IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Leveraging Multiple Funding Sources to Train Special Education Researchers

Through different programs within the Department of Education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act authorizes funding that can provide doctoral students with valuable training in special education research. These different funding mechanisms work independently or, in some cases, can be leveraged to work synergistically. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides support for doctoral-level students The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides support for doctoral-level students through grant programs that are part of the Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results Program to help prepare future faculty, researchers, and administrators for leadership positions. Through this program, OSEP awards funds to institutions of higher education to provide doctoral students (OSEP Scholars) with advising, mentorship, and research experience. In exchange for service to the field following graduation, scholarships may cover such student expenses as tuition and fees, health insurance, books, supplies, and research-related expenses.

IES grants allow faculty to hire doctoral students on their NCSER-funded research projects, providing another potential avenue for these students to obtain research experience. Sometimes OSEP Scholars receive their research experience and mentorship through work on NCSER-funded research projects, as either their primary research focus or an additional research training opportunity. When this occurs, the benefits of both funding sources can provide students with opportunities to apply their training and knowledge in true research settings under the guidance of seasoned researchers.

In a new blog series, we will interview doctoral students who participate in both kinds of federally funded opportunities to better understand the unique contributions of each and how the two funding sources complement one another. We asked each doctoral student to tell us about their experience as an OSEP Scholar, their work on IES-funded grants, the synergy between their OSEP supports and NCSER grant work, and how they believe these experiences will help them achieve their career goals.

Matt Klein, Texas A&M University

Headshot of Matt Klein

I am in my third year as an OSEP Scholar, supported through the Research Interventions in Special Education (RISE) Scholars Network—a partnership among Texas A&M University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to train future faculty in special education. This program has provided me with access to numerous learning experiences, including the opportunity to collaborate with high-caliber doctoral students, work with leading researchers at multiple institutions, and take research method courses that would otherwise not be available to me. The funding and tuition coverage that I receive as an OSEP Scholar has allowed me to focus on my studies and research without worrying about needing to take outside employment that may be unrelated to my training in education research.

I also work on an IES-funded meta-analysis project that looks at augmentative and alternative communication interventions for children with autism and/or intellectual disabilities. I love this project because I had worked as a teacher for children with autism. Currently, I code the data from the articles that are included in the analysis. This process has certainly been a learning experience, but it is so much fun because I read about interesting research that serves as inspiration for my own future work.

My work on the IES project and my experience as an OSEP Scholar inform one another. I began my doctoral program as a research assistant on the IES-funded project, and in my second year I became an OSEP Scholar. During my first year, I gained valuable research experience while working on the meta-analysis. This experience was crucial in my second year when, as an OSEP Scholar, I took a class on systematic review with intervention studies. My training as an OSEP Scholar has, in turn, given me the tools to lead a sub-project on the IES-funded meta-analysis.

Although I am still considering my future career goals, ideally, I would like to conduct research on interventions that can be used to support advocacy for play-based learning opportunities for children with disabilities. The research experience I receive as an OSEP Scholar and through IES-funded research will help build my knowledge base. The ongoing collaboration with other OSEP Scholars provides a natural forum for me to develop and refine research ideas as well as build a professional network for future collaborations even before I graduate.

Taydi Ray, Vanderbilt University

Headshot of Taydi Ray

I’m a first-year doctoral student, supported by an OSEP-funded training grant—Preparing Leaders to Unify Social, Behavioral, and Communication Interventions for Toddlers (Project PLUS-BC)—a cross-site collaboration between Vanderbilt University and the University of Washington to prepare scholars for leadership roles in early childhood special education with a focus on toddler language and social-emotional development. My short time as an OSEP Scholar has allowed me to visit our partner site, attend national conferences, and participate in a cross-site prenatal-to-three seminar. The training grant has also covered school-related expenses, such as tuition and a stipend I used to purchase a new computer. The project provides mentorship, training, and research opportunities with faculty from both universities. 

EMT en Español, an IES grant, introduced me to academia before I became an OSEP Scholar. This efficacy trial strives to improve language and school readiness skills for Spanish-speaking toddlers. I joined the research team in May 2022, primarily serving as an interventionist to deliver a naturalistic language intervention, Enhanced Milieu Teaching (EMT), and train caregivers to use the strategies, too. This project was an excellent introduction to special education research.

Although I continue to work on this project, as a current OSEP Scholar, my primary research efforts and training occur through another IES-funded project—Toddler Talk. Toddler Talk aims to improve language development in toddlers at high risk for persistent developmental language disorders and poor social and academic outcomes. I currently serve as a data collector for this project, which entails learning, administering, and scoring classroom-based assessments with teachers and toddlers. I have enjoyed this unique opportunity to engage in classroom research.

