IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

From Disproportionate Discipline to Thriving Students: An IES Postdoc’s Mission

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. This week, Dr. Courtney Zulauf-McCurdy, an IES postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training (SMART) Center, shares her experiences and discusses her path forward.

 

My interests in child development began early on. I moved frequently for my parents’ work, so I was often seen as an outsider by the other children at the schools I attended. One school in particular had a group of “popular students” who bullied others and were particularly aggressive to peers. Often, teachers and parents would turn a blind eye to this behavior, and I became curious about how parents and educators respond to and shape child behavior.

Understanding Disparities in Early Childhood

I pursued a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago out of a desire to advocate for children in both research and clinical practice. As a graduate student in the Social Emotional Teaching and Learning (SETL) Lab, I worked directly with parents, educators, and young children to understand how the school and home environment shape child behavior. Much of our research aimed to support teachers in improving children’s social-emotional development, but what I learned was that teachers weren’t providing equal opportunities and experiences to all children.

In particular, I became focused on an alarming disparity: disproportionate discipline. Not only are preschoolers being expelled at rates three times higher than students in K-12, but there are large discipline disparities by gender and race. In AY 2013-14, the U.S. Department of Education reported that Black children composed 19% of enrollment but 47% of those expelled. A report citing data from the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau found that children with social emotional difficulties are 14.5 times more likely to be expelled.

During graduate school, I explored the reasons why Black boys are being disproportionately expelled and found that it was at least in part related to teachers’ biased perceptions of parents. Because of this, I became interested in developing evidenced-based interventions for parents and educators to protect children from being expelled.

For my clinical internship, I specialized in integrated behavioral health at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where I provided evidenced-based practices to children and families in underserved community settings. Here, I learned about behavioral interventions that improve child behavior, which work best when parents and teachers work together across home and school. However, I noticed that children of color were less likely to receive evidenced-based interventions (such as classroom-based behavioral interventions or parent management training), and even when they do, parents and teachers experience barriers to working together to implement these interventions. As a result, I shifted my focus from designing new interventions to understanding how to improve the implementation of interventions in community settings that serve young children from under-represented backgrounds.

Moving from Intervention Development to Implementation Science

As a second year IES postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington (UW) SMART Center, I am combining my research interests with implementation science. I am partnering with educators and parents to understand how teacher perceptions of parents and parent engagement is an implementation determinant—that is, a barrier or facilitator. Together, we are learning how to reduce disparities in preschool by improving the implementation of interventions that allow for early, easy, and acceptable access to families who face the highest levels of barriers. 

I have been using stakeholder-engaged processes consisting of focus groups, community advisory boards, and rapid try outs of strategies to ensure equity by engaging the perspectives of families from under-represented minority backgrounds. Such community engagement aims to ensure that our interventions are culturally responsive and unimpeded by bias.

Through my work, I have learned that educators and parents want the best outcomes for their children but face a multitude of barriers that hinder their ability to engage. For example, preschool teachers have limited resources, face stress and burnout, are under-prepared and underpaid, leading to considerable barriers in addressing the mental health needs of young children. Likewise, parents face obstacles such as perceived bias from their child’s school and logistical barriers such as time and childcare.

Moving Forward

I will continue working directly with parents and educators to understand how we can place all young children (and their families) in the best position to thrive. I will continue to use research methods, such as community advisory boards and qualitative methods, that seek to elevate the voices of parents and educators to promote equitable child outcomes. Through continued collaboration with community partners, disseminating my findings to parents, educators, and practitioners and connecting research with culturally responsive early childhood practice and policies, I hope to dismantle disparities in preschool outcomes.


Produced by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants, and Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research.

A Work in Progress: Insights on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Education Research

For over a year, IES has been exploring how to expand participation in the education sciences and in our grant programs through a technical working group and a series of listening sessions. In recognition of Black History Month, we asked IES grantee Dr. D. Crystal Byndloss, MDRC’s director of outreach, diversity, and inclusion and senior associate, to discuss her career experiences and share advice for the field on how to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into education research. 

