IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Taking Education Research Out of the Lab and Into the Real World

The Institute of Education Sciences is committed to supporting research that develops and tests solutions to the challenges facing education in the United States and working to share the results of that research with a broad audience of policymakers and practitioners. In this blog post, Katherine Pears (pictured right), a principal investigator from the Oregon Social Learning Center, shares how an IES-funded grant supported not only the development and testing of an intervention, but its implementation in classrooms.

Sometimes when I tell people that I am a research scientist, they say "Ok, but what do you do?" What they are really asking is whether the work I am doing is helping students and families in actual schools and community. It’s a good question and the short answer is “Yes!” but moving programs from the research lab to children, families and schools takes time and funding. Here is how it worked with my program.

I wanted to help children at risk for school failure to start kindergarten with skills to help them to do better. I teamed up with Dr. Phil Fisher and others, and we built on years of research and program development at the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) to create a program called Kids in Transition to School (KITS). This is a summer program that continues into the first few weeks of school and focuses not only on letters and numbers, but also on teaching children how to get along with others and how to learn (such as focusing their attention). We also train the KITS teachers to use positive teaching strategies and help parents learn the same techniques to increase the chances that children will succeed.

However, before a school will put a program like KITS in place, they need to have some proof that it will actually work. That is why we sought external funding to evaluate the program.  With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), as well as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), we were able to test KITS with three different groups of children at high risk for difficulties in school: children in foster care, children with developmental disabilities and behavior problems, and children from low-income neighborhoods. 

Across these studies, KITS led to positive outcomes for children and the parents. Funding from IES helped us show that the KITS Program worked with different groups of children and that it was a good candidate for use in school settings. In many cases, this is where the process of moving programs from research to practice can get bogged down due to a gap between researchers and the people in the education systems that could use the programs. IES is strongly committed to bridging that gap by supporting partnerships between researchers and practitioners. In our IES-funded study, we partnered with two of our local school districts and United Way of Lane County (UWLC). Working with the schools and community agencies helped us to both test KITS and develop plans for how the districts could keep the program going after the funding for the research study ended.

Our partnership with UWLC also enabled us to start a new project to bring KITS to more schools. With funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Social Innovation Fund, UWLC offered grants to education foundations in Lane County, Oregon to implement KITS in the local school districts. The Social Innovation Fund allows promising programs to be brought to scale (i.e., made available to large numbers of people) by providing funding for community agencies to start and develop plans for sustaining these programs. In 2015, the KITS Program had about 30 educators serving about 120 children and families in 6 school districts in Lane County, Oregon. By summer 2017, two years into the grant, the KITS Program had trained 125 educators to serve approximately 435 children and families in 13 school districts in the county. That’s more than a threefold increase in the number of children and families served, as well as the number of teachers trained in the KITS Program.

We will continue to work with partners to evaluate the effects of the KITS program and make it available to more school districts. However, without the funding from IES and other federal agencies, we would not have been able to both test the program and partner with schools to make KITS a part of their everyday practice. 


Risk Factors and Academic Outcomes in Kindergarten through Third Grade

By Amy Rathbun, AIR and Joel McFarland

Previous NCES research has shown that students with family risk factors tend to have lower average scores than their peers on academic assessments.[1] Risk factors can include coming from a low-income family or single-parent household, not having a parent who completed high school, and living in a household where the primary language is not English. How common is it for children entering U.S. kindergartens to have certain types of family risk factors? And, how do children with risk factors at kindergarten entry perform on academic assessments compared to their peers?  A new spotlight from The Condition of Education 2017 helps to answer these questions.

The spotlight focuses on children experiencing two types of risk factors - living in poverty (i.e., in households with income below the federal poverty threshold) and not having a parent who completed high school, as well as the combination and lack of the two risk factors. Data come from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). During the 2010–11 school year, 6 percent of first-time kindergartners had both risk factors , 18 percent had the single risk factor of living in poverty, and 2 percent had the single risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school. About 75 percent had neither of these two risk factors present during their kindergarten year.

Percentage distribution of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by risk factors related to parent education and poverty: School year 2010–11

NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 220.39.

Are there differences in the prevalence of risk factors by student and family characteristics?

There were differences in the prevalence of family risk factors in relation to children’s race/ethnicity, primary home language, and family composition. For instance, it was more common for Hispanic students (15 percent) than for Black and Asian students (8 percent each) to have both risk factors, and these percentages were all higher than the percentage for White students (1 percent). Also, 23 percent of first-time kindergartners whose primary home language was not English had both the risk factor of living in poverty and the risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school, compared with 2 percent of kindergartners whose primary home language was English.

Does children’s performance in reading, math, and science in kindergarten through third grade differ based on risk factors?