Before pursuing a doctoral degree, I worked as a bilingual speech-language pathologist (SLP) in schools. I would love to combine my background in speech pathology with my budding knowledge of special education research by serving as a faculty member in a communication disorders program. Ultimately, I hope to prepare future SLPs to confidently work with culturally and linguistically diverse children with disabilities and their families. I believe that my work on Project PLUS-BC, Toddler Talk, and EMT en Español will prepare me to be a well-rounded leader in special education.

Both OSEP and NCSER provide student scholars access to a variety of experiences that include training in research methodology and opportunities to apply this knowledge and build skills within current research projects. These opportunities can comprehensively prepare doctoral students to be future leaders who will contribute to meaningful research and teach the next generation of teachers, interventionists, and providers to use evidence-based practices to serve and support children with disabilities in their communities. Thank you to Matt and Taydi for sharing their experiences as OSEP Scholars working with research supported by NCSER. NCSER looks forward to seeing the future impact you will have in your field!

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at NCSER and doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University. Shanna is also an OSEP Scholar through RISE. Sarah Allen manages OSEP’s Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results Program.

Creating a Community of Writers

The Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Education Sciences was established by IES to increase the number of well-trained PhD students who are prepared to conduct rigorous and relevant education research. IES encourages our predoctoral fellows to develop strong writing skills in addition to subject-matter and methodological expertise. In this guest blog, we asked IES predoctoral fellow, Todd Hall, co-chair of the Black Scholars in Education and Human Development Writing Group at the University of Virginia, to discuss how participating in this writing group has helped his development as an education researcher. Todd, is part of the IES-funded Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) program and studies early childhood education policy as well as school discipline in both early childhood and K-12 settings.

How did you become involved in the Black Scholars in Education and Human Development Writing Group?

I started my PhD in education policy in August 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic made networking and simply making friends awkward. During my first week in Charlottesville, VA, I watched wistfully from my window as a Black person jogged past my house. For me, the jogger represented communities of color at UVA that I did not know how to connect with.

Enter Dr. Edward Scott and Dr. Miray Seward, then students and co-chairs of the Black Scholars in Education and Human Development Writing Group. They sent me a personal email invitation to join the group’s first virtual writing retreat. When I joined the Zoom room, I found the affinity space I was looking for. I connected with graduate students whom I later turned to for informal mentorship, course recommendations, tips on navigating the hidden curriculum of grad school, insights from job market experiences, and examples of successful written proposals. The laughs shared virtually during check-ins between writing blocks helped ward off the pandemic blues.

I resolved to pay it forward, so I began shadowing Edward and Miray. When they graduated, I stepped into a leadership role alongside my co-chair, Sasha Miller-Marshall.

How has participating in the writing group helped you develop as a scholar?

The writing group has reminded me that I am not the only one who experiences writer’s block and has provided me with writing process role models. The professional development sessions we host have been one of the few opportunities that I have found to see faculty expose and reflect on their own writing challenges, from protecting their time for writing to incorporating critical feedback. This provides a unique perspective on the writing process—I often see faculty discuss works in progress, but the format is usually an oral presentation with slides rather than something written.

In the Black Scholars Writing Group sessions, speakers often share candidly about their own process, including writer’s block and how they overcome it. For example, a senior faculty member shared that they used voice memos to process their thoughts when they feel stuck. That disclosure normalized my experience of writer’s block and made me feel comfortable sharing that I write memos on my phone when I feel stuck. Moments like these have provided tools to overcome resistance in my writing process and normalized the experience of strategizing about writing rather than expecting words to flow effortlessly.

The presenters who lead sessions with our group have diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, but the focus of the group on creating affinity space for Black doctoral and PhD students allows me to be less concerned about stereotype threat. Whereas I am often the only Black person in other rooms, I am never the only Black person in this writing group. That alleviates any concern about being perceived as a token representative of Black people, or worse, as less capable if I choose to share my difficulties. In one session, I was able to unpack with the faculty speaker that a particular piece of writing was difficult because I had not yet answered the simple question of why the work was important. I got to that realization because the speaker modeled vulnerability about their own writing process, and I felt at ease to discuss my own.

How can the broader education research community help graduate student researchers develop as writers?

Where appropriate and feasible, education researchers can share their successful conference proposals, grant applications, budgets, reviewer response letters, and perhaps even dissertation chapters. If it does not make sense to post them publicly, researchers could offer to share materials with graduate students that they meet at speaking engagements, conferences, etc.

