IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

An Intern's Perspective on the National Center for Education Research

By Brittney Fraumeni, NCER Intern

Photo of Brittney Fraumeni

 

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences’ two research centers offer unpaid internships for undergraduate or graduate students interested in learning about the research grant making process and contributing to the work of the centers.  Internships are coordinated through the U.S. Department of Education’s student volunteer office and are available throughout the year.  For application information, please see the ED Student Volunteer Unpaid Internship Program.  

This summer Brittney Fraumeni, a doctoral student in Psychological Science at DePaul University interned with the National Center for Education Research (NCER). At the end of her internship, Brittney reflected on her summer with NCER. 

What brought you to the internship?

As I headed in to the final months of my third year of graduate school, I began to really question what I wanted to do with my degree when I was finished. My PhD program emphasizes training for an academic position, but I had doubts about whether or not that was the best fit for me. So when the opportunity to be a summer intern at NCER presented itself, I seized it, hoping for a learning experience that would help shape my view of my future career.

How did you hear about the internship?

I briefly worked as a freelance researcher on a US Department of Education grant, which was the first time it occurred to me that the government had a research department. I easily found the IES website, and after some exploring on the site, discovered that they had internships available. I applied ASAP.

Why did you want to do the internship?

I really wanted an opportunity to see what a non-academic position could be like. As I mentioned, most of my graduate training has revolved around obtaining an academia related career, and so I had no idea what else was out there.

What were your days like at the internship?

The internship schedule was really flexible, and I was allowed to choose my own days and hours. Additionally, I was in charge of my own time management throughout the day. At the beginning of my six week stay, the main projects I was going to be working on were given to me, meaning that everyday I came in to the office after that, I mostly knew what I would be working on. I had three big projects to work on, so I usually just circulated through tasks for those, and every once in awhile a small project would head my way that I would add to my schedule.

What was beneficial about the internship?

The internship really helped confirm what I was already thinking at the beginning of the summer: I’d like to get a job in a non-academic field upon completing my doctorate. But, more than that, the internship gave me the chance to work with like-minded individuals who were open to letting me pick their brain and providing contact information with people in the education research field. Overall, it was a great learning and networking opportunity.

What did you learn from the internship?

More than just learning more about education research, I learned new skills. Before the internship, I only knew of social media from a personal standpoint. But, as more companies branch out to different social media outlets to promote their work, it’s important to know how to have a professional and effective social media presence. Working on the social media team at IES really boosted my social media skills.

What did you learn about IES/ED from doing the internship?

Before applying for the internship, I thought ED was really only a department focused on policy; I wasn’t even aware that the department was involved in research! However, through actually working here, I learned that not only is there a research department, there are so many more departments than I even could have imagined. IES itself is broken down in to multiple branches that all have different focuses on research elements. By working with the people here and having the opportunity to sit in on different meetings, I was able to learn what each department does and the special role they each play in promoting education research. Furthermore, I learned that not everybody took the same path to get here; IES is made up of employees with all different backgrounds, which makes for a fun and diverse environment to work in.

How did the internship reshape your thinking about education research?

I used to think education research was a relatively small area. Now, after having hands on experience with writing up award summaries, I know that there are many people interested in education research and pursuing it. It never occurred to me how many different companies (not just schools!) had an interest in developing interventions for education purposes. It is so inspiring to now know just how many people out there are trying to promote the best outcomes for students, from pre-k to college.


Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov. 

Learning at all ages: Examining education through the lens of the American people

By Sarah Grady

NCES collects a lot of data from students, teachers, principals, school districts, and state education agencies, but a few of our data collections directly survey members of the American public using residence as a first point of contact. Why? Some information about education in the U.S. cannot be collected efficiently by starting with schools or other institutions. Instead, contacting people directly at home is the best way to understand certain education-related topics.

The 2012 National Household Education Survey (NHES) included two survey components:

  • The Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) survey, mailed to parents of children ages birth to age 6 and not yet enrolled in kindergarten
  • The Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI) survey, mailed to parents of students in kindergarten through grade 12

The ECPP survey provides information about children from the perspective of their parents and includes questions about:

  • Factors that influence choices of childcare arrangements 
  • Characteristics of childcare providers and cost of care 
  • Participation in home activities such as reading, telling stories, and singing songs 

The items on this survey provide a wealth of information about how America’s children are learning and growing at home as well as the characteristics of the children who are in different types of care arrangements, including having multiple care arrangements. 