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

My research interests, especially those focused on identifying ways to support moderately and high-performing students of color from low-income backgrounds, stems from my personal experience. I was raised by a single mother, an immigrant to the United States, who enrolled me in K-12 schools where I was challenged academically and exposed to new social and cultural experiences. That foundation prepared me to enroll in a college that emphasized writing, where I developed my interest in research. In college, I was also embraced by two Black professors—a sociologist whose teaching style I wanted to emulate in the classroom and a historian who mentored me through the graduate school application process. These individuals—and my kindergarten teacher, a Black female immigrant who would go on to earn her doctorate—made it possible for me to believe that pursuing a PhD was a possibility for me.

My dissertation examined how sociopolitical context influenced two education movements: a Black and Puerto Rican community’s involvement in the movement for community control of New York City schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and a Black community’s involvement in the creation of Milwaukee’s African-American immersion schools in the 1980s. Through my research, I was able to bring new voices to the literature and spotlight how these communities of color shaped the local public education landscape. I saw great value in the research endeavor and, during a postdoctoral fellowship, decided to explore a career as a researcher. I’ve been at MDRC for 15 years, where I’ve spent the last 12 working in K-12 education research. I’ve also worked as a consultant and as an assistant dean for research and associate director of a center at a college of education.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education?

Through MDRC’s Equity Collaborative, we are incorporating stronger equity-based and culturally responsive approaches into our research and technical assistance. For example, posing impact research questions to understand where inequities exist in high school course-taking and conducting qualitative and implementation research that speaks to the contextual factors that shape or reinforce inequities through school-based policies and procedures. As part of the IES-funded Career and Technical Education Research Network (CTERN) Equity in CTE Work Group, I also have an opportunity to engage other researchers on such topics as how best to deepen the field’s understanding of issues of equity and inequity in CTE research and evaluation. As a coming attraction, keep an eye on the CTERN website where we will make available an equity framework for CTE researchers.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I think we need to expand where we invest education research funding, a significant amount of which has been devoted to understanding what works for students from low-income backgrounds who are struggling academically. This is important work that needs to continue. We also need to expand our research inquiry to include more studies of interventions that help students from low-income communities who may be on track for academic success but who, without critical supports, are also in jeopardy of not reaching their full potential. Typically, we equate low income with low performing and, in so doing, miss a group of students who can benefit greatly from a variety of educational interventions. As a society, we need to move beyond the low expectations that are often placed on students from diverse communities—whether they are of color, from low-income backgrounds, or differently abled. We won’t be able to ameliorate inequities if we don’t fully appreciate the breadth of talent and potential that exists in these diverse communities.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered, and how did you overcome the challenge?

My biggest challenge is not one that I have overcome. My biggest challenge in the current moment is managing demanding work and home lives and not becoming undone by both. I serve on MDRC’s executive management team, lead our DEI work, and contribute to research. I am also the primary caregiver to both my mother and younger sister who have significant health and caregiving needs. I always have a running list in my head of things that need to get done and things that did not get done. I know I must prioritize self-care and, with that in mind, recently committed to pausing for seven minutes a day to take a deep breath and be still. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small act of self-preservation, but there are days when my seven-minute break eludes me. I am a work-in-progress.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

First, I would encourage doctoral programs to offer students a more expansive view of their career options beyond the academy. Research firms, policy organizations, education agencies, and funding and nonprofit organizations need and would benefit from the voices, talents, perspectives, and skills of scholars from underrepresented groups who could help shape their education research and evaluation initiatives. While I understand the academy’s desire to train its own workforce, students are seeking careers outside of the academy. Why not help them make more informed choices?

