IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

IES Grantees Receive Prestigious Presidential Award

President Obama has named two Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grantees as recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE awards are the highest honor given by the U.S. Government to science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Daphna Bassok and Shayne Piasta, IES grantees who received presidential award

Daphna Bassok (left in picture), of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and Shayne Piasta (right in picture), of the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, were nominated for the award by the leadership of IES. They are two of 102 award recipients announced by the White House on January 9, 2017.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. The White House said: “the awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.”

Bassok and Piasta have both served as principal investigators, and as co-principal investigators on projects funded through IES’ National Center for Education Research (NCER). Both are committed to understanding and improving early childhood education, and work closely with state systems to answer critical questions as the states roll out systemic changes to the provision of early childhood education.

Dr. Bassok is an associate professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia and is also the associate director of EdPolicyWorks a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Her research addresses early childhood education policy, with a particular focus on the impacts of policy interventions on the well-being of low-income children. Dr. Bassok is currently the principal investigator of Building State-wide Quality Rating Strategies for Early Childhood System Reform: Lessons From the Development of Louisiana's Kindergarten Readiness System, and was co-principal investigator for a project which examined links between policy and availability of early childhood care and education in the United States.

Dr. Piasta is an associate professor of reading and literature in early and middle childhood in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State. She also is a faculty associate for the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy. Her research focuses on early literacy development and how it is best supported during preschool and elementary years. Dr. Piasta is the principal investigator of the Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Ohio Department of Education's Literacy Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Educators. She has also been co-principal investigator on several other IES-funded projects, including The Language Bases of Reading Comprehension, one of the six Reading for Understanding Research Initiative projects. Dr. Piasta received her doctoral training as an IES Predoctoral Fellow at Florida State University.

Written by Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner for Teaching and Learning, NCER

Pictures courtesy of grantees

Improving Research on the Forgotten ‘R’

Writing is often labeled as the “forgotten ‘R,’” because the other R’s—reading and ‘rithmetic—seem to garner so much attention from educators, policymakers, and researchers. Yet, we know writing is a critical skill for communication and for success in school and in career. Writing in middle and high school can be especially important, because secondary grades are where students are expected to have mastered foundational skills like handwriting and move on to the application of these skills to more complex compositions.

IES has been funding research on writing since its inception in 2002, but compared to research on reading, not much work has been done in this critical area, especially writing in middle and high schools. In an effort to learn more about the state of the field of writing in secondary schools and the areas of needed research, IES brought together 13 experts on secondary writing for a Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting in September. During the full-day meeting, TWG participants shared their thoughts and expertise on a variety of topics including: argumentative writing, methods of engaging adolescents in writing, how best to help struggling writers including English learners and students with or at risk for disabilities, and assessment and feedback on writing.

Argumentative writing requires students to explore a topic, collect and evaluate evidence, establish a position on a topic, and consider alternative positions. In middle and high schools, argumentative writing often occurs in content area classrooms like science and history. TWG participants discussed the importance of research to understand how argumentative writing develops over time and how teachers contribute to this development.

Teaching writing to students with or at risk for disabilities and English learners can be challenging when the focus of secondary schools is often on content acquisition and not on improving writing skills. English learners are typically grouped together and receive the same instruction, but little is known about how writing instruction may need to be differentiated for students from different language backgrounds. Additionally, the TWG participants discussed the need to investigate the potential for technology to help with instruction of students who struggle with writing, and the importance to addressing the negative experiences these students have with writing that may discourage them from writing in the future.

It is also important to make sure all students are engaged and motivated to write. Some middle and high school students  may not want to participate in writing or may have internalized beliefs that they are not good at it. TWG participants discussed the need to consider teaching students that writing abilities can be changed, and that introducing new audiences or purposes for writing may motivate students to write. Finally, the group talked about the importance of allowing middle and high school students to write about topics of their own choosing.

Assessing the writing quality of middle and high school students is difficult, because what counts as good writing is often subjective. Technology may offer some solutions, but TWG participants emphasized that it is unlikely that computers will be able to do this task well entirely on their own. Regardless, the TWG participants were in agreement that there is a need for the development of quality writing measures for use both by teachers and by researchers.  Teachers may feel pressure to provide detailed feedback on students’ writing, which can be time-consuming. TWG participants argued that self-assessment and peer feedback could relieve some of the pressure on teachers, but research is needed to understand what kind of feedback is best for improving writing and how to teach students to provide useful feedback.

