IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Getting to Know ED: My Journey as a STEM Next Fellow at IES

This guest blog was contributed by Dr. Holly Miller, who currently serves as a STEM Next Opportunity Fund Fellow at the Institute of Education Science’s National Center for Education Evaluation.

Since August 2022, I’ve been serving as the STEM Next Opportunity Afterschool and Summer Learning Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). More specifically, I work within the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Upon arriving at IES, I was charged with a specific challenge: amplify how evidence-based practice in out-of-school time (OST) can support student learning and development. This mission was made all the more relevant by the need for states and districts to respond to the consequences of the COVID pandemic which, at the time, remained an official national emergency.

Perhaps naively, I hoped to walk in on Day One and find “The Official Compendium of Evidence-based Practices in Global Pandemics and Related Crises” that I could pull off the shelf and hand to educators. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered no such tome existed. And I began to realize that one of the biggest challenges I’d face in my new role was getting to know ED itself! To an outsider, the Department can seem like a huge machine. Getting to know it, though, can pay incredible dividends. As I came to learn, there are tons of great resources—if only you know where to look.

One of OST educators’ first stops in getting to know ED should be IES. For the uninitiated, IES is the Department’s statistics, research, and evaluation arm. The mission of IES is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public. It is independent and non-partisan.

Across its four centers—the National Centers for Education Statistics, Education Evaluation, Education Research, and Special Education Research—IES conducts six broad types of work (http://ies.ed.gov):

1. Providing data to describe the “condition of education,” including students’ academic proficiency.

2. Conducting surveys and sponsoring research projects to understand where education needs improvement and how these improvements might be made.

3. Funding development and rigorous testing of new approaches for improving education outcomes for all students.

4. Conducting large-scale evaluations of federal education programs and policies.

5. Providing resources to increase the use of data and research in education decision-making, including independent reviews of research on “what works” in education through the What Works Clearinghouse.

6. Supporting the advancement of statistics and research through specialized training and development of methods and measures.

I could see that this work had the potential to benefit a variety of stakeholders—teachers, administrators, students, researchers, and policymakers. Still, I had so many unanswered questions. As a middle school teacher, I frequently told students, “The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.” Therefore, as I surveyed the education research landscape at IES, I asked lots and lots of questions. My presence at IES was akin to a toddler at the zoo for the first time: “What are those? Why is that so big? Why don’t we have more of these? When do we eat?” Months of asking and I find my queries have been distilled into two essential questions:

  1. What has been the impact of the COVID pandemic on students and educators; and

 

  1. How can education research, like that conducted or sponsored by IES, help us understand—and address—those impacts?

What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of daily life in the United States, including the education system. One of the most alarming impacts of the pandemic on education has been the widening of pre-existing gaps in student achievement and the resources that students need to be successful.

We all know the statistics … students have lost tons of learning. The "Report on the Condition of Education" is a congressionally mandated annual report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Using the most recent data available from NCES and other sources, the report contains key indicators on the condition of education in the United States at all levels, from prekindergarten through postsecondary, as well as labor force outcomes and international comparisons. For example, the report on the condition of education 2023 recently released shares that on both the 4th- and 8th-grade NAEP mathematics assessments, higher percentages of students performed below NAEP Basic in 2022 than in 2019 (Irwin et al., 2023).  This has been particularly bad among students who have historically been underserved. The average NAEP mathematics scores in 2022 were generally lower for English Learners (EL) students than for non-EL students; lower for those identified as students with disabilities than for their peers without disabilities; and higher for students in low-poverty schools than for students in high-poverty schools. These patterns were similar to those observed for reading (Irwin et al., 2023).

This is surely due, at least in part, to differences in the resources students have access to. Even before the pandemic, huge gaps in resources existed. The pandemic only made matters worse. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) (2021), low-income students and students of color have been disproportionately negatively impacted by school shutdowns and remote learning practices. These students often lack access to reliable technology and internet resources, making it difficult for them to participate fully in online classes and complete assignments. Additionally, many students rely on meals provided by schools, so the closure of physical school buildings has led to food insecurity for some.

Also of note: the dramatic effect on student wellbeing. During the pandemic, mental health concerns such as fear, anxiety, and depression were common among the general public, especially children and older adults (Brooks et al., 2020; Pfefferbaum & North, 2020).  Research on the pandemic’s impact on mental health among students finds that “they showed increased fear, stress, and decreased happiness, and these were associated with their learning quality change.” (Hu et al., 2022).

