IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

The Month in Review: May 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

Every month is filled with activities at the two research centers at IES, and sometimes our readers might miss information that they would be interested in learning more about. In our “Month in Review” feature, we plan to highlight some of the most noteworthy happenings of the past month.  Enjoy!

New Research Awards

It’s award season at the research centers! The first set of awards that we made since our blog launched were to our new FY 2015 Small Business Innovation Research awardees. We featured the program and the new awards in the second blog post of Inside IES Research. Stay tuned next month for more information about our soon-to-be announced FY 2015 education and special education research grant award winners.

Grantees Recognized by Professional Societies

We were pleased to learn that Jeffrey Karpicke received a 2015 APS Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions at the 27th Annual Association for Psychological Sciences (APS) Convention last week. Dr. Karpicke was a Department of Education 2012 Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE) recipient, and is currently implementing a program of research seeking to identify the best practices for implementing retrieval-oriented learning strategies with elementary school students in science courses.

APS also honored the collaborative work of Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff with the 2015 APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award.  Drs. Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff were recognized for their collaborative research on language, literacy, education, and spatial development.  IES is supporting several of their current research projects.

Students in our IES supported predoctoral programs are also being recognized for their research. Mindy Adnot, a graduate student in the University of Virginia Predoctoral Training Program, recently received an AERA-MET Dissertation Fellowship to Study Changes in Teaching Practice. She will be examining the degree to which teaching practice is malleable.

IES Funded Research in the News

Zaption, a video learning company and the recipient of several IES SBIR awards, recently received $1.5 million in seed funding.

The IES funded National R&D Center on Cognition and Math Instruction, whose primary goal is to redesign a widely-used mathematics curriculum to make it more effective at improving students’ math abilities, was recently featured in this EdWeek article.

As students of all grade levels move into final exams, Dr. Henry Roediger was interviewed in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, where he discussed how exams improve student learning. Many of the findings that Dr. Roediger references emerge from a series of studies funded by IES.

Planning to Apply for Research Funding This Summer?

Be sure to sign up for one or more of our webinars for applicants. Our webinar series were announced this month – more information is available here

 

Comments? Suggestions? Please contact us at IESResearch@ed.gov.

Introducing the Research Networks: A New Funding Opportunity from NCER

By Tom Brock, NCER Commissioner

In April 2015, NCER announced a new funding opportunity: Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice (84.305N).  The purpose of the Networks is to focus resources and attention on education problems or issues that are a high priority for the nation, and to create both a structure and process for research teams who are working on these issues to share ideas, build new knowledge, and strengthen their research and dissemination capacity.  In this blog, I want to provide some background on how the Networks program came into being and what NCER hopes to achieve.

Over the past year and a half, NCER and NCSER have undertaken a variety of efforts to elicit feedback from education researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders on IES research and training programs, and to identify problems or issues on which new research is most needed.  These efforts have included Technical Working Group meetings with practitioners and researchers, and a call for public comment that was issued in August 2014.  One theme that emerged was the desire for NCER and NCSER to dedicate funding to particular issues or problems that are widely recognized as important and that seem ripe for research advances.  Strengthening preschool education and boosting college attendance and completion rates for students from low-income backgrounds were frequently cited examples.  Another theme was to consider funding strategies that would encourage greater collaboration among researchers to tackle difficult education topics.  These themes were echoed during meetings with Department of Education staff.    

NCER’s plans for the Networks emerged from these discussions.  The Network on Supporting Early Learning from Preschool through Early Elementary School Grades (or Early Learning Network for short) was motivated in part by the significant expansion of prekindergarten programs in many states and cities across the country, and by the growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve outcomes for early learners.  Despite these advances, a persistent academic achievement gap between children from different household income levels and educational backgrounds is present at kindergarten entry and widens during the school years.  The Early Learning Network is charged with conducting in-depth, exploratory research to investigate how selected states and localities are implementing early learning policies and programs, and to identify malleable factors that facilitate or impede children’s academic progress as they move from preschool through early elementary school grades. This research is intended to generate reliable information and useful tools that policymakers and practitioners can use to assess their efforts to build effective early learning systems and programs and to make improvements as needed.