Second, thinking of IES in particular, the first time I attended an annual IES Principal Investigators meeting, I was stunned by the lack of racial diversity among the Principal Investigators in attendance. I asked myself: Where were the people who looked like me who were designing the studies, conducting the research, learning about new funding opportunities, and determining what research is of value to the field? Training fellowships, apprenticeships, and research partnerships serve as important bridges and pathway programs for underrepresented groups, and I would encourage IES to expand its current initiatives to reach more students and emerging scholars.

Third, borrowing an idea that a colleague shared with me, IES could develop an incentive program in which, during the proposal review process, it formally rewards teams that submit proposals that feature diverse research teams. This approach could lead to a set of innovative and inspired partnerships.

Finally, I ask everyone reading this blog to think about what you can do within your own sphere of influence to support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups. Consider inviting a student or peer researcher to join you at a meeting or conference where they can learn more about the research enterprise, discuss their own research interests, and be introduced to others with similar interests. Think creatively about partnerships and the types of opportunities that can be created that would allow scholars from underrepresented groups to bring their expertise to bear on a project you may be involved in or conceptualizing. There are myriad ways to offer support.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

My advice applies to anyone in any field: find a mentor and a sponsor—a mentor who will show you how to navigate the field and push you to stretch outside your comfort zone and a sponsor who will create opportunities for you or who will advocate for you when opportunities are being discussed and you are not in the room.


Dr. D. Crystal Byndloss is a member of the IES Technical Working Group Increasing Diversity and Representation of IES-funded Education Researchers. Byndloss holds dual roles at MDRC. She is the organization’s first director of outreach, diversity, and inclusion and a senior associate in the K-12 Education policy area, where for more than a decade she has researched and directed initiatives to promote college access and success for students with low incomes. She is a senior adviser to the IES-funded evaluation of the New York City P-TECH Grades 9-14 school model and is part of the IES-funded CTE Advise evaluation research team.

 

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, here, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Black History Month blog series, we are focusing on African American/Black researchers and fellows as well as researchers who focus on the education of Black students.

 

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.

 

IES Honors Sade Bonilla as 2019 Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow

Each year, IES recognizes an Outstanding Fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. Sade Bonilla, the 2019 awardee, received her doctorate in the Economics of Education from Stanford University. She is currently an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where her research focuses on K-12 education policy with a particular emphasis on high school to college transitions, career and technical education, and educational inequity. Sade recently presented her research and received her award at the 2022 IES Principal Investigators meeting in January. In this blog, we’ve asked her to share her career journey and recommendations for current and emerging education researchers.

How did you become interested in a career in education research?

My interest in educational inequity and reform efforts in public education stemmed from my personal experience as a Latina from a working-class family attending urban public schools. I was attracted to the field of education policy and research as a first-generation college student because the field seeks answers to questions that are intensely personal for me: what works for poor minoritized kids? In other words, how can policy be designed and implemented such that kids like me were not an exception. There were several key adults in my educational career that believed in me and told me about opportunities—such as opportunities for financial aid to attend private colleges—that shifted my life trajectory. When I arrived at college, I took public policy and education courses and read articles on so many different topics. I was floored that asking and pursuing the answers to questions that one finds interesting could be a career. 

What inspired you to focus your research on understanding the effects of local and state educational policies aimed at eliminating structural inequality?

My interest in investigating how contemporary educational reforms impact the trajectories of traditionally underserved youth stems from my personal experience and the knowledge of how historical and current policies—school segregation, redlining, justice system, etc.—serve to reinforce social inequality in schools. Schools are a cornerstone of our formative experience, and they are also central to communities, civic discourse, and career preparation. Given that schooling is so integral to how we learn to navigate society, I have been interested in understanding which policies and programs allow students to have agency to create their own paths. 