Successful models have given me helpful guidance, especially when tackling a new format. Beyond the writing group, I am immensely grateful to the alumni of my IES pre-doctoral fellowship who have provided many of their materials for current students to reference.

What advice can you give other student researchers who wish to further develop their writing skills?

Cultivate authentic relationships with a network of mentors who are willing to share examples of their successful writing and review your work. My advisor is amazing and thorough with her feedback. That said, it has been useful to strategically ask others who bring in complementary perspectives to review my work. For example, my advisor is a quantitative researcher, and I recently proposed a mixed methods study. Researchers who do qualitative and mixed methods work were able to challenge and strengthen the qualitative aspects of my proposal based on their expertise. You might also be applying for opportunities or submitting to journals that other mentors have succeeded with or reviewed for. They may help you anticipate what that audience might be looking for.

In addition, when you receive feedback, do so graciously, weigh it seriously, and ask yourself if there’s a broader piece of constructive criticism to apply to your other writing.


This blog was produced training program officer Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) and is part of a larger series on the IES research training programs.

Training the Next Generation of CTE Researchers: A Conversation with the CTE Research Network

IES funded the Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education (CTE) Research Network (CTERN) in FY 2018 in order to increase the quality and rigor of CTE research, specifically by (1) coordinating IES-funded researchers studying CTE using causal designs and (2) training new researchers in causal methods to address CTE-related research questions. In this guest blog, the Network Lead’s PI, Katherine Hughes, and Training Lead, Jill Walston, from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), discuss the evolution of the institute across four years of training supported by the grant and what they learned about the components of effective training, in the hopes of sharing lessons learned for future IES-funded trainings.

About the Summer Training Institute

Each summer since 2020, CTERN has held summer training institute on causal research methods in CTE.  Across four summers, we had 81 trainees, including junior faculty, researchers in state or university research offices or institutes, doctoral students, and researchers in non-profit organizations. During the institutes, we had expert CTE researchers and national and state CTE leaders deliver presentations about CTE history, policies, theories, and recent research.

The major focus of the training was on research designs and statistical methods for conducting research that evaluates the causal impact of CTE policies and practices on student outcomes. The participants learned about conducting randomized controlled trials—considered the gold standard for causal research—as well as two quasi-experimental approaches, regression discontinuity and comparative interrupted time series designs. After presentations about the approaches, students worked with data in small groups to complete data analysis assignments designed to provide practical experience with the kinds of data and analyses common in CTE research. The small groups had dedicated time to meet with one of the instructors to discuss their analyses and interpret findings together. The combination of presentations and practical applications of data analysis with real data, and time in small groups for troubleshooting and discussion with CTE researchers, made for a rich experience that students found engaging and effective. The students received an IES certificate of course completion to mark their accomplishment.

Making Continuous Improvements Based on Lessons Learned

We had a continuous improvement mindset for our summer institute. After each week-long session was completed, the CTE research network director, training coordinator, and instructors met to review their perceptions of the training and most importantly the feedback students provided at the end of the week. We applied the lessons learned to make improvements to the agenda, communications, and student grouping approaches to the plans for the following summer.

Over the course of the four years of the summer institute training, we made a number of adjustments in response to feedback.

  • We continued to offer the institute virtually. The institute was originally intended to be held in person; an earlier blog describes our necessary pivot to the online format. While we could have safely changed to an in-person institute in 2022 and 2023, feedback from our students showed that the virtual institute was more accessible to a geographically diverse group. Many trainees said they would not have even applied to the institute if they would have had to travel, even with a stipend to help cover those costs.
  • We added more time for the students to get to know one another with virtual happy hours. Compared to in-person trainings, virtual trainings lack those natural opportunities for informal communications between students and with instructors that can foster engagement, trust, and joint purpose. While we couldn’t replicate in-person networking opportunities, we were able to improve the experience for the students by being intentional with informal gatherings.
  • We expanded the time for the small groups to meet with their instructors. Students reported that this office hour time was very valuable for their understanding of the material and in interpreting the output of the analyses they ran. We extended this time to optimize opportunities for discussion and problem solving around their data analysis assignments.   
  • We made improvements to the data assignment guidance documents. In the first year, students reported that they spent more time on figuring out initial tasks with the data which left less time for running analyses and interpreting their output. We modified our guidance documents that accompanied the assignments to spell out more explicitly some of the initial steps to shorten the time students spent on set-up and maximize their time doing the important work of coding for the analyses and examining output. We also provided links to resources about the statistical packages used by the students for those that needed time to brush up on their skills before the training began.
  • We doubled down on efforts to stay connected with the trainees and supported ways to have them stay connected to each other. For example, we let them know when CTERN’s researchers are presenting at conferences and invite them to connect with us and each other at these conferences. We’re now organizing a LinkedIn group to try to develop a community for our training alumni.

