aligned with their needs. With support from a Lehigh University faculty grant, I began to research exactly how this subset of students regarded, accessed, and benefitted from CCR activities and supports. This research underscored the need to supplement important components of CCR to better align with the needs of students with emotional and behavioral problems. Our goal in the current project is to develop and evaluate an intervention package that supplements high school CCR activities to better prepare students with emotional and behavioral problems for community, college, and/or career.

What makes your project unique and exciting? 

Dr. Goldhaber: This project will use unique data from Washington state that allows us to track students with disabilities in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. Access to long-term outcomes is both unique and important given that test scores are not likely to be a very good measure of the contributions that CTE teachers make toward student education. Our project is also closely focused on CTE workforce issues. The staffing of CTE courses is quite challenging—in Washington state, for instance, over half of all CTE teachers have not completed the state’s teacher licensure requirements and hold limited CTE licenses. Thus, we believe the work will garner a lot of attention from policymakers.

Dr. Kern: I am especially enthusiastic about this project because it targets areas in which empirical research tells us that students with emotional and behavioral problems have insufficient CCR skills, perceptions, and knowledge. I am also fortunate to work with my co-PIs, Drs. Freeman and Liang, who bring diverse and unique expertise in the areas of CCR assessment, CCR counseling, racial/ethnic identity development, and more. I am also optimistic about the feasibility of this project because it capitalizes on existing school resources in the form of school-based CCR programs. So, rather than adding programs or interventions, it adapts and expands existing CCR components.

Tell us how your research results could possibly shape CTE-related policy.

Dr. Goldhaber: In broad terms, we do not know much about the impact of CTE teacher quality, so our study has the potential to inform broadly the myriad ways we think about the heterogeneity of CTE teacher effects. But, more specifically and narrowly, we will be looking at the connections between CTE effects and CTE teacher pathways, which should inform policies and practices around CTE preparation and licensure.

Dr. Kern: We hope that our efforts will shape future CCR policy. Our aim is to build the evidence-base in the area of CCR supports that address the needs of students at risk for emotional and behavioral problems. Ultimately, we would like to see federal policies that guarantee at-risk students in all high schools in the U.S. receive comprehensive, evidence-based CCR interventions and supports that fully prepare them for life after high school.

For more information on CTE and students with disabilities, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) and the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) provide useful resources. In addition, ACTE, NTACT, and Penn State University’s Workforce Education program hosted a five-part webinar series in 2019 about programs, practices, and partnerships that support students with disabilities in CTE. This series can be viewed here.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Akilah Nelson, Program Officer at NCSER. For more information about the Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities topic area, contact Akilah Nelson.

The views expressed by the investigators do not necessarily reflect those of IES.

Distance Education in College: What Do We Know From IPEDS?

Distance education (DE) is defined by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) as “education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor.” By allowing students to take classes online in their own locations and on their own schedules, DE has increased access to college. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020, DE has become an important way to deliver college classes while helping to keep students safe.

IPEDS collects information on DE in four of its surveys: Institutional Characteristics, Fall Enrollment, Completions, and, most recently, 12-Month Enrollment. The figures below present key statistics on DE course/program offerings and enrollments at U.S. colleges.

How many colleges offer distance education courses and programs?

In 2018–19, most colleges (79 percent) offered either stand-alone DE courses or entire DE programs (e.g., 100% online degrees). DE course and program offerings differed by the control (public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit) and level (4-year or 2-year) of the college.

  • Almost all public 4- and 2-year colleges (96 and 97 percent, respectively) offered either DE courses or DE programs.
  • A majority of private nonprofit and for-profit 2-year colleges (53 and 59 percent, respectively) did not offer DE courses or DE programs, though they account for a small number of colleges.

Figure 1. Percentage distribution of colleges, by control, level, and distance education (DE) offerings of college: Academic year 2018–19

NOTE: Figure includes U.S. degree-granting institutions that participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Institutional Characteristics component, Fall 2018.


How many students are enrolled in distance education courses?

In fall 2018, about 6.9 million students enrolled in DE courses, or 35 percent of the total fall enrollment population (19.6 million).

  • Between fall 2012 and 2018, DE course enrollment increased 29 percent (from 5.4 to 6.9 million), while total fall enrollment declined by 5 percent (from 20.6 to 19.6 million).
  • The number of students enrolled in a mix of DE and face-to-face courses increased by 33 percent (from 2.8 to 3.7 million) between fall 2012 and 2018. The number of students enrolled in only DE courses also increased, but at a slower rate of 24 percent (from 2.6 to 3.3 million).

Figure 2. Total college enrollment, by distance education (DE) participation of students: Fall 2012 through fall 2018

NOTE: Figure includes U.S. degree-granting institutions that participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Fall Enrollment component, Spring 2013 through Spring 2019.


How does enrollment in distance education courses vary by college control?

In fall 2018, the share of students enrolled in DE courses differed by control of the college.

  • About one-third of students at public and private nonprofit colleges enrolled in at least one DE course (34 and 30 percent, respectively).
  • At public colleges, students were more likely to enroll in a mix of DE and face-to-face courses (22 percent) than in only DE courses (12 percent). This trend reversed at private nonprofit colleges, with 10 percent of students enrolled in a mix of DE and face-to-face courses and 20 percent in only DE courses.
  • At private for-profit colleges, most students (73 percent) enrolled in at least one DE course (10 percent in a mix of DE and face-to-face courses and 63 percent in only DE courses).

Figure 3. Percentage distribution of college enrollment, by control of college and distance education (DE) participation of students: Fall 2012 through fall 2018

NOTES: Figure includes U.S. degree-granting institutions that participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Fall Enrollment component, Spring 2013 through Spring 2019.


Among students enrolled in only DE courses, where do they live relative to their colleges?

Students taking only DE courses do not necessarily live far away from their colleges (even when physically coming to campus is generally not required), especially among students enrolled in public colleges.

  • In fall 2018, most (82 percent) of the 1.8 million students taking only DE courses at public colleges lived in the same state as their colleges. Only 15 percent lived in a different state.
  • At private nonprofit and for-profit colleges, students taking only DE courses were less likely to live in the same state as their colleges (35 percent and 17 percent, respectively) and more likely to live in a different state (63 percent and 81 percent, respectively) in fall 2018.

Figure 4. Percentage distribution of college enrollment for students enrolled in only distance education (DE) courses, by control of college and location of students: Fall 2018

NOTE: One square represents 1 percent. “State unknown” is reported by the institution when a student’s home state of residence cannot be determined; “Location unknown” is imputed by IPEDS to classify students when the institution does not report any residence status. Figure includes U.S. degree-granting institutions that participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Fall Enrollment component, Spring 2019.


The DE enrollment figures above use the most recent IPEDS data available, which is limited to a fall “snapshot” date. However, in 2020–21, IPEDS expanded the 12-Month Enrollment survey to collect DE course enrollment for the entire 12-month academic year, which will provide even more information on DE enrollments at U.S. colleges. The first 12-month DE enrollment data, representing the 2019–20 academic year, will be released in spring 2021. These will be the first IPEDS enrollment data to overlap with the coronavirus pandemic, and DE course enrollments are expected to increase.

To learn more about DE data collected in IPEDS, visit the Distance Education in IPEDS resource page. To explore IPEDS data through easy-to-use web tools or to access data files to conduct your own original analyses like the ones presented in this blog, visit the IPEDS Use the Data page.

 

By Roman Ruiz and Jie Sun, AIR