The Network on Scalable Strategies to Support College Completion (or College Completion Network for short) was conceived in response to studies showing that large numbers of degree-seeking students who attend community colleges and other open- and broad-access institutions fail to earn a degree six years after enrollment.  To date, most of NCER’s postsecondary education research has focused on efforts to increase college access or to help students complete developmental (or remedial) education requirements; much less has focused on assisting students to earn diplomas once they are in college and taking college-level courses.  The College Completion Network will address this gap.  Specifically, it will support researchers who are working with states, postsecondary systems, or postsecondary institutions to develop and evaluate interventions that address possible impediments to college attainment, including high college costs, insufficient advising, and social/psychological barriers, to name a few.  The Network will study interventions that are already operating or have the potential to operate on a large scale. The ultimate goal of the College Completion Network is to provide evidence on a range of strategies that policymakers and college leaders may consider adopting or expanding in their states and institutions.

The Early Learning and College Completion Networks will each be made of up to four research teams, plus a Network Lead that is responsible for coordinating Network activities.  (The Early Learning Network will also include up to one assessment team that is responsible for developing a new or improving an existing classroom observation tool that is predictive of children’s school achievement.)  Each team will be funded to carry out a project of its own design, and will meet periodically with other teams to discuss research plans and progress and identify ways that they can strengthen their work through collaboration.  For example, members of the Early Learning or College Completion Networks may decide to work together on some common data collection tools or outcome measures, and to produce a research synthesis at the end of their projects.  NCER will set aside additional funding that each Network can use toward supplementary studies and joint dissemination activities that are useful to policymakers, practitioners, and other researchers.  

The ultimate objective of the Networks is to advance the field’s understanding of a problem or issue beyond what an individual research project or team is able to do on its own, and to assist policymakers and practitioners in using this information to strengthen education policies and programs and improve student education outcomes.  While the composition of the Networks will not be known until proposals are received and evaluated by scientific review panels, NCER hopes that they represent a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives and include both senior and early career researchers.  Over time, the Networks may lead to new collaborations and lay a foundation for new lines of inquiry.

The Early Learning and College Completion Networks build on the lessons learned from the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative program and represent one strategy that NCER is taking to address critical problems of practice identified by education researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders.  If you have comments on this year’s Request for Applications – or if you have other feedback you would like to share – please write to us at IESResearch@ed.gov.

Meeting policy needs for new data sources: Measuring work-related credentials

By Sharon Boivin

In the late 2000s, rising unemployment due to the recession led policy makers to begin asking questions about the qualifications of the American workforce, such as:

  • How many US adults have an education or training credential that is recognized by employers?
  • How many adults complete at least one year of education or training beyond high school? Do they also earn a credential?
  • What are the employment outcomes for adults with these credentials?

But key data to answer these questions were missing. The federal government had collected data on educational attainment and employment for many years, but did not regularly collect information on the number of adults with work-related credentials—

  • An industry-recognized certification shows that someone has demonstrated he or she has the knowledge and skills to perform a job.
  • An occupational license gives someone the legal authority to perform a job, and typically is also based on demonstrated knowledge and skills.
  • An educational certificate shows that someone has completed an occupational or technical course of study at a technical school, college, or university.

As the Department of Education’s research and statistics arm, IES recognized the importance of filling this data gap so that policy officials could have complete and accurate information for better decision making. Since 2009, the IES’ National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has funded and staffed a rigorous survey item development process under the guidance of the Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment (GEMEnA)

Based on GEMEnA’s work, in January of 2014 the Census Bureau released the first official federal statistics on the number of adults with these kinds of work-related credentials. This year the Current Population Survey and the National Survey of College Graduates are collecting data on certifications and licenses that will greatly expand our ability to analyze their value in the workplace.  In 2016, NCES will field an Adult Training and Education Survey for the first time as part of the National Household Education Survey. 