What do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

When I started graduate school, I received the advice to read the literature extensively and think about where I could add value in terms of advancing our understanding of certain questions. As I sought to figure out which questions to ask and answer, I drew on my personal experience and those of my family members to think about how students succeed in high school and choose a career path that may involve postsecondary education. I found it helpful to think through how first-generation families like my own navigate high school and the transition to college. This also led me to realize the importance, as a quantitative researcher, of speaking with people in the field. I have really enjoyed pursuing researcher-practitioner partnership research and have been learning about examples of youth participatory research that I hope to support someday as well. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars that are pursuing a career in education research?

I would advise them to choose questions that they are passionate about and to attend to questions and areas that tend to receive less attention. If an area of study is crowded and there are lots of people working in that space, be sure you think about how your work and thinking can provide unique insight. I would also hope that emerging scholars seek to do work that influences what happens in schools. To that end, I think it is important to pay attention to how practitioners are framing and understanding issues in the education system. Having this deeper understanding of the field will elevate your research and make it more impactful. 


Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see herehere, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our research training blog series, we are featuring winners of the 2019-2021 Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow awards. The 2019 winner, Sade Bonilla, was a fellow in the Stanford University Predoctoral Training Program in Quantitative Education Policy Analysis.

Produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research and Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.

 

CTE Month? More like CTE Year!

In honor of CTE month, we wanted to provide more information about the recent additions to NCER’s CTE research portfolio: 7 new grants awarded across 2 grant programs in FY2021. A previous blog last summer announced these grants; this blog briefly describes each project (the hyperlinks will take you to the full online project abstract). Be sure to read to the end for links to other CTE work across IES!

 

Within the Education Research Grants program (305A), the following projects were funded in 2021:

College and Career Readiness: Investigating California's Efforts to Expand Career Technical Education Through Dual Enrollment

(PI: Michal Kurlaender, University of California, Davis)

This project is examining the result of policy changes due to California Assembly Bill 288 (AB288), enacted in 2015 to create the College and Career Access Pathways (CCAP) partnership. CCAP increased the prominence of Career and Technical Education (CTE) at the high school level by allowing high schools and community colleges to enter joint partnerships and offer dual enrollment courses that count towards both a high school diploma and an associate degree from California community colleges. 

Postsecondary and Labor Market Effects of Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools

(PI: Marc Stein, Johns Hopkins University)

This project uses a unique selection process into CTE Centers within a large school district, linked with longitudinal state data, to provide strong evidence on the benefits and mechanisms of CTE participation on secondary education, postsecondary education, and labor market outcomes.

SREB Career and Technical Education Leadership Academy Study

(PI: James Stone, Southern Regional Education Board)

This project is developing, piloting, and studying the promise of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Career and Technical Education Leadership Academy to increase the capacity of school leaders at career and technology centers to work with their teachers as instructional leaders and thereby improve CTE outcomes for their students.

An Experimental Evaluation of the Efficacy of Virtual Enterprises

(Co-PIs: Fatih Unlu, RAND Corporation and Kathy Hughes, AIR)

In this project, the research team will provide the first causal evidence on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of Virtual Enterprises, a virtual school-based enterprise (SBE) program. SBEs are one form of work-based learning (WBL) in which students run a business that produces and sells goods or services. SBEs may offer unique benefits relative to other types of WBL by providing opportunities for more students to participate, reducing the need for transportation, and allowing students more room to make and learn from their mistakes. Note: Since this is an efficacy (causal impact) study, it has joined the CTE Research Network.

Sub-baccalaureate Career and Technical Education: A Study of Institutional Practices, Labor Market Demand, and Student Outcomes in Florida

(PI: Angela Estacion, WestEd)

The purpose of this project is to address existing policy and research gaps by, first, administering a statewide survey to catalogue the institutional practices that Florida community and technical colleges use to align CTE programming to the labor market. Second, by combining the survey data with student-level program participation and outcome data, the project team will ascertain the degree to which institutional practices and labor market conditions in students' geographical areas are correlated with students' choices and outcomes. Finally, the project team will analyze qualitative data collected from case studies of Florida community and technical colleges to describe the practices cited in the survey data and understand the process of aligning courses and programs with local labor market demand.

