IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Times of Plenty, Times of Scarcity: The Flow of Research Funding from NCER

By Tom Brock, NCER Commissioner

If you are a subscriber to the IES Newsflash, you have seen a series of announcements of our FY 2015 research grant and training awards. It is a banner year, with 117 new research and training grants being made. As shown in Figure 1, the new grants include 81 Education Research grants (84.305A), eight new training grants (84.305B), two Research and Development Centers (84.305C), 12 Education Statistics and Research Methodology grants, and 14 Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy grants (84.305H). This is the largest number of awards NCER has made in several years.

Figure 1. FY 2015 NCER Research and Research Training Awards

Why so many new awards? In part, it is because we had many strong applications this year, as determined through our peer review process. It is also because there is a natural ebb-and-flow in the proportion of our budget that is available for new awards. In years when many older grants are ending – such as FY 2015 – we have more money to make new awards; in years when many older grants are continuing, we have less money for new awards. This trend is illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. NCER Grant Funding: FY 2012 - FY 2017 (Estimated)

Unfortunately, the positive funding picture for FY 2015 has negative implications for FY 2016. The large number of new awards we are making this year will limit the amount of money we have for new awards next year. Indeed, we estimate that we will have only about 1/3 the funding for new awards in FY 2016 that we have in FY 2015. This is because a higher proportion of our budget will go toward continuation costs.

In anticipation of next year’s limited funds, we have established funding priorities and taken steps to contain expenditures for new awards in FY 2016. Our priorities emerged from discussions with the National Board of Education Sciences, and from input we received from technical working group meetings with education researchers and practitioners and the public. Below is a summary of the programs NCER will be competing and the steps we have taken to limit costs:

  • We are inviting applications for our Education Research Grants program (84.305A), which supports a wide variety of field-initiated research projects in 10 different topic areas. For the first time, however, we are restricting applications to four research goals: Exploration (Goal 1), Efficacy and Replication (Goal 3), Effectiveness (Goal 4), and Measurement (Goal 5). We are not inviting Development and Innovation (or “Goal 2”) applications, mainly because our Education Research Grant portfolio is already heavily weighted toward these projects. We also reduced the maximum amount of funding available for each of the research goals. For example, we reduced the maximum award for an Exploration project using secondary data from $800,000 to $700,000, and the maximum award for an Efficacy study from $3.5 million to $3.3 million. We did not reduce any maximum award by more than $200,000.
  • We are launching a new training program called Pathways to the Education Sciences (84.305B), which Katina Stapleton described in a June 4 blog. The Pathways program is the only training program we are competing in FY 2016; we are not inviting new proposals for pre- or post-doctoral training, or for methods training. We expect to make up to four awards for the Pathways program.
  • We are requesting applications for a Research and Development (R&D) Center on Virtual Learning (84.305C), which will support efforts by researchers to conduct rapid cycle experiments to improve widely-used education technologies in the K-12 sector. The Center will also explore how the large amounts of data generated by education technologies may be used to support meaningful improvements in classroom teaching and student learning. The Virtual Learning R&D Center was competed in FY 2015, but no application received a high enough score to justify an award. We expect to make one grant in FY 2016.
  • We are inviting applications for our Statistics and Research Methodology in Education program (84.305D), which is intended to produce statistical and methodological tools that will better enable education scientists to conduct rigorous education research. For FY 2016, we are limiting applications to Early Career researchers who are within five years of earning their PhDs. We will make up to four awards.
  • We are requesting applications for our Researcher/Practitioner Partnership program (84.305H), which provides funding for researchers and practitioners to work together on an education problem or issue that practitioners identify as a priority. We are not inviting applicationsfor the Continuous Improvement Research in Education program, in part so we can learn from recent grants under this topic. Nor are we inviting applications for the Evaluation of State and Local Programs and Policies program. For FY 2016, we will make up to five awards for Researcher/Practitioner partnerships.
  • We are launching a new program called Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Education Policy and Practice (84.305N), which I described in a blog post on May 27. For FY 2016, we are requesting applications from researchers who are interested in forming networks on two topics: (1) Supporting Early Learning from Preschool Through Early Elementary School Grades (Early Learning Network); and (2) Scalable Strategies to Support College Completion (College Completion Network).

We are hopeful that the funding limitations we have imposed on many of our programs are temporary. If you are applying for an education research or training grant in FY 2016, make sure you read the Request for Applications (RFA) carefully to make sure your proposed project and budget fall within the application guidelines. If our overall grants budget stays level, we anticipate somewhat greater capacity to make new awards in FY 2017.

Please send any comments or questions to us at IESResearch@ed.gov

 

The Month in Review: June 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

Welcome to our second “Month in Review” post! In addition to writing blogs, both NCER and NCSER have been busy making new awards this month, and preparing abstracts describing our newly funded projects published on our website. 

New Research Awards

Across the two research centers, IES awarded 148 new discretionary grants to support research and research training activities. I hope that you will take the time to dip into our abstracts describing the individual projects. From early childhood to postsecondary, from basic cognitive science to system-level analysis, from exploration to impact, the projects reflect the wide scope of education research questions that the IES research centers support. To learn more about the awards, click here to read about the new NCSER awards, and here for information about the new NCER awards. Be sure to check back on Monday, July 6th, to read a new blog from Commissioner Brock discussing the 2015 awards and the forecast for 2016.