Rigorous survey item development is time consuming and expensive. By investing in this work now, IES has helped to ensure that policy makers will have high quality data on education, training, and credentials to inform policy for years to come.

Public school safety and discipline: New data on practices, procedures, and violent incidents at school

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Tom Snyder

Crime and violence at school not only affects the individuals involved, but also may disrupt the educational process and affect bystanders, the school itself, and the surrounding community [1]. There are many different components to measuring students’ safety at school, and NCES conducts and supports regular surveys on school crime and safety. Our new report, Public School Safety and Discipline, 2013-14 provides data on school safety practices and procedures, and also contains school reports of school crime incidents [2].

Improvements in monitoring and communication can help to ensure students, teachers, and parents have the information they need at the right moment. There have been increases in the use of some types of technology in schools. For example, the percentage of schools that used one or more security cameras to monitor the school in 2013-14 (75 percent) was higher than it was in 2009-10 (61 percent). The percentage of schools which had an electronic notification system that automatically notifies parents in case of a school-wide emergency was also higher in 2013-14 (82 percent) than in 2009-10 (63 percent). Further, the percentage of schools which had a structured anonymous threat reporting system (e.g. online submission, telephone hotline, or written submission via dropbox) was higher in 2013-14 (47 percent) than in 2009-10 (36 percent). The percentage of schools that prohibited student use of cell phones and text messaging was lower in 2013-14 (76 percent) than in 2009-10 (91 percent).

Another indication of the level of safety at school is the percentage of schools reporting that violent incidences occurred during the school year. It is important to note that the nature of the NCES data collections on school crime do not enable cause and effect linkages between activities designed to improve school safety and actual decreases in school crime.  Overall, the percentage of public schools reporting that a violent incident occurred at school [3] was lower in 2013-14 (65 percent) than in 2009-10 (74 percent) [4]. Also, the percentage of schools reporting a serious violent crime was lower in 2013-14 (13 percent) than in 2009-10 (16 percent).  In 2013-14, there were about 16 violent crimes per 1,000 students compared to 25 per 1,000 students in 2009-10.


Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: 2009-10 and 2013-14

Figure. Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: 2009-10 and 2013-14
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school.
SOURCE: School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) 2009–10 and School Safety and Discipline 2013-14.

In addition to crimes, discipline problems at school are also of interest. Several types of discipline problems were reported at lower rates in 2013-14 than in 2009-10, including: student racial/ethnic tensions, student bullying, student sexual harassment of other students, and student harassment of other students based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  For example, 15.7 percent of schools reported that student bullying happens at least weekly in 2013-14, compared to 23.1 percent of schools in 2009-10. There were no measurable differences in the percentage of schools reporting, “widespread disorder in classrooms,” “student verbal abuse of teachers,” or “student acts of disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse.”

In addition to this new report on school crime, NCES produces an annual summary report on school crime, Indicators of School Crime and Safety. Also, NCES has recently released a series of tabulations on bullying that showed bullying rates are lower in 2013 than they were in 2011


[1] Brookmeyer, K.A., Fanti, K.A., and Henrich, C.C. (2006). Schools, Parents, and Youth Violence: A Multilevel, Ecological Analysis. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35(4):504–514.; Goldstein, S.E., Young, A., and Boyd, C. (2008). Relational Aggression at School: Associations With School Safety and Social Climate. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 37: 641–654.

[2] This blog compares estimates from Public School Safety and Discipline: 2013–14 and School Survey on Crime and Safety. Respondents to the Public School Safety and Discipline: 2013-14 were offered options of completing the survey on paper or online.  The School Survey on Crime and Safety was conducted as a mail survey with telephone follow-up.  Differences in these survey methods may impact inferences.

[3] “At school” was defined as activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.

[4] Respondents were asked to report the number of incidents, not number of victims or offenders.