Kindergarten students living in poverty and those with no parent that completed high school tended to score lower in reading, mathematics, and science over each of their first four years of school compared to their peers who had neither risk factor at kindergarten entry. For example, in the spring of third-grade, reading scores (on a scale of 0 to 141) were higher, on average, for students who had neither risk factor (114 points) than for those with the single risk factor of living in poverty (106 points), those with the single risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school (105 points), and those with both risk factors (102 points).[2]

Average reading scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by time of assessment and risk factors related to parent education and poverty: Fall 2010 through spring 2014

NOTE: Estimates weighted by W7C17P_7T170. Scores on the reading assessments reflect performance on questions measuring basic skills (print familiarity, letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, rhyming words, and word recognition); vocabulary knowledge; and reading comprehension, including identifying information specifically stated in text (e.g., definitions, facts, and supporting details), making complex inferences from texts, and considering the text objectively and judging its appropriateness and quality. Possible scores for the reading assessment range from 0 to 141.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 220.40.

For more information on family risk factors and children’s achievement in reading, mathematics, and science from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of third grade, see the spotlight on this topic in The Condition of Education 2017.

[1] Given that the spring third-grade reading scores have a mean of 110.2 points and a standard deviation (SD) of 12.3 points, this would mean the average score for children who had no risk factors was about 1.0 SD higher than the score for children with no risk factors.

[2] Rathbun, A., and West, J. (2004). From Kindergarten Through Third Grade: Children's Beginning School Experiences (NCES 2004–007). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from



Changes in Children’s Nonparental Care Arrangements From 2001 to 2012

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

While the percentage of children in nonparental care arrangements remained unchanged between 2001 and 2012, the cost of those arrangements increased significantly. These findings come from a recently released report from NCES, The Years Before School: Children’s Nonparental Care Arrangements From 2001 to 2012. Childcare arrangements are influential in children’s early education, and can often be where children learn early literacy and numeracy skills that are important for kindergarten entry.[1]

While the percentage of children who participated in a nonparental care arrangement remained statistically unchanged from 2001 to 2012, there were shifts in the patterns of relative,[2] nonrelative,[3] and center-based care arrangements.[4] For instance, from 2001 to 2012, the percentage of children who had a relative care arrangement increased (from 22 percent to 26 percent) as did the percentage of children who had multiple arrangements (from 10 percent to 12 percent). In both 2001 and 2012, the greatest percentage of children participated in center-based care.

Percentage of children from birth to age 5 who are not yet in kindergarten, by type of nonparental care arrangement: 2001, 2005, and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) Survey, 2001, 2005, and 2012.

There were higher out-of-pocket hourly expenses for care in 2012 than in 2001 for children in all types of care arrangements. The expense for center-based care increased by 58 percent and that of relative care by 57 percent, while the expense for nonrelative care increased by 25 percent.

Percentage of children from birth to age 5 who are not yet in kindergarten, by type of weekly nonparental care arrangement and child’s age: 2001, 2005, and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) Survey, 2001, 2005, and 2012.

In 2012, out-of-pocket hourly expenses for children in center-based programs were the most expensive for families, averaging $6.70 per hour—60 percent higher than relative care ($4.18 per hour) and 27 percent higher than nonrelative care ($5.28 per hour).

Data used for this report come from the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) Early Childhood Program Participation Surveys (ECPP) collected every several years. This study is different from most NCES data collections in that it focuses on children before they enter formal schooling. In addition to collecting information on children’s early care and education arrangements, parents are also asked about early learning, such as how high the child can count and whether the child can recognize the letters of the alphabet. Learn more about the variables included in the study by visiting the website or accessing the First Look report.


[1] Flanagan, K.D., and McPhee, C. (2009). The Children Born in 2001 at Kindergarten Entry: First Findings From the Kindergarten Data Collections of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) (NCES 2010-005). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.

[2] Relative care: care provided by a relative (e.g., grandparent, aunt/uncle, brother/sister, or another relative) in either the child’s home or another home. Relative care does not include the child’s parents or guardians (e.g., a father or mother caring for the child).

[3] Nonrelative care: care provided by a nonrelative, either in the child’s home or another home. It includes care provided by home child care providers or neighbors, but not day care centers or preschools.

[4] Center-based care: care provided by day care centers, preschools, prekindergarten programs, Head Start programs, and other early childhood programs.



A Milestone for Education Statistics: The 50th edition of the Digest of Education Statistics

By Tom Snyder

For more than five decades, the Digest of Education Statistics has been addressing the data needs of a wide array of people, from policymakers who require a reliable, unbiased foundation for decision-making to researchers who seek to unravel the complex facts underlying key issues of the day; from reporters who need in-depth information for education-related news stories to organizational leaders who rely on annually updated data to steer their course. The Digest also serves the needs of everyday citizens who may be curious about such things as the number of high school graduates in the United States, the latest trends in postsecondary costs and financial assistance, or the earnings of employees with various types of degrees.

Released on April 28, Digest of Education Statistics 2014 is the 50th in a series of reports that has been issued annually since 1962, except for combined editions for the years 1977-78, 1983-84, and 1985-86. The Digest provides a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of American education from prekindergarten through graduate school. Subject matter includes the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, in addition to data on educational attainment, finances, federal funds for education, libraries, and international education.

The Digest continues a long tradition of recurring statistical reports issued by NCES and its predecessor agencies. From 1869-70 to 1916-17, statistical data were included in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Education. A similar report, the Biennial Survey of Education in the United States, was issued every other year from 1917-18 to 1957-58.