A full summary of the TWG can be found on the IES website. It’s our hope this conversation provides a strong framework for more research on ‘the forgotten R.’

POSTSCRIPT: Our colleagues at the What Works Clearinghouse recently published an Educator’s Practice Guide, “Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively.” It includes three research-based recommendations for improving writing for middle and high school students.

Written by Becky McGill-Wilkinson, National Center for Education Research, and Sarah Brasiel, National Center for Special Education Research

#IES2016: The IES Year in Review

By Ruth Curran Neild, Delegated Director, IES

2016 was a busy year for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) as we continued our commitment to support a culture of evidence-use in education. Among our work over the past 12 months:

  • We released more than 200 publications, including statistical reports and data collections, research findings and compendia, program evaluations, intervention reports, educator’s practice guides  and more;
  • We made significant improvements to our communications and dissemination efforts, including a new IES website, an improved What Works Clearinghouse site, videos about our work and the launch of IES and NCES Facebook pages. We also published 80 blogs focused on our work and our mission;  
  • We launched tools, like RCT-YES and  Find What Works, that make it easier to conduct, report, and find research;
  • We awarded more than $200 million in research grants and funding across a wide variety of topics, including:
    • More than $150 million in grants from the National Center for Education Research;
    • More than $70 million in grants from the National Center for Special Education Research; and
    • About $5.75 million in funding for the development of education technology through the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research program.

At the end of the year, we shared a small portion of our 2016 work on Twitter using the hashtag #IES2016. If you weren’t following Twitter over the holidays, we created a Storify of those tweets, which we’ve embedded below.  Also, check out the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Year in Review website for an overview of the WWC’s work in 2016.

 

 

Measuring the Homeschool Population

By Sarah Grady

How many children are educated at home instead of school? Although many of our data collections focus on what happens in public or private schools, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tries to capture as many facets of education as possible, including the number of homeschooled youth and the characteristics of this population of learners. NCES was one of the first organizations to attempt to estimate the number of homeschoolers in the United States using a rigorous sample survey of households. The Current Population Survey included homeschooling questions in 1994, which helped NCES refine its approach toward measuring homeschooling.[i] As part of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), NCES published homeschooling estimates starting in 1999. The homeschooling rate has grown from 1.7 percent of the school-aged student population in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012.[ii]

NCES recently released a Statistical Analysis Report called Homeschooling in the United States: 2012. Findings from the report, detailed in a recent blog, show that there is a diverse group of students who are homeschooled. Although NCES makes every attempt to report data on homeschooled students, this diversity can make it difficult to accurately measure all facets of the homeschool population.

One of the primary challenges in collecting relevant data on homeschool students is that no complete list of homeschoolers exists, so it can be difficult to locate these individuals. When lists of homeschoolers can be located, problems exist with the level of coverage that they provide. For example, lists of members of local and national homeschooling organizations do not include homeschooling families unaffiliated with the organizations. Customer lists from homeschool curriculum vendors exclude families who access curricula from other sources such as the Internet, public libraries, and general purpose bookstores. For these reasons, collecting data about homeschooling requires a nationally representative household survey, which begins by finding households in which at least one student is homeschooled.

Once located, families can vary in their interpretation of what homeschooling is. NCES asks households if anyone in the household is “currently in homeschool instead of attending a public or private school for some or all classes.” About 18 percent of homeschoolers are in a brick-and-mortar school part-time, and families may vary in the extent to which they consider children in school part-time to be homeschoolers. Additionally, with the growth of virtual education and cyber schools, some parents are choosing to have the child schooled at home but not to personally provide instruction. Whether or not parents of students in cyber schools define their child as homeschooled likely varies from family to family.

NHES data collection begins with a random sample of addresses distributed across the entire U.S. However, most addresses will not contain any homeschooled students. Because of the low incidence of homeschooling relative to the U.S. population, a large number of households must be screened to find homeschooling students.  This leaves us with a small number of completed surveys from homeschooling families relative to studies of students in brick-and-mortar schools. For example, in 2012, the NHES program contacted 159,994 addresses and ended with 397 completed homeschooling surveys.