Jumpstarting Innovation in Education Technology through SBIR

By Edward Metz, ED/IES SBIR Program Manager

Did you know that IES provides funding to develop computer games and other applications to support teaching and learning?

The U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research program, operated out of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), funds projects to develop education technology products designed to support student learning and teacher practice in general or special education. The program emphasizes rigorous and relevant research, used both to inform iterative development and to evaluate whether fully developed products show promise for leading to the intended outcomes. The program also focuses on the commercialization once the award period ends so that products can reach students and teachers, and be sustained over time.

Recently, ED/IES SBIR announced its 2015 awards. There are 21 awards in all, covering a range of topics and forms of technology. For example, Zaption is designing a mobile app to help teachers integrate video into science instruction; Speak Agent is building an app to help students with speech disabilities to communicate; and Lingo Jingo is developing a platform to help teachers guide English learners. (To view short video demos of the eight new Phase II projects, see this playlist.)

The 2015 awards highlight two trends that have emerged in the ED/IES SBIR portfolio in recent years –games for learning and bridging the research-to-practice gap in education.

Trend #1: Games for Learning

For the fourth straight year, about half of the new 2015 ED/IES SBIR awards focus on the development of game-based learning products. New projects include awards to:

  • Strange Loop Games to build a virtual world to engage students in learning about ecosystems,
  • Kiko Labs to develop mini games to strengthen young children’s thinking and memory skills, and
  • Schell Games to create a futuristic “ball and stick” molecular modeling kit and app to augment chemistry learning.

For a playlist including videos of these games and 19 others out of the ED/IES SBIR program, see here.

The games for learning trend echoes the movement surrounding games in the field, and is highlighted by recent ED sponsored events including ED Games Week in Washington, DC, last September and the Games for Learning Summit in New York City, in April. Both events convened stakeholders to showcase games and discuss the potential barriers and opportunities for collaboration necessary to accelerate the creation of highly effective games for learning. Stay tuned for more information and initiatives on games for learning out of ED’s Office of Technology.

Trend #2: Bridging the Research-to-Practice Gap

While ED/IES SBIR is known for making awards to start-ups such as Filament Games, Sokikom, and Handhold Adaptive, the program has also made awards to firms best described as university spin-offs. These firms are designed to transfer findings from federally funded research into learning products that can be used at scale. University researchers often do not have viable pathways or capacity to transfer research-based interventions for real world use.

But with the support of the ED/IES SBIR program, we have firms bridging the research-to-practice gap.  Examples include:

  • Mindset Works, which built on results from prior research including a 2002 IES research grant, to successfully propose a 2010 ED/IES SBIR project to develop SchoolKit. This multimedia platform enables broad distribution of the growth mindset intervention which teaches students to understand that intelligence can be developed through effort and learning. SchoolKit is now in use in more than 500 schools across the country, including half the middle schools in Washington, DC.
  • Teachley, which received a 2013 ED/IES SBIR award to develop math game apps and a teacher implementation dashboard building on findings from prior research including a 2010 IES research grant. The intervention is now used in hundreds of schools around the country, and the apps have been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
  • Learning Ovations is building on two prior IES research grants in their 2014 ED/IES SBIR project. The prior IES funding supported the research team as they developed and evaluated an intervention to improve children’s reading outcomes,. This award is supporting the development of an implementation platform to enable large-scale use of this evidence-based intervention across settings. The project is scheduled to end in 2016, after which the platform will be launched.

The new ED/IES SBIR 2015 awards continue the research-to-practice trend. An award to Foundations in Learning furthers basic research from a 2013 National Science Foundation grant (NSF); an award to SimInsights builds on 2005 and 2008 IES research projects and a 2011 Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) research project; and an award to Apprendris advances a prior 2012 IES research project and  prior 2010 and 2013 NSF research projects.

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter @IESResearch and @OfficeofEdTech as ED/IES SBIR projects drive innovative forms of technology, such as games for learning, and enable the scale-up of research-based interventions for wide-scale use.

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Please send your comments and questions to IESResearch@ed.gov.