IES Funded Research in the News

Research findings from the Cognition and Student Learning portfolio were featured in two EdWeek articles in June. These articles describe some of the exciting work being done to address long-standing questions of transferring knowledge learned in one class or context to support new learning in mathematics  and science.

The ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) portfolio was featured in three different articles in June! Read more about how games developed with SBIR funding are being used to teach students about a wide variety of topics, like algebra, environmental science, and social skills.

IES Staff Presentations

On June 16-17, NCSER co-sponsored a Technical Working Group Meeting with the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) on Evidence-Based and Emerging Practices: State of Science and Practice for Children with Disabilities.  The meeting was an important opportunity for leaders in the field of special education to share what has been learned across a number of pivotal areas in research and practice and also to identify some promising next steps. A synthesis of the meeting is underway and will be available later this year.

ED/IES SBIR program officer Ed Metz participated in the National SBIR Conference, and led a panel on games for learning.

Applying for IES Research Funding This Summer? Missed Our Webinars?

No problem. PowerPoint presentations and transcripts from the webinars led by our program officers are available on our website. Click here to access information about preparing grant applications for IES. 

 

Creating Pathways to Doctoral Study in the Education Sciences

By Katina Stapleton, NCER Program Officer 

 

In April 2015, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) launched its newest research training funding opportunity: the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program. The purpose of the Pathways Training Program is to fund new innovative training programs that promote diversity and prepare underrepresented students for doctoral study in education research. In this blog, I want to provide some background on how the Pathways Training Program was developed and respond to frequently asked questions.

NCER has supported research training programs since 2004, training over 900 pre- and post-doctoral fellows. In 2014, NCER and NCSER sought input from our stakeholders to determine what was going well with our training programs, and to identify areas where we could improve. For example, we held a Technical Working Group meeting, solicited public comment, and engaged with our PIs during our IES Principal Investigators meeting. We also discussed the future of our training programs with the National Board of Education Sciences. As part of these conversations, we asked participants to reflect on whether the needs of the education sciences are the same as when the training programs were established.  One issue that emerged was the demographic shifts taking place across the nation and the need for education researchers to be attuned to an array of social, cultural, and economic issues as they plan and conduct their work. Another issue that emerged was the need to increase the diversity of fellows served by our training programs and in the education research profession as a whole. 

NCER developed the Pathways Training Program in response to this input. The Pathways training program is modeled on efforts by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health  to increase diversity in the sciences. The Pathways program establishes research training programs at Minority Serving Institutions (and their partners) that will provide students, especially underrepresented students, with an introduction to education research and scientific methods, meaningful opportunities to participate in education research studies, and professional development and mentoring that leads to doctoral study.

The core feature of the Pathways Training Program is a required research apprenticeship, in which fellows gain hands-on research experience under the supervision of faculty mentors. While there are several additional recommended components, the Pathways Training Program Request for Applications (RFA) was purposefully designed to encourage innovation, and therefore provides applicants with wide latitude in how the training program is structured, the student population of interest (i.e. advanced undergrad vs. post-baccalaureate vs. masters), and the training partners involved. Since the request for applications was released, we have received several questions from interested applicants. We have responded to those questions below:     

  • Are individual Pathways programs restricted to minority students? No. The Pathways Training Program, is open to all students, however, it seeks to increase the number of fellows from groups underrepresented in doctoral study, including racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, economically disadvantaged students, veterans, and students with disabilities. We encourage all Pathways applicants to consult the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Right’s Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education when deciding their student population of interest and developing their proposed program’s recruitment plan.
  • Is my institution eligible to apply? The Pathways Training Program was designed to award training grants to minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and other institutions of higher education in partnership with MSIs. MSIs are institutions of higher education in the United States and its territories enrolling populations with significant percentages of undergraduate minority students or that serve certain populations of minority students under various programs created by Congress or other federal agencies. The Institute chose to focus on MSIs because of their long history as critical stepping stones for underrepresented minority students who pursue doctoral degrees. The RFA defines several categories of MSIs, gives criteria for being considered an eligible MSI, and provides 3 lists that applicants can use to certify that their institution is an eligible MSI for the purpose of this RFA. If your institution does not meet these criteria, then you will have to partner with an eligible MSI in order to apply. If you have any questions, please contact Katina Stapleton, the program officer for the Pathways Program, for assistance. However, ultimately, it will be your institution’s responsibility to demonstrate that it is an eligible MSI.  
  • Can my institution submit more than one Pathways application? No. An institution may submit only one application to the Pathways Training Program. If more than one application from your institution is submitted, IES will only accept one of them for consideration. We recommend that before applying you contact your institution’s sponsored projects’ office to make sure there isn’t another Pathways application already in progress.
  • Can my institution participate in more than one Pathways application? Yes. Please note that the Pathways program is structured so that applications can be submitted by single institutions or by partnerships of two or more institutions. While institutions can only submit one application, it is possible for institutions to serve as a partner on multiple applications.
  • Can I still apply even though I missed the deadline for the Letter of Intent? Yes. Letters of Intent are completely optional. Therefore, even if you missed the deadline, you can still submit an application. If you missed the deadline, but would still like feedback on your proposed training program, please contact Katina Stapleton.

If you would like to learn more about the Pathways Training Program and other potential funding opportunities, please sign up for the Funding Opportunities for Minority Serving Institutions webinar that will be held on Tuesday, June 9th, 2015, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM ET. 

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.