IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Informing Future Research in Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Career and Technical Education (CTE) has been evolving and expanding at a rapid pace in recent years as industry and education leaders focus on students’ readiness for college and careers. While some studies have shown positive effects of CTE on students, the evidence base is thin. To learn more about the research needs of the CTE field, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and the National Center for Education Research (NCER) at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) convened a group of experts in policy, practice and research related to CTE.  The discussion held by the Technical Working Group (TWG) led both NCER and NCSER to increase their investments in CTE for fiscal year 2019: NCSER included a CTE special topic, and NCER changed its CTE topic from a special topic to a standing topic. Applications to both are due August 23, 2018.  Both research centers hope to fund more studies that will help us better understand this growing aspect of education.

The TWG focused on the following four questions:

  1. Who is served by CTE and who is left behind? From national CTE statistics, we know that 82% of all public high schools offer CTE. And, 85% of students earn at least one credit in CTE with the average high school student earning 2.5 CTE credits. However, TWG members noted that research is lacking on specific subpopulations in CTE, such as students from various demographic backgrounds and students with disabilities. Disaggregated data on these dimensions are needed to better understand the CTE experiences of the range of students being served. Such data may help educators improve equity of access to high quality programs for all students.
  2. What do we know―and need to know―about CTE policies, programs, and practices at the secondary and postsecondary levels?  TWG experts discussed the need to know more about industry-recognized credentials and about business and industry engagement in CTE at the secondary level. They argued that we do not know if credentials align with industry requirements, nor do we understand the impact of different types of credentials on student outcomes and wage trajectories. TWG members also noted that the higher the perceived quality or prestige of the CTE program, the more exclusive it becomes, and the more difficult it is for disadvantaged students to obtain access. TWG members also expressed concerns about CTE teacher training, particularly for experts who are recruited from industry without prior teacher preparation. As the experts discussed postsecondary CTE, they suggested that the field would be best served by framing the conversation about secondary to postsecondary pathways as a continuum that enables transparent and sequential transitions from secondary to 2-year and then to 4-year programs or to training or employment, with guidance for students to understand possible sequences.
  3. What are the critical methodological issues in CTE?  TWG members noted that, with a few notable exceptions (e.g.,  a 2008  MDRC study on career academies in New York and a recent study of CTE high schools in Massachusetts), few causal studies on CTE have been conducted. There is an urgent need for more high quality, causal research on CTE policies and programs. In addition, the experts noted that there is almost no research on students with disabilities in CTE. TWG members concluded that the field needs to re-conceptualize CTE research – including better defining CTE students, instructors, programs, and measures – and identify the critical research questions in order to encourage more research in this field.
  4. What is needed to advance CTE research?  State CTE administrators want to know how to identify quality CTE programs so they know how to spend their dollars most effectively on programs that best meet the needs of students. Policymakers also want to know what “works” and what the benefits are of such investments. The TWG members encouraged studies that examine the educational benefits of particular instructional approaches. They also highlighted the importance of collaborative cross-institutional and cross-agency efforts to advance CTE research.

Readers are invited to read the summary of the TWG discussion.

By Corinne Alfeld (NCER program officer) and Kimberley Sprague (former NCSER program officer)

Building Evidence: Changes to the IES Goal Structure for FY 2019

The IES Goal Structure was created to support a continuum of education research that divides the research process into stages for both theoretical and practical purposes. Individually, the five goals – Exploration (Goal 1), Development and Innovation (Goal 2), Efficacy and Replication (Goal 3), Effectiveness (Goal 4), and Measurement (Goal 5) – were intended to help focus the work of researchers, while collectively they were intended to cover the range of activities needed to build evidence-based solutions to the most pressing education problems in our nation. Implicit in the goal structure is the idea that over time, researchers will identify possible strategies to improve student outcomes (Goal 1), develop and pilot-test interventions (Goal 2), and evaluate the effects of interventions with increasing rigor (Goals 3 and 4).

Over the years, IES has received many applications and funded a large number of projects under Goals 1-3.  In contrast, IES has received relatively few applications and awarded only a small number of grants under Goal 4. To find out why – and to see if there were steps IES could take to move more intervention studies through the evaluation pipeline – IES hosted a Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting in 2016 to hear views from experts on what should come after an efficacy study (see the relevant summary and blog post). IES also issued a request for public comment on this question in July 2017 (see summary).