Furthermore, the impact of COVID on educators is increasingly well-known. Educators had to make changes in short order, often with limited resources. This had consequences. Educators faced increased stress levels due to the shift to remote instruction, and many reported struggling to maintain a work-life balance while working from home. Findings indicate teachers reported greater mental health concerns than those in many other professions, and that remote teachers reported significantly higher levels of distress than those teaching in person (Kush et al., 2021). For some, it was too much, and they made the decision to leave the profession. Forty percent of public schools hiring for open teaching positions in special education in 2020–21 reported having difficulties filling the opening, compared with 17 percent in 2011–12 (Irwin et al., 2023) Not only were teachers leaving the workforce, but potential teachers were second-guessing their career choice. The number of persons enrolled in traditional teacher preparation programs decreased by 30 percent between 2012–13 and 2019–20, and the number of persons completing such programs decreased by 28 percent between 2012–13 and 2019–20 (Irwin et al., 2023).  

All of us are looking for solutions to all these problems. Given that I entered IES during the pandemic, I wanted to know how I could leverage its resources to help.

How can education research help?

First, I had to understand how IES, as a science agency, was structured to do the work of education research. My college textbook on education research (Newby, 2010) asserted that it should have three objectives: to explore issues and find answers to questions, to collect and disseminate information that shapes policy and decision-making, and to improve practice for practitioners.

It’s easy to see how the six broad areas of work at IES I listed above fit within those three objectives. For example, in normal (that is, pre-COVID) times, it’s the job of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to collect and disseminate education-related statistics and information about student achievement to inform the work of researchers, policymakers, and other education decision-makers. IES’ two research Centers, the National Centers for Education Research (NCER) and Special Education Research (NCSER) support researchers’ exploration of a wide range of education topics and their use of high-quality methods to answer important questions of policy and practice. Finally, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) conducts its own rigorous evaluations of federal policies and programs; supports states and districts in the use of data, evidence, and applied research to improve local practice; and disseminates information about “what works” through its What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). In the wake of the pandemic, IES had to quickly focus its activities and resources to meet new demands across the education system. Here are just a few of the new questions that IES had to address amid the pandemic.

  • What’s happening in schools, and who is learning in-person versus virtually or in hybrid settings? In late 2021, NCES leveraged work being done as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to meet an immediate need to better understand schools’ policies about learning mode, masking, and social distancing. In the weeks that followed, the School Pulse Panel was created (https://ies.ed.gov/schoolsurvey/spp/). Initially, the School Pulse focused on collecting monthly information on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic from a national sample of elementary, middle, high, and combined-grade public schools. Over time, its focus has broadened. While some survey questions are asked repeatedly to observe trends over time, others are unique each month. IES is now able to provide regular and near-real-time snapshots into “what’s happening” in the nation’s schools on a wide range of topics that matter to educators, policymakers, and families.

 

 

  • How can educators and caregivers support student learning in online, hybrid, and at-home settings? With schools closed and remote learning becoming the norm, educators and caregivers had to adapt their teaching methods and find new ways to engage students. As part of a mandate to provide assistance about “what works” in education, NCEE supported a series of efforts to bring together information for teachers navigating online and hybrid teaching environments and for caregivers who were providing instruction at home. NCEE commissioned work leading to the development of the “Best Practice in K-12 Online Teaching” minicourse (here), freely available from North Carolina State University, to support teachers new to online education in their transition to the medium. (The literature review on which the mini-course is based can be found here). NCEE’s Regional Educational Laboratories developed nearly 200 pandemic-related resources. Notable examples include “Supporting Your Child’s Reading at Home” (https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/rel/Products/Region/southeast/Resource/100679), which focuses on the development of early literacy skills, and “Teaching Math to Young Children for Families and Caregivers” (https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/rel/Products/Region/central/Resource/100652).

   

Since its inception in 2002, IES and its Centers have supported decision-makers—be they federal, state, or local—and educators in making use of high-quality evidence in their practice. The pandemic showed just important IES, its resources, and its infrastructure, can be.

