Since the start of the pandemic, we have all heard about the unprecedented changes to schooling in the U.S. and the ways that educators, students, and families have been adapting to the new reality.
Education researchers have also been adapting their work due to school closings, canceled testing, and different school reopening plans in the 2020-21 school year.
How have education researchers handled the new reality?
Some researchers have been busy compiling and disseminating research findings to support districts and schools to continue instruction during the pandemic. For example, evidence-based recommendations were made available to help parents and schools pivot to a virtual environment (from very young children up to the postsecondary level), maintain engagement, address mental health (including in rural areas), protect against learning loss, and decide how to prioritize needs when considering re-opening. And many education technology researchers and developers have provided online resources to schools.
Other researchers have been working hard to understand the overall disruption to schooling due to COVID-19 and the ramifications on student learning around the world. For example, there have been efforts to keep track of school closures, document what is happening in schools across the country (including in rural districts), study the switch to online learning and attend to unequal access to technology for remote learning, forecast funding scenarios, and examine changes in teacher recruitment.
In addition, education researchers are thinking about new ways to conduct research in light of the changes to schooling. They are looking at alternatives to standardized testing, new approaches to teaching and learning to strengthen schools moving forward, and ways to rebuild our education systems after the pandemic. Indeed, there are myriad ways that education researchers can and are using their skills to continue to support education during this unprecedented time.
How has COVID-19 impacted IES-funded education research studies?
IES realizes that the pandemic has changed things in ways that may complicate education research – both how it is conducted and how it is interpreted. So, we are actively working with grantees to help ensure the integrity of their work and to respond to the needs, interests, and concerns of the schools and colleges they are working with and the communities they are trying to help. In a follow-up to an IES-funded study on students in foster care, a researcher-practitioner partnership in Colorado is examining the implications of challenging circumstances such as COVID-19 on the postsecondary education of vulnerable youth.
Many IES-funded researchers have had to alter their research plans to accommodate the needs of their partner schools and overcome the challenges posed by the abrupt transition to virtual learning. Because of continued uncertainty, they may need to change plans again. Program officers at IES have been working with grantees on a case-by-case basis to adapt their timelines and, in some cases, their research designs.
IES’s priority is to help researchers maintain scientific rigor while holding a realistic view of what can and cannot be done this year. As we work with our grantees, we take into consideration where the project is in its overall timeline. For example, if the project has collected all of its data and is in the final analysis stage, the remaining work may not be affected. Or, if a project has not yet started to begin an intervention in schools, it can pause during the 2020-2021 academic school year and resume in 2021-2022. Still, other projects may find themselves unable to either continue or pause. These projects may not be able to achieve their initial purpose and may need to end.
Despite some of the challenges, the pandemic offers a unique natural experiment for learning and instruction, as well as opportunities for innovation that can ultimately benefit education. IES, our funded researchers, and the communities that rely on research evidence continue to pull in the same direction: building strong evidence to inform policy and practice. Through collaboration and dialog, we will work together to ensure that data and results are meaningful, valid, and as timely as possible. IES will continue to focus on high-quality education research to improve student learning and achievement both now and in the future.
Stay tuned for future blog posts on what our researchers are doing to address some of the challenges that face educators, families, and policymakers during this unprecedented time!
Written by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research.