The feedback we received was wide-ranging, but there was general agreement that IES could do more to encourage high-quality replications of interventions that show prior evidence of efficacy. One recommendation was to place more emphasis on understanding “what works for whom” under various conditions.  Another comment was that IES could provide support for a continuum of replication studies.  In particular, some commenters felt that the requirements in Goal 4 to use an independent evaluator and to carry out an evaluation under routine conditions may not be practical or feasible in all cases, and may discourage some researchers from going beyond Goal 3.   

In response to this feedback, IES revised its FY 2019 RFAs for Education Research Grants (84.305A) and Special Education Research Grants (84.324A) to make clear its interest in building more and better evidence on the efficacy and effectiveness of interventions. Among the major changes are the following:

  • Starting in FY 2019, Goal 3 will continue to support initial efficacy evaluations of interventions that have not been rigorously tested before, in addition to follow-up and retrospective studies.
  • Goal 4 will now support all replication studies of interventions that show prior evidence of efficacy, including but not limited to effectiveness studies.
  • The maximum amount of funding that may be requested under Goal 4 is higher to support more in-depth work on implementation and analysis of factors that moderate or mediate program effects.

The table below summarizes the major changes. We strongly encourage potential applicants to carefully read the RFAs (Education Research, 84.305A and Special Education Research, 84.324A) for more details and guidance, and to contact the relevant program officers with questions (contact information is in the RFA).

Applications are due August 23, 2018 by 4:30:00 pm Washington DC time.

 

Name Change

Focus Change

Requirements Change

Award Amount Change

Goal 3

Formerly “Efficacy and Replication;” in FY2019, “Efficacy and Follow-Up.”

Will continue to support initial efficacy evaluations of interventions in addition to follow-up and retrospective studies.

No new requirements.

No change.

Goal 4

Formerly “Effectiveness;” in FY2019, “Replication: Efficacy and Effectiveness.”

Will now support all replications evaluating the impact of an intervention. Will also support Efficacy Replication studies and Re-analysis studies.

Now contains a requirement to describe plans to conduct analyses related to implementation and analysis of key moderators and/or mediators. (These were previously recommended.)

Efficacy Replication studies maximum amount: $3,600,000.

Effectiveness studies maximum amount: $4,000,000.

Re-analysis studies maximum amount: $700,000.

 

 

By Thomas Brock (NCER Commissioner) and Joan McLaughlin (NCSER Commissioner)

IES Funds New Research in Career and Technical Education

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funds research in a broad array of education topics. In fact, the Education Research Grants Program alone funds research in 11 specific topics, such as early learning, reading and writing, STEM, postsecondary and adult education, English learners, social behavioral contexts for learning and others.

In 2017, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) introduced a twelfth area, Special Topics, to address important areas in education that are of high interest to policy makers and practitioners where there is a research gap.

As we noted in a previous blog, Career and Technical Education (CTE) is one such area. Across the country, CTE programs and policies are growing, creating a greater need for high-quality, independent research in this area. The Career and Technical Education (CTE) special topic seeks to fill this research gap by funding projects that study the implementation of CTE programs and policies and how they impact student outcomes in K-12 education. In 2017, IES has funded its first three special topic research grants on CTE:

  • New York University will study the impact of New York City's Career Technical Education programs on students' career and work-related learning experiences, social and behavioral competencies, high school completion, and transitions to college and the work place;
  • The Education Development Center will lead a study that compares three different ways that CTE is delivered in California—career academies, career pathways, and elective CTE courses. The researchers will examine relationships between CTE delivery mode and student outcomes; and
  • A study of Florida’s CTE certification program will be conducted by Research Triangle Institute (RTI). The study will identify which high school certifications are associated with a higher likelihood of passing certification exams and whether obtaining a certification leads to better attendance, graduation rates, and postsecondary enrollment and persistence.

For its 2018 grant competition, IES is again accepting applications for CTE research grants, as well as two other special topics.

The Arts in Education special topic funds research to better understand how arts programs and policies are implemented and the impact they have on student outcomes. The research coming out of this program can help inform policy debates regarding the benefits of arts programming in schools. (Read a recent blog post on this topic.)

The Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students special topic seeks to fund research aimed at improving the education and outcomes for students who frequently move schools because of changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds or are a part of military families. (Read a recent blog post on this topic.)

You can learn more about these and other funding opportunities on the IES website, and on Facebook and Twitter

Written by Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

Awards to Accelerate Research in Education Technology

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), in partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA), has made awards to two U.S.-based accelerators – organizations that provide support to technology developers and researchers in the development and launch of new innovations. They are among 68 awards made under SBA’s 2016 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition

The $50,000, one-year awards are designed to support accelerators in building the capacity of education technology small businesses to conduct research in the development and evaluation of new innovative products.