In the pandemic’s wake, though, it seems to me that building even more evidence about “what works” is vital. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) provided historic levels of resources to expand educational opportunities and to ensure that education is better able to address the wide-ranging needs of students and their families – especially those who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Many ARP investments, including those related to OST, have the requirement that programs be rooted in evidence-based practices. Because there are still things to learn about what makes strong programs, we can strengthen the field by building evidence that can address key problems of practice.

Conclusion

When I came to ED and IES, searching for information on how to use evidence-based practices to support COVID recovery within the context of OST, I was lost. As I’ve come to better understand the organization, I’ve learned that vast resources are available. Half of the battle was just figuring out “what lives where” within the Department! I hope this blog has given OST practitioners a bit of a roadmap to make their own process of discovery easier.

In Part Two of this series, I will explore how OST learning fits into ED, education research, and the post-pandemic education system. The latter has been profoundly affected, creating an opportunity for innovation and transformation in the delivery of education. The value of research cannot be underestimated in this context. As a result, my next blog will pose two questions. First, I’ll ask what the role of OST in learning recovery can be in the years ahead.  Then I’ll consider what evidence needs to be built to make the most of what OST can offer. I hope you’ll read it!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog. Send them my way at holly.miller@ed.gov.

 

Citations

Brooks S.K., Webster R.K., Smith L.E., Woodland L., Wessely S., Greenberg N., Rubin G.J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet North Am. Ed. 395(10227):912–920.

Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America's Students 2021 U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Hu K, Godfrey K, Ren Q, Wang S, Yang X, Li Q. (2022). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on college students in USA: Two years later. Psychiatry Res. Sep; 315:114685.

Huck, C., & Zhang, J. (2021). Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on K-12 Education: A Systematic Literature Review. New Waves-Educational Research and Development Journal, 24(1), 53-84.

Irwin, V., Wang, K., Tezil, T., Zhang, J., Filbey, A., Jung, J., ... & Parker, S. (2023). Report on the Condition of Education 2023. NCES 2023-144. National Center for Education Statistics.

Kush, J. M., Badillo-Goicoechea, E., Musci, R. J., & Stuart, E. A. (2021). Teacher mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: informing policies to support teacher well-being and effective teaching practices.

Newby, P. (2010). Research Methods for Education. Pearson Education.

Pfefferbaum B., North C.S. (2020). Mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic. N. Engl. J. Med.;383(6):510–512.

The Regional Educational Lab Program: Making a Difference in Literacy and Math Outcomes

by Chris Boccanfuso, REL Program Branch Chief

REL Midwest ENACT Coach, Katie Rich, works with Milwaukee Public Schools’ grade 6 teachers and math coaches during the ENACT Summer Institute.
REL Midwest ENACT Coach, Katie Rich, works with Milwaukee Public Schools’ grade 6 teachers and math coaches during the ENACT Summer Institute.

When educators at Harts PreK-8 and Omar Elementary School in southwestern West Virginia wanted to pioneer a new approach that supported families to engage in their child's math learning, they turned to a partner who had supported their State for more than 50 years: Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Appalachia. The resulting program, known in the Appalachian region and elsewhere as community math nights, has now served hundreds of families in West Virginia and Kentucky. And thanks in part to the attention of education writers and the national media, it is poised to help even more.

The Regional Educational Labs program, operated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), supports state education agencies, schools and school districts, and institutions of higher education nationwide in using data and evidence-based practice to improve opportunities and outcome for learners. Operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States of the Pacific region, the REL program brings together the expertise of local communities, top-tier education researchers, and education scientists at the IES National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) to address the most vexing problems of education policy and practice in states and regions—on demand and free of charge.

In this first of a four-part blog series, we highlight four REL research and development projects focused on strengthening math and literacy outcomes. Each demonstrates how RELs have leveraged their distinct capacity for innovation, rigorous research, and authentic partnership to deliver locally-focused and evidence-based supports to the regions, states, and communities they serve.

REL Appalachia: Engaging families for math success in Kentucky and West Virginia

A community math night (CMN) brings together educators, students, family members, and other caring adults to learn about, talk about, and have fun with math. CMNs are designed to reinforce positive math mindsets, help family members participate in their child's learning, and build a sense of community and partnership around a subject that many caregivers find daunting. As part of its support for a series of CMNs across Kentucky and West Virginia, REL Appalachia published materials and a facilitators guide so that any school can host their own event.