NCES’s administrative data collections like EDFacts tell us a great deal about the sizes and types of schools in the U.S., while surveys like The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) and the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) tell us about school policies, school climate, and teacher attitudes and experiences. But NHES is the source for information about students’ and families’ experiences with schooling, irrespective of school affiliation. Parents with students attending all types of schools in the U.S.—public, private, charter schools, schools that were chosen rather than assigned by the school district, even parents who educate their children at home rather than send them to a school—respond to the survey and answer questions about topics such as:

In 2016, NHES will field the Adult Training and Education Survey (ATES), which will provide data about adults’ educational and work credentials, including professional certifications and licenses. This survey meets an important need for more information about where and how adults acquire the skills they need for work. The ATES will start with a random sample of U.S. adults rather than a sample of postsecondary institutions, which enables NCES to collect information about a broader array of credentials than could be collected by reaching students through postsecondary institutions. In short, NHES data allow us to understand how the American public is experiencing education so that we can better respond to the changing education needs of our people—be they young children, K-12 students, or adults.

The ‘Not So Simple’ View of Reading

By Karen Douglas, NCER Program Officer

 

Improving students’ capacity to understand what they read in all subject areas is a primary focus of educators and policymakers. Educators and researchers have been focused on interventions to improve reading for decades, and a great deal of attention has been given to improving word level skills (such as phonemic awareness and decoding). In part, this focus can be traced to the ‘Simple View of Reading,’ a theoretical framework developed by Gough and Tunmer almost 30 years ago.

The Simple View states that readers need to both understand language and decode the symbols on the page in order to comprehend written text. The influential role of decoding on reading outcomes has been well studied, and many interventions have been developed that show good results in improving these skills for many students. But improvement in decoding skills, while necessary, has not generally been sufficient to improve reading comprehension.

In recent years, researchers have begun exploring the other part of the equation -- language. Most often, researchers use vocabulary knowledge as a proxy for language skills and a great deal of research is focused on improving vocabulary skills. Efforts to improve vocabulary generally show that students learn the new words they are taught, but generalized effects on vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension are elusive. It seems likely that in addition to understanding the meanings of individual words, students also need to know how words are constructed (morphology), how they are used in text (syntax and grammar), and how to make inferences from text in order to make sense of the wide variety of materials they must read.

The Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU), funded in 2010 by IES, is addressing a broader conception of language in trying to improve reading comprehension. RfU provided funding for six research teams to study the basic processes that undergird reading comprehension, develop and test new curricula and instructional programs to improve it, and develop new assessments to provide a better measure of students’ capacity to read in authentic scenarios. Collectively, RfU researchers are studying the development of reading for understanding from prekindergarten through high school with the goal of creating new knowledge about what matters at each developmental stage in order for students to finish high school with sufficient reading skills for college and career. Each of these six teams has incorporated attention to aspects of language beyond vocabulary knowledge and several teams have published results that provide evidence of the potential of improved language skills for building reading comprehension. Abstracts for studies and publications to date can be found on the IES website.

In a recent article in Educational Psychology Review, my co-author Elizabeth Albro and I describe the purpose of the RfU Research Initiative, the goals of the six teams funded under the initiative, and progress made through 2014. As the work of the RfU Research Initiative comes to completion, the RfU researchers are positioned to make important contributions to what we know about the development of reading for understanding and how we can best improve it for all students. Expanded knowledge about the language skills that support reading for understanding and how to improve them will be a key component of this contribution. Stay tuned to Inside IES Research to learn more about what the teams are finding.

 

My Brother’s Keeper: Using data to measure the educational progress of boys and young men of color

By Grace Kena

In February 2014, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper. This effort was designed to promote opportunity for and to unlock the full potential of the nation’s young people, including boys and young men of color, with help from government agencies, community leaders, private philanthropies, and businesses. As part of this initiative, federal agencies were asked to improve the accessibility of data that highlight both the challenges and the accomplishments of young people in progressing through the education system and entering the labor force. These statistics provide a composite view of recent trends for males and females across a variety of key dimensions.