The Role of Accelerators in Education

Accelerators fill an important role in the fast-growing, education technology ecosystem by offering a “one-stop shop” for small businesses looking to advance their research and development, and commercialization processes. For example, accelerators assist with idea formation and market analysis, software development, licensing and copyright planning, networking, manufacturing, raising investment funds, and getting the products tested by schools.

However, not many education accelerators provide assistance to developers in conducting rigorous and relevant education research. Because start-ups typically do not employ or partner with education researchers, many new technologies are often not iteratively developed and refined based on feedback from students and teachers or evaluated for promise or efficacy in improving education outcomes. The lack of research-based information often leaves school practitioners without the information they need to guide decision making on whether to adopt a new intervention.

To help strengthen these areas, the U.S. Department of Education/IES partnered with SBA to create a new topic in this year’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition—Education Technology Research. This topic called for applications from accelerators with plans to support developers in conducting education research, including research to inform concept idea development, research to test prototypes and inform refinements, and pilot studies to evaluate the promise and efficacy of fully developed technologies. Applications were reviewed by a panel of expert judges. The two awards were made to the following accelerators:

  • Virginia-based Jefferson Education, which will build a foundation for a national education researcher database to connect entrepreneurial developers to a qualified education research partners. The database will facilitate the creation of partnerships to carry out a wide range of research studies, from case studies to inform the development of a new intervention to experimentally designed studies of the education outcomes of fully developed technology interventions.
  • California-based New Schools Ignite/WestED Research Partnership, which will create a website with free resources and information on the role of different forms of research across the lifespan of a technology intervention, training and assistance in research methods, and with opportunities to conduct research in education settings. The funding will also be used develop data collection and analysis systems to help entrepreneurs understand the impact and effectiveness of the technologies housed within the accelerator.

Along with building the research capacity of developers, the awardees will disseminate information to developers about IES programs that fund research, development and evaluation, including the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research program and the IES Research Grants Programs in Education Technology for Education and Special Education.

For more information about how IES is supporting the development of education technology, visit the IES website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Exploring the Role of Physical Activity, Inactivity, and Sleep in Academic Outcomes

What role do physical activity, inactivity, and sleep habits play in students’ academic outcomes? Some new IES-funded research grants will help us find out.

Three new IES grants funded under the Education Research Grants program will explore how students’ physical activity, sleep habits, and cognitive tempo are associated with their socio-emotional and academic outcomes.  Here is a brief summary of these studies along with their potential contributions to research, practice, and policy. 

Physical activity – While physical activity is generally accepted as a positive thing, its full effect on children's cognitive and academic outcomes remains uncertain and little is known about whether increased opportunities for physical activity are associated with improved academic achievement. In this new grant, Michael Willoughby, of RTI International,  and colleagues will examine whether, and under what conditions, individual differences in child physical activity in preschool settings are associated with enhanced executive functioning and academic achievement. The findings from this project may help inform school policy decisions about the frequency and amount of student physical activity during the school day.

Sleep - Sleep problems are considerably more common in individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in comparison to the general population. Approximately 30% of children and 60% of adults with ADHD exhibit significant sleep problems. Little is known, however, about how sleep problems contribute to the educational functioning of adolescents with ADHD or why prevalence rates are higher among adolescents with ADHD. In this new grant, Joshua Langberg, of Virginia Commonwealth University, will lead a team that will conduct a longitudinal study of students with and without ADHD from Grades 8 to 10. They will assess sleep patterns, academic, and social functioning, and factors that may differentially predict the presence of sleep problems. The findings from this project may lead to recommendations for how and when schools can include sleep assessments as part of psychoeducational evaluations and may help inform policy decisions about school contextual factors that can impact sleep, such as the amount of homework assigned. In addition, the findings from this project can be used to inform the development of a school-based intervention that addresses sleep problems.

Sluggish Cognitive Tempo - Sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) refers to a specific set of attention symptoms, including excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog," and slowed thinking or behavior. In this new grant, Stephen Becker, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and his colleagues will examine the academic and socio-emotional problems experienced by students in grades 2 to 5 with elevated SCT symptoms. They will examine the current patterns of school referrals, educational accommodations, and interventions for children with elevated levels of SCT. The findings from this project can inform the development of interventions to mitigate the long-term consequences of sluggish cognitive tempo on students’ socio-emotional and academic outcomes.

Written by Christina Chhin, Education Research Analyst, National Center for Education Research