Our summer training institutes were a great success. We look forward to continuing this opportunity for researchers into the future, with a new version to be offered in the summer of 2025 by the CTE Research Network 2.0.


Jill Walston, Ph.D., is a principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research with more than 20 years of experience conducting quantitative research, developing assessments and surveys, and providing technical support to researchers and practitioners to apply rigorous research and measurement practices. Dr. Walston is the lead for training initiatives for the IES-funded Career and Technical Education Research Network.

Katherine Hughes, Ph.D., is a principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research and the principal investigator and director of the CTE Research Network and CTE Research Network 2.0. Dr. Hughes’ work focuses on career and technical education in high schools and community colleges, college readiness, and the high school-to-college transition.

This blog was produced by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), a Program Officer in the National Center for Education Research (NCER).

 

Education Research, Eyesight, and Overcoming Adversity: An Interview with Pathways Alumna Carrissa Ammons

The Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we asked Carrissa Ammons, an alumna of the California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) Pathways training program, to share her experiences as a student-researcher with low vision.

What sparked your interest in education research?

My interest in education research stems from my own lived educational experiences as a formerly impoverished person who was born with a visual impairment. My innate passion for understanding the world around me motivated me to continue learning, and my intrinsic curiosity drew me towards the sciences at a rather young age. Over time, I became interested in psychology, and I entered college with the goal of becoming a clinical psychologist. However, my exposure to research methods and applied research experiences within the Cultural and Community Lab at CSUS gave me the confidence to pursue a career as a researcher. Now, I want to use my knowledge and work to help reduce barriers to education for individuals who have not been historically represented within education and the social sciences.

What was your favorite experience as a Pathways fellow?

My Pathways summer internship at the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) has been an invaluable part of my professional and personal development. The internship was challenging at times but also incredibly fulfilling. All of the SCOE staff I worked with were supportive and gave me great insight into how the state values and uses evidence-based decision making and evaluation. During my 10-week internship, I assisted with a variety of projects, including evaluations for programs relating to bullying prevention, underage substance use prevention and intervention, and California National History Day. I also helped complete a literature review on evidence-based practices in recruiting and retaining diverse teacher candidates for the SCOE internal education career pipeline program.

I learned that researchers who work for state organizations must excel at communicating their findings to both technical and non-technical audiences because they are often tasked with communicating data to individuals with little to no background in research, and because they heavily rely on data visualization as a means of disseminating information in a way that is easy to digest for a diverse array of audiences.

What have been some challenges or barriers you have faced in academia as a person with low vision?

Transportation and inequitable access to written and visual information have been the most salient barriers to education that I have faced during my academic career. I am unable to obtain a driver’s license in most states due to the level of my visual impairment, so I am often dependent on public transportation. While I am incredibly grateful for the increased freedom that I have been granted by the Sacramento Regional Transit, some areas of their system can still be a bit inconsistent—it can be difficult, if not impossible at times, to make impromptu changes to my weekly routines. This structural restriction to my mobility has made it difficult to participate in events and activities outside of certain time frames and areas, and this can evoke a lot of anxiety and aversions for me as I try to fully participate in academic experiences and extra-curricular activities.

For example, reaching the CSUS campus from my home via transit requires a transfer from a bus to the light rail and onto another bus. This process takes approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes from door to door for a trip that would typically take approximately 20 minutes by car. If an issue arose during any leg of this trip (such as a late or canceled bus), it could set me back an hour or more depending on the time of day. This has caused me to miss entire classes and events at times. Alongside the stress of arriving places on time, relying on the public transit system as one’s sole means of transportation can be incredibly taxing mentally at the end of the day. There were many times during my evening commute home from college when the bus on the last leg of my trip would be canceled for the evening due to a driver shortage, forcing me to either ask a loved one or use a rideshare service (which as a student was not always financially feasible). 

Having low vision has also been a barrier throughout my education; however, major advancements in accessible technology during my college years have provided me with more equitable access to visual information. There are some environments, such as academic conferences, where I still struggle to gain access to the same quality of experience as my fully sighted peers. For example, academic poster sessions are environments that require a lot of reading, and for individuals to be able to quickly scan information in order to get the most out of the limited time provided for each session. While most presenters are happy to explain their work to their onlookers, it can still be difficult at times to get the full picture of their work without being able to fully examine all the components of their posters, such as charts or tables.