Academic performance gaps in learning behaviors, knowledge, and skills, among children in various racial/ethnic groups are found as early as infancy,[1] preschool, and kindergarten[2]. In addition, children from lower-income families tend to have poorer educational outcomes than their peers from more well- off families, and relatively high percentages of males and females of color live in poverty. The latest data show that among 12th graders, the average reading and mathematics assessment scores for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native 12th-graders were lower than the average scores for their peers. In addition, the percentage of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds who had not completed high school was higher than the average percentage. The percentages of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native young men in this age group who were enrolled in college were also lower than the average, and the percentages of Black and Hispanic young men ages 25–29 who had earned a bachelor’s or higher degree were lower than the average for young men in this age group.

On the other hand, young people are making progress in education. For example, average mathematics scores increased between 2005 and 2013 for all male students as well as for Black and Hispanic students overall. The percentage of males ages 18–24 who had not completed high school decreased from 2000 to 2014 for most racial/ethnic groups, and the decreases for Black and Hispanic young men were among the largest. In addition, the percentages of Black and Hispanic young men in this age group who were enrolled in college increased from 2000 to 2013.


Percentage of male 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges, by race/ethnicity: 2000 and 2013

Figure. Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges, by race/ethnicity and sex: 2013

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2013. 


More education data from the My Brother’s Keeper initiative can be found in the feature in The Condition of Education 2015, and on the My Brother’s Keeper data site. Information on changes to existing programs and the creation of new public-private partnerships designed to meet the needs of young people are available on the White House site. You can also learn more about the findings from the video below:

This blog was originally posted on June 24, 2015 and was updated on August 6, 2015

[1] National Center for Education Statistics. The Condition of Education 2009, Indicators 2 and 3. 

[2] Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 

 

Investing in Scholars: NCSER Early Career Development Awardee Jennifer Ledford

Featuring Jennifer Ledford, Vanderbilt University

By Liz Berke, NCSER Intern and Kristen Rhoads, NCSER Program Officer

Welcome to our second blog post featuring the Principal Investigators of the inaugural NCSER Early Career Development and Mentoring program grants.  This week we are excited to feature the work of Dr. Jennifer Ledford from Vanderbilt University and former Special Education teacher from Georgia.

Picture of Jennifer Ledford, Vanderbilt University

Dr. Ledford is being mentored by Dr. Joseph Wehby (Vanderbilt University), Dr. David Gast (University of Georgia) and Dr. Kevin Ayres (University of Georgia).  In her IES-funded project, she is further developing and testing a small-group intervention designed to improve the academic and social skills of children with autism.  Dr. Ledford is using single case designs to study whether the intervention improves child outcomes and teachers can effectively implement it. 

We had the chance to sit down with Dr. Ledford and ask her about the challenges she faces as well as get advice from her for others like her who are early in their research careers.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as a young researcher? How do you hope this award will help you overcome those challenges?

Early career research in education is hard for numerous reasons—not yet having established relationships with teachers and schools, relative inexperience with balancing research with other tasks (i.e., teaching, advising, service), and, of course, lack of funding. The early career award actually helps in all of these areas. It is much easier to establish relationships with schools when you are an early career researcher if you have a well-considered and funded series of studies and if you’ve aligned yourself well with more advanced researchers. In addition, the funding potentially allows you to reduce time spent on teaching and other activities, so that you have additional time to contribute to research efforts. Funding student support has been especially crucial in running my complex single case studies that require considerable personnel resources. Finally, the mentorship and training associated with grant have provided a flexible but structured framework for improving my ability to conduct high-quality research.

What advice would you give to young researchers?

I’m not sure I feel ready to give advice to fellow early career investigators! I think taking advantage of the knowledge of senior researchers has been key for me—both in my official mentee role and just in the day-to-day conduct of research outside of this grant.  

What is your favorite aspect of working with your mentors?

It is great to have a structured and focused mentoring program—it makes it easy to forge a relationship and to continue working with your mentor over time. Without this structure, I think it may have been easy to let the mentoring take a back seat to other responsibilities. It’s great to have an excuse to meet with and learn from experienced and invested leaders in the field.

What made you decide to apply to for the early career development and mentoring award? Is there anything you wish you had known before you applied?

When I read the RFA for the new competition, I think my first thought was probably something like “I might actually be competitive for this grant!” The training and mentoring components and competition with other early career investigators makes it a less daunting prospect.  While I was applying, I wish I had realized and taken advantage of the potential value of the Program Officer during the application process and the tremendous benefit of asking for input from colleagues. 

Comments? Questions? Please write to us at IESresearch@ed.gov.