True to the program’s emphasis on continuous improvement and innovation, REL Appalachia has begun a new partnership with Logan County (WV) schools that builds from the foundations of the existing CMN approach as a jumping-off point to further accelerate improvement in middle school math achievement using a more comprehensive, year-round set of supports. This new effort involves coaching school-based teams to build their capacity to promote positive math attitudes with students and families, implement research-based instructional practices in the classroom, and employ inclusive family engagement strategies. Materials used to coach school teams will be pulled together into a single resource when the project is complete, but you can begin to use early content now! (See, for example, resources for “Promoting Positive Mathematics Attitudes.”)  

REL Midwest: Inspiring Milwaukee students to be lifelong STEM learners

What if some of the principles powering today’s most innovative technologies—such as artificial intelligence—could be taught to elementary students to encourage lifelong learning and success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? The ENgagement and Achievement through Computational Thinking (ENACT) partnership, which includes Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and REL Midwest, is working with teachers to do just that.

Together, MPS and REL Midwest are developing, evaluating, and refining an approach for integrating computational thinking—a set of skills related to problem solving and explaining one’s reasoning—into MPS’ 6th grade math curriculum.

Laura Maly, an MPS mathematics teacher-leader, shared how integrating computational thinking strategies has influenced her work this year. "The [ENACT] computational thinking strategies are very prevalent throughout all strands of mathematics and across all of the grade levels that I work with," she said. "It is easy to bring the CT [computational thinking] strategies to life when working in mathematics classrooms."

REL Southeast: Improving Literacy in Mississippi –The Journey Continues

After many years at the bottom in student performance when compared with other states, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) made a concerted effort to improve the foundational literacy skills of students in kindergarten through grade 3. The results of that effort speak for themselves, with many referring to the state’s transformation as the “Mississippi Miracle.” Now the state is turning its attention to the next leg of its journey: improving the literacy skills of all students, focusing on grade 4 and beyond.

MDE and four school districts in the state–Canton, Columbus, Laurel, and George counties–formed the Mississippi Improving Adolescent Literacy Partnership with REL Southeast to ensure educators can integrate literacy strategies into a wide range of academic courses, from social studies to the sciences. To do so, partners are relying on research conducted elsewhere within NCEE: its What Works Clearinghouse. (Check out the WWC’s Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices and Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively practice guides to learn more!)

After completing a REL Southeast training session, one teacher wrote a message to her principal saying the training gave her tips on how to improve student literacy in her social studies class.  “The training helped prepare me to serve my students in the classroom better and has opened my eyes to a broader range of techniques and skills. The training was so informational and engaging that it gave me the confidence level needed to help my students." Two months after the last session, a follow-up survey of participants showed that over half of the teachers reported changing (or being in the process of changing) their approach to supporting based on the training.

Now, REL Southeast is developing tools that will allow districts across Mississippi—and across the country—to replicate these early successes.

REL Southwest: Studying an enhanced approach to literacy instruction for English learner students in New Mexico

Supporting English learner students is a priority in New Mexico and for the state’s Public Education Department (NMPED). Two recent studies from REL Southwest found that significant numbers of both American Indian and Spanish-speaking English learners in New Mexico are struggling to meet grade-level standards and be reclassified as “Fluent English Proficient.” NMPED has developed a strategic plan designed to strengthen equitable educational opportunities and achievement for English learner students. To do so, the plan emphasizes supporting the whole child through evidence-based literacy instruction that is culturally and linguistically responsive (CLRI).

REL Southwest, NMPED, and several regional education cooperatives and school districts in New Mexico formed the Southwest English Learner Literacy (SWELL) partnership to help turn the State’s new plan into a reality. Over the next two school years, partners will enhance, implement, refine, and test Write to Succeed, a research-based professional learning program to help grades 4–8 teachers implement high-quality literacy instruction that includes appropriate supports for English learner students. After working with school and district coaches and NMPED staff to refine and deliver the Write to Succeed program to teachers statewide, REL Southwest will rigorously evaluate the impact of the program on teacher practice and student outcomes. What is learned will help to inform NMPED’s further adoption—or modification—of this program.

Looking Ahead

These four projects demonstrate RELs working in partnership with educators and policymakers to improve opportunities and outcomes for students in mathematics and literacy. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs about REL work on other important topics such as teacher mentorship and induction, accountability, and trauma-informed supports!