One easy way presenters and conferences can disseminate information in a more equitable way is to include tools like QR codes on visual material to allow individuals to view them in ways that may be most accessible to them. Academic organizations can also make more of an effort to assess the needs of their members prior to conferences, rather than assuming that everyone with a disability will be able to advocate and accommodate for themselves prior to the event, especially those that claim to be student-friendly organizations. Learning to navigate new spaces can be difficult enough, let alone having to do so while having physical or mental traits that were not considered during the planning and implementation of these events.

What advice would you give students with disabilities who wish to pursue a career in education research?

I wish all students with disabilities could recognize that the concept of disability is a byproduct of living in a society that was not built with us in mind, and those traits do not reflect any deficit in our personal ability to achieve our dreams. It may be difficult at times, but never forget that representation is the only way we, as a scientific community, can achieve the fullest picture of the human experience and push the needle closer to creating an inclusive society for everyone, including ourselves. Despite being faced with myriad historic and contemporary barriers to inclusion and belonging within our society, we have always been here, we will always be here, and our voices deserve to be included in conversations pertaining to education and human development.


Carrissa Ammons recently graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. As part of her Pathways fellowship at CSUS, Carissa conducted research with Dr. Lisa Romero on the efficacy of motivated self-regulation theory in mitigating implicit biases of college level educators. This summer, Carissa served as a data analysis and visualization intern at the Sacramento County Department of Education’s Center for Student Assessment and Program Accountability. Carissa is currently applying to graduate school and says her ultimate career goal is to become a professor of psychology and run her own research lab with a focus on studying diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within higher education, with an emphasis on personal identity and stereotype threat.

This NDEAM blog post was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), Program Officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training program.

Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Grant Awardees: Self-Regulation for High School Students with Disabilities

This final post in our series of NCSER blogs highlighting the recently funded Early Career Development and Mentoring Grants Program principal investigators features an interview with Sara Estrapala, assistant research professor in special education at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Dr. Estrapala is conducting research aimed at improving self-regulation of high school students with disabilities and challenging behavior.

How did you become interested in research on self-regulation among high school students with disabilities? 

Headshot of Dr. Sara Estrapala

I worked in a high school as a special education paraeducator prior to my doctoral program and really enjoyed working with that student population. I was responsible for helping students manage themselves in their general education classes. This experience led me to wonder whether there were ways to teach students—particularly those with challenging behaviors— to be more self-sufficient. When I started my doctoral program, I worked on an IES-funded project to develop a self-monitoring app and witnessed the incredible impact that self-monitoring can have on student classroom behaviors. My classroom and research experiences merged into a line of research on self-regulation development for high school students with disabilities.

What is the broader challenge in education that you hope your study will address?

High schools are notoriously difficult settings in which to conduct behavior intervention research, due to increased demands on student and teacher time for academics, organizational complexity (for example, multiple teachers, classrooms, academic departments), and misconceptions about behavior supports for high school aged students. As such, there is a relatively limited literature base for researchers and practitioners related to behavior interventions or supports for high school students. I hope to develop an effective intervention specifically for this context and developmental level while also learning how to effectively conduct rigorous research in this complex and challenging environment. Ultimately, I aim to contribute to our collective knowledge about how to help support high school students with disabilities and challenging behavior. 

What sets apart your self-regulation intervention from other interventions that have been studied?

The most unique aspect of the self-regulation intervention that I am developing is that students have ownership over their self-regulation plan. Typically, students are provided with a self-regulation or self-management plan that is developed by an adult—such as their teacher, counselor, or behavior specialist—with very little opportunity for input. Because self-regulation interventions involve a lot of decisions (such as identifying target behaviors, goals, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation plans), there are numerous opportunities to ask students what they think will improve their classroom behavior. My goal is to develop a framework for teaching students how to identify and define their own behaviors that might be reducing their learning or classroom performance as well as replacement behaviors that will enable them to achieve greater academic success. I believe that including students in the decision-making process will help them better learn why self-regulation is important and how it can help them reach meaningful goals.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

Network. Network. Network. Find a variety of colleagues to work with, including those with similar and advanced years of research and practice. I find working with other researchers helps prevent feeling isolated and increases my motivation to keep pushing forward. Joining professional organizations and attending their social events has helped me meet peers with similar research experience and create a network for collaboration. This process also created opportunities for me to meet the faculty mentors of my peers, which, in turn, has helped me establish a larger network of mid- and late-career researchers.

Sara Estrapala demonstrates passion and insight in her research promoting self-regulation among high school students with disabilities. NCSER looks forward to following her career trajectory and the development of this exciting project.

This blog was produced by Emilia Wenzel, NCSER intern and graduate student at University of Chicago. Katherine Taylor is the program officer for NCSER’s Early Career Development and Mentoring program.