Smaller analytic samples can often result in less precise estimates. Therefore, NCES can estimate only the size of the total homeschool population and some key characteristics of homeschoolers with confidence, but we are not able to accurately report data for very small subgroups. For example, NCES can report the distribution of homeschoolers by race and ethnicity,[iii] but more specific breakouts of the characteristics of homeschooled students within these racial/ethnic groups often cannot be reported due to the small sample sizes and large standard errors. For a more comprehensive explanation of this issue, please see our blog post on standard errors.  The reason why this matters is that local-level research on homeschooling families suggests that homeschooling communities across the country may be very diverse.[iv] For example, Black, urban homeschooling families in these studies are often very different from White, rural homeschooling families. Low incidence and high heterogeneity lead to estimates with lower precision.

Despite these constraints, the data from NHES continue to be the most comprehensive that we have on homeschoolers. NCES continues to collect data on this important population. The 2016 NHES recently completed collection on homeschooling students, and those data will be released in fall 2017.

[i] Henke, R., Kaufman, P. (2000). Issues Related to Estimating the Home-school Population in the United States with National Household Survey Data (NCES 2000-311). National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[ii] Redford, J., Battle, D., and Bielick, S. (2016). Homeschooling in the United States: 2012 (NCES 2016-096). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[iv] Hanna, L.G. (2012). Homeschooling Education: Longitudinal Study of Methods, Materials, and Curricula. Education and Urban Society 44(5): 609–631.

Sharing our Recipe: Online Training in WWC Standards

By Christopher Weiss, Senior Education Research Scientist, WWC

Many individuals and organizations have special ways of doing things, specific procedures that make them unique —Coca-Cola has its formula; sports teams have their playbooks; and grandparents have their secret recipes for biscuits, barbecue, and other family favorites.

It’s the same for the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). Our “special sauce” is in how we review effectiveness research to help determine what is working in education. But unlike Coke, coaches, and grandma, the WWC doesn’t keep it a secret.

On December 15, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) launched a set of video training modules – the WWC Group Design Standards Online Training – to share our procedures. These modules are designed to help you learn more about the elements that go into a WWC rating and the features of a research study that WWC examines during evaluation.  The online training will help education decision-makers and researchers better understand key elements of the WWC review process. These modules describe and explain key topics and concepts of the WWC’s Group Design standards and how the WWC uses these standards to identify and evaluate high quality, rigorous research.

The series is designed to address the needs of both consumers and future producers of the WWC’s reviews of educational effectiveness research. Whether you’re a researcher who’s hoping your study will meet the WWC’s standards or someone trying to make an evidence-based decision related to education, this training series will help! And no background in research is needed –we’ve also developed an extensive set of materials to support you as you learn.

Each of the five modules follows a similar structure, including an overview of module objectives, detailed information about the topic, examples, and knowledge checks to reinforce what you’ve learned. (We've embedded the first video in the series at the end of this post, but if you are going to take the training, start it through the WWC website.)  

Each module focuses on a specific aspect of the standards.

  • Group designs – or overall research designs – and the types of research that can be reviewed using the WWC Group Design Standards;
  • Attrition, or loss of participants in a research study, and why this is important;
  • Baseline Equivalence, which assesses how similar two groups are at the beginning of a research study;
  • Confounding Factors, which are study components that make it difficult or impossible to distinguish the effect of an educational intervention from the effect of that component; and
  • Outcome Measures, or what is measured to assess the effectiveness of an intervention.

If you view all five of the training modules, you will earn a certificate of completion. Details about how to view the session and earn this certificate are available on the What Works Clearinghouse website.

The online training takes about seven hours to complete, but the modules are designed so that you can complete them at your own pace. We’ve included a feature that allows you to take a break from the training at any point – then pick it up again where you left off when you’re ready to continue.

These modules cover the same material that WWC reviewers learn through their in-person certification training – and completion of the online training course is one step toward becoming a certified reviewer in WWC Group Design Standards. Certification also requires completing WWC Procedures training and successful completion of a certification exam. We expect to be able to offer online versions of the WWC Procedures training and the certification exam later in 2017.

We hope this online training brings more transparency and understanding to the WWC review process. Then we can work on that secret biscuit recipe.