By the summer of 1962, the need for an annual statistical summary report had become obvious to agency staff, and the first edition of the Digest was published. Dr. Vance Grant, who played a leading role in developing the first edition of the Digest, continued to direct the project until the 1985-86 edition. During these years, the Digest responded to the growing data needs of policymakers by adding new information on children with disabilities, preprimary education, career and technical education, educational attainment, and salary data. In 1987, I took over the responsibility of publishing the Digest, and we have continued to make changes that meet the needs of the policy community. This includes expanding the quantity of state-level tables, constructing tables to show institution-level data for large school districts and colleges, and adding more racial/ethnic data.

Beginning with the 1995 edition, a strong web presence was developed for the Digest, reflecting increased needs for digital access to education data. The full tabular content of the report is presented on the NCES website in HTML format, and a spreadsheet version of each statistical table is also available for users to download. The 2013 edition introduced a revamped web structure and table-numbering system that makes it easier for users to quickly find the latest version of a specific table, as well as to explore all the tables that are currently available on a specific topic. Rather than numbering the entire set of tables sequentially, the latest editions of the Digest use a subject-matter numbering sequence that will remain the same year after year. The most current versions of Digest tables are posted to the website on a rolling basis, before the entire edition of the report has been completed.

Over the years, the Digest has evolved as an education data resource that continues to support the information needs of our modern society. The newly released 2014 edition provides convenient online access to 594 tables covering the full range of education topics.

The Month(s) in Review: September and October 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

New Evaluation of State Education Programs and Policies Awards Announced

Congratulations to the recipients of our Evaluation of State Education Programs and Policies awards. These projects examine a range of topics: low-performing schools, college- and career-readiness standards, and teacher effectiveness and evaluation.

Building Strength in Numbers: Friends of IES Briefings

The Friends of IES, a coalition of research organizations working to raise the visibility of IES-funded studies, asked three IES funded researchers to participate in briefings for Department of Education leadership and for the public on Capitol Hill. Sharing findings from their IES-funded studies, the researchers highlighted how providing high quality mathematics instruction to children as young as three-years-old, and providing systematic and sustained opportunities for those children to learn more mathematics in subsequent instructional years, can substantially narrow achievement gaps at the end of preschool and how those gains can persist over time. What to know more? Read our earlier blog post or the AERA news story for additional details.

Congratulations to Patricia Snyder on receiving the 2015 DEC Award for Mentoring

Congratulations to Patricia Snyder, recipient of the 2015 Division for Early Childhood (DEC) Award for Mentoring. DEC, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, awards this honor to a member who has provided significant training and guidance to students and new practitioners in the field of early childhood special education. Snyder is a professor of special education and early childhood studies and the David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida. She is also the Principal Investigator (PI) and Training Program Director for a NCSER-funded postdoctoral training grant, Postdoctoral Research Training Fellowships in Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has also served as the PI and co-PI on several other NCSER-funded awards.

Thanks to all of our IES Postdoctoral Fellows: Past, Present and Future!

Did you know that the third week of September was National Postdoc Appreciation Week? While we tweeted our appreciation for the postdocs we support through our NCER and NCSER Postdoctoral Training Programs, we thought you might like to learn a bit more about what some of our postdocs are doing.

Publishing: Postdocs are busy publishing findings from their research. For example, David Braithwaite, a fellow in this Carnegie Mellon postdoctoral training program recently published Effects of Variation and Prior Knowledge on Abstract Concept Learning. Two postdoc fellows, Kimberly Nesbitt and Mary Fuhs, who were trained in this Vanderbilt postdoctoral training program, are co-authors on a recent publication exploring executive function skills and academic achievement in kindergarten.  Josh Polanin, another Vanderbilt postdoc, recently published two methodological papers: one on effect sizes, the other on using a meta-analytic technique to assess the relationship between treatment intensity and program effects.

Receiving Research Funding:  Previous postdoc fellows who trained at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have recently been awarded research funding. Erin Reid and her colleagues were recently awarded an NSF DRK-12 grant to adapt and study a teacher professional development (PD) intervention, called Collaborative Math (CM), for use in early childhood programs. Former fellow David Purpura was recently awarded a grant from the Kinley Trust to delineate the role of language in early mathematics performance. Dr.  Purpura is also co-PI on a 2015 IES grant, Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics.

Congratulations and good luck to all of our recently complete postdocs! Sixteen fellows have completed this year with 10 completing in the past two months. These fellows bringing their expertise to the community as full-time faculty, directors of research programs, and research associates at universities, non-profits, government agencies, and other organizations.

What have the Research Centers Funded? Check Out Our New Summary Documents

NCSER has funded research in a variety of topics relevant to special education and early intervention since 2006. Recently, NCSER staff summarized the work on several topics, with more to come in the future.

Research supported by both Centers is also described in our Compendium of Mathematics and Science Research, which was released in October.

Updated IES Research in the News

Curious to know what other IES-funded research projects have gotten media attention? We recently updated our IES Research in the News page, so that’s your quickest way to find out!