Have questions about anything you read here, or other work within the REL Program? Just email me at chris.boccanfuso@ed.gov.

Encouraging the Use of LGBTQI+ Education Research Data

Until recently, limited data existed in education research focused on the LGBTQI+ community and their experiences. As this area of interest continues to grow, education researchers are learning how to effectively collect these data, interpret their implications, and use them to help improve the educational outcomes of LGBTQI+ identifying students. In this blog post, we review current federal recommendations for data collection and encourage researchers to submit FY 2024 applications focused on the educational experiences and outcomes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) identifying students.

Collecting Data on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities

In January 2023, the Office of the Chief Statistician of the United States released a report with recommendations on how to effectively design federal statistics surveys to account for sexual orientation and gender identities (SOGI). While this report is for a federal audience, the recommendations are relevant and useful for education researchers who wish to measure the identities and experiences of those in the LGBTQI+ community. Some suggestions include—

  • Provide multiple options for sexual orientation identification (for example, gay/lesbian, straight, bisexual, use other term)
  • Provide a two-question set in order to measure gender identity—one asking for sex assigned at birth, and one for current self-identification
  • Provide write-in response and multiple-response options for SOGI-related questions
  • Allow respondents to proceed through the survey if they choose not to answer unless answers to any of these items are critical for data collection

Education researchers looking to incorporate SOGI data into their studies can also use existing SOGI data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to support their research. A new NCES blog outlines the studies that collect SOGI information and outlines some initial findings from that data.

Funding Opportunities for Research to Improve Outcomes of LGBTQI+ students

In alignment with the SEER Equity Standard, IES encourages researchers to submit applications to the FY 2024 research grant competitions that support the academic and social behavioral outcomes of students who identify as LGBTQI+. IES is especially interested in research proposals that involve—

  • Describing the educational experiences and outcomes of LGBTQI+ students
  • Creating safe and inclusive learning environments that support the needs of all LGBTQI+ students.
  • Identifying promising practices for school-based health services and supports, especially mental health services, that are accessible to and supportive of LGBTQI+ students
  • Identifying systems-level approaches that reduce barriers to accessing and participating in high quality learning environments for LGBTQI+ students

Check out our funding opportunities page for more information about our FY 2024 requests for applications. If you have specific questions about the appropriateness of your research for a specific FY 2024 research competition, please contact the relevant program officer listed in the request for applications.


This blog is part of a 3-part Inside IES Research blog series on sexual orientation and gender identity in education research in observance of Pride month. The other posts discuss the feedback from the IES LGBTQI+ Listening and Learning session and the first ever learning game featuring a canonically nonbinary character.

This blog was produced by Virtual Student Federal Service intern Audrey Im with feedback from IES program officers Katina Stapleton (NCER - Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) and Katherine Taylor (NCSER - Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) and NCES project officers Elise Christopher (Elise.Christopher@ed.gov) and Maura Spiegelman (Maura.Spiegelman@ed.gov).

Leveraging the Voices of Persons with Disabilities in Education Research

A woman uses sign language during a virtual conference

On April 25, 2022, the IES research centers held a listening session focused on researchers with disabilities. The purpose of the session was for participants to share their experiences in becoming education researchers and applying for/carrying out research grants as well as to offer suggestions for increasing the participation of individuals with disabilities in IES grant programs. Participants included researchers from institutes of higher education and non-profit research agencies, researchers in training, higher education administrators and staff, and staff from the Department of Education and other federal funding agencies. The discussion centered around three questions. Below is a summary of the key themes that participants highlighted in response to each question.

How has your disability, in conjunction with other intersecting identities, shaped your experiences as a researcher?

Disability experiences can shape research careers. Participants described an evolving sense of identity and how that impacts their research trajectories. For example, one participant described how conducting disability research helped them recognize their own experiences with mental illness, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism: “That shifting understanding of my own identities […] has been something that informs my own thinking about the research and my own paths.”

Ableism affects many researchers with disabilities. Several participants mentioned experiencing ableism, a form of discrimination against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. As one participant with a physical disability explained, “There's a variation in productivity, and it's been very hard finding a community of other academics because support and advice for graduate students, for example, all presume able body.” Participants also noted that ableism is particularly salient for academics with disabilities who are marginalized in other ways as well (for instance, based on their race or ethnicity, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation). 

Accommodations for researchers with disabilities are inadequate. Participants noted, “I’ve had multiple situations where the accessibility office just does not know how to handle disabled graduate students outside of classes” and “these same issues can follow researchers to the faculty stage of their careers, only then they must work with HR [human resources], yet another entity who is unfamiliar with how to accommodate faculty disability-related requests.” Another participant emphasized how this applies to people whose disabilities are not visible, explaining that individuals may attempt to hide their disabilities, but then they may not find out about accommodations that would have been available to them; on the other hand, “the accommodations they receive don't really help them to be productive and attain their scholarly research expectations that they have.”

Participants feel a responsibility toward people with disabilities in their research. For example, one participant shared that, “As a deaf woman of color, I feel the responsibility to conduct research that elevates and addresses significant issues of need in the community. I also feel the need to protect the community from hearing researchers that conduct research based on what they determine to be their definition of the quality of life.”

How has your disability, in conjunction with other intersecting identities, impacted your experiences applying for and conducting an IES research grant?

Having a disability can be an asset to research. As one participant described, “I do believe that having this learning disability myself has impacted the way that I conceptualize mathematical thinking and understand the ways that other people might conceptualize mathematical thinking.” Participants also discussed the importance of involving researchers with disabilities in research focused on individuals with disabilities. As one participant stated, “I feel that it's very important to bring that insider's view to people about the process of learning how to read, and that's one big gap in literacy [research] – a lot of people have not done the research on deaf children and their development, and the people doing that are not deaf themselves, so they don't have that firsthand experience, that understanding.”  

IES grant timelines are not always suited for researchers with disabilities. As one participant noted, “Disability is fluid, it's not always the same… and there can be difficulty in predicting certain things, and even in just figuring out what kind of things I needed to be able to do the research.” Another participant added, “Being able to get grants, support, etc. is all presumed upon working on a non-sick person's timeline and standard of productivity.”

The IES peer review process may present a barrier to certain types of research on learners with disabilities. For example, one deaf participant was concerned about peer reviewers being able to review their proposal focused on American Sign Language with impartiality, given as they noted, “a strong audio-centric bias within the field.” Another participant shared that, “Most of my attempts to submit applications have favored individuals who conduct RCTs [randomized controlled trials] or other more quantitative focused research. As a researcher with a disability who believes the voices need to be heard/represented, I find the IES focus for grants to be limiting.”

Requests for applications (RFAs) and federal register notices should be more accessible. For instance, RFAs in PDF format can be difficult for people with visual impairments to take notes in and navigate with screen readers. Because of varying needs and preferences, participants recommended making application-related documents available in multiple formats.

How can IES build the research capacity of students, researchers, and organizations from various disability communities?

Participants emphasized a need for more researchers with disabilities to receive grants, which in turn would provide more opportunities for students with disabilities to be involved in research. According to one participant, “I have deaf students, and I would like to pull them into the field as well and have them become experienced researchers.” Increasing capacity in the field would also involve people with disabilities serving on peer review panels. As one participant noted, “People with disabilities absolutely need to be part of that [review] process, and definitely need to be tied to the disability group that the content is for.”

Participants suggested IES develop training and mentorship programs for researchers with disabilities. IES could also consider providing diversity supplements like the National Institutes of Health to fund postdoctoral positions on active grants. Other suggestions for IES included checking for biased assumptions in RFAs and ensuring the language empowers researchers who experience disabilities.

IES has taken steps to respond this feedback, including:

This blog was authored by Katherine Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), NCSER program officer, with feedback from IES program officers Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) and Akilah Nelson (Akilah.Nelson@ed.gov). Thematic coding of the listening session transcript was completed by IES interns, Kaitlynn Fraze and Alysa Conway, with support from Katherine Taylor.  

Navigating LGBTQI+ Research: Where We Are and Where We Are Headed

In June 2022, NCER and NCSER hosted a virtual listening session, “Leveraging LGBTQI+ Voices in Education Research.” After a brief introduction from the Office of Civil Rights on Title IX and its relevance to protecting against sex and gender discrimination within schools and LGBTQI+ resources for students, seven guest panelists discussed the history of LGBTQI+ research, challenges, and ways forward. This blog provides a summary of the discussion. 

Historical Perspectives on LGBTQI+ Education Research 

Panelists shared their perspectives on the history of LGBTQI+ education research and made several important points. They noted that early LGBTQI+ education research was not situated in schools. Rather, as one panelist recalled, “Research on queer issues and education began as legal and historical research because of the politics of securing IRB both at your own institution and also schools.” Early research also focused heavily on negative experiences of queer and trans youth, such as bullying. “It is certainly important [to] interrupt homophobic bullying in schools, but it is troubling that queer and trans victimhood has become the most pervasive trope for recognizing bodies in schools,” stated a panelist, before urging the audience to change the narrative from victimhood to agency.  

In 2001, GLSEN started their biannual National School Climate Survey, which asks LGBTQI+ students about their experiences of discrimination and school-based supports. Panelists highlighted this as a pivotal moment in collecting data on these students and their experiences in school.   

Challenges in Conducting LGBTQI+ Education Research 

Panelists also shared challenges in conducting education research with LGBTQI+ students:

  • Geography. Although there is a need to conduct research in various regions across the United States to account for different political climates and other geographical factors, anti-LGBTQI+ policies present an obstacle to doing so in certain states.
  • Getting consent from parents and districts. “In general, districts have moved from giving you an outright no, to the passive-aggressive drown-you-in-paperwork,” noted one panelist. “My work has decidedly been in out-of-school places,” another panelist agreed, “because it’s easier to ask questions around queer and trans youth agency.”  
  • Career-related barriers. Panelists cited difficulties in finding mentors and funding to engage in this research. One panelist noted, “There's also the challenge of key scholars and gate keepers who misunderstand queer scholarship,” which can make it difficult to receive funding or get published.  

Future directions for LGBTQI+ education research  

Panelists discussed several areas the field should attend to in order to ensure the future of high-quality education research on LGBTQI+ learners.  

Responsible and Respectful Data Collection and Analysis

As identities are becoming more diverse and nuanced, it is important for researchers to prioritize collecting and analyzing data in ways that are inclusive and respectful of these varied and intersecting identities. As stated by one panelist, “We need to be able to design tests and validate forms of measuring sexuality, especially for younger queer and trans youth, not for the sake of measuring constructs, but because it's imperative at this time that we're able to use information to inform policy.”  

Using a report from the National Academy of Sciences as a foundation, panelists recommended asking open-ended questions that allow individuals to give detailed explanations and providing sliding scales for participants to place themselves along spectrums. When a categorical question is needed, panelists recommended providing multiple options that go beyond the binary and providing an explanation for the categorical question (for example, “Oftentimes, we have to create categories to do the work that we do, can you please tell us which of these options best describes your sexual orientation?”).  

Participants also discussed the importance of not collapsing data across categories and attending to intersecting identities, including gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, and race/ethnicity, to better understand experiences. “When those nuances are overlooked or erased,” one panelist remarked, “it becomes impossible to understand the LGBTQI+ community or the public health interventions that would effectively meet the needs of each and every LGBTQI+ young person, no matter their identity.” 

Expanded Theories and Approaches

Panelists emphasized the need for an understanding and acceptance of less traditional theories and methods. One panelist stated, “We need to recognize the value of projects that are informed by queer theory, a transtheoretical informed perspective, or radical feminism… to expand what we know about LGBTQI+ experiences in schools.” In addition to quantitative methods, the panelists expressed a need for more qualitative and mixed methods studies and participatory action research.  

Capacity Building

A few panelists advocated for expanded researcher training to ensure future researchers “are adept in qualitative, quantitative and mixed method research techniques aimed at producing research that will then provide rich, sound, and respected information and data that can really impact LGBTQI+ issues.” Participants also recommended increasing the diversity of researchers conducting studies. “As we're thinking about creating a community of scholars, we must include scholars who are both members of the LGBTQI+ community as well as outside of the community,” said one panelist. 


This blog is part of a 3-part blog series on sexual orientation and gender identity in education research in observance of Pride month. The other posts discuss the development of Time Tails, the first ever learning game featuring a canonically nonbinary character, and encourage the use of LGBTQI+ education research data.  

This blog was produced by Virtual Student Federal Service intern Audrey Im with feedback from IES program officers Katina Stapleton (NCER - Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), Katherine Taylor (NCSER - Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), James Benson (NCER - James.Benson@ed.gov), and NCES project officers Elise Christopher (Elise.Christopher@ed.gov) and Maura Spiegelman (Maura.Spiegelman@ed.gov).