 

Within the “Using SLDS to Support State Education Policymaking” (305S) grant program, the following projects were funded in 2021:

The Distributional Effects of Secondary Career and Technical Educational (CTE) Programs on Postsecondary Educational and Employment Outcomes: An Evaluation of Delaware's CTE Programs of Study

(PI: Luke Rhine, Delaware Department of Education)

The Delaware Department of Education and University of Delaware is examining variability in participation rates among student subgroups in Delaware public high school CTE programs and link CTE high school participation to high school graduation, postsecondary enrollment, employment, and wages. Stay tuned to delawarepathways.org for more information as the project unfolds.

Analyzing and Understanding the Educational and Economic Impact of Regional Career Pathways

(PI: Jonathan Attridge, Tennessee)

The research team is conducting an evaluation of Tennessee Pathways (along with earlier career pathway programs), a state initiative to align K-12 education, postsecondary education, and employers so that high school students have a clear pathway to move into the workforce.

 

For a full list of CTE-related grants funded by NCER and NCSER across years, topics, and grant competitions, you can explore our “funded projects” search pages for NCER or NCSER. Here is a recent blog post about students with disabilities in CTE from NCSER. And don’t forget to visit the CTE Research Network frequently for many new CTE-related findings and resources!

NCEE and NCES have published multiple reports on CTE, including Career and Technical Education Credentials in Virginia High Schools: Trends in Attainment and College Enrollment Outcomes, as well as some great blogs such as this one on exploring the growing impact of career pathways from NCEE. You can see more on career readiness from NCEE here and from NCES here.

We are so pleased with the growth of this portfolio since our first call for more CTE research 5 years ago! However, there continues to be a need to better understand CTE. For instance, research is still needed on CTE measures and assessments, quality of programs (content, instruction, and opportunities for WBL), and variation in impacts across student subgroups and career clusters.


For more information about CTE research grants, including feedback on new project proposal ideas, please contact NCER program officer Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov.

“Grow-your-own” to Diversify the Teacher Workforce: Examining Recruitment Policies and Pathways to Recruit More Black Teachers

Research identifies benefits of access to same-race/ethnicity teachers for Black and Hispanic students. However, the teacher workforce is overwhelmingly White, and little is known about the system-level strategies that are successful at diversifying the profession. In recognition of Black History Month, we asked researcher Dr. David Blazar to discuss his recently awarded IES project that aims to advance the literature base on how school systems can recruit more Black teachers. This is what he shared.

What does existing research say about the need for more Black teachers?

Building on a longstanding theoretical and qualitative literature base from scholars including Gloria Ladson-Billings, Geneva Gay, Richard Milner, and many others, researchers have gathered causal evidence to support the claim of the benefit of Black teachers to Black students. Analyzing test score data from Tennessee's Project STAR experiment, Dee (2004) found that assignment to a Black teacher significantly increased the math and reading achievement of Black students.

Fast forward 18 years, and the research findings largely remain the same while the evidence base has grown substantially (see one meta-analysis, and a research synthesis). In the second experiment on this topic after Dee, my own recent analyses currently available in a working paper not only replicate the earlier test-score impacts, but also show that

  • Test-scores effects (roughly 0.2 SD) persist at very similar magnitudes 6 years later when students are in high school, a rare pattern in education research
  • Black and other underrepresented teachers of color have even larger effects (upwards of 0.45 SD) on the social-emotional development of their students of color and their White students
  • Black and other teachers of color are much more likely than White teachers to hold mindsets and engage in classroom practices aligned to “culturally responsive teaching,” which in turn benefits a range of student outcomes

In short: The effects of Black teachers on the outcomes of Black students are larger than those of most other interventions as documented in the broader education research literature (generally no higher than 0.1 SD).

I pair these hugely meaningful findings with three more sobering facts:

  • Black teachers are underrepresented in the teacher workforce. Roughly 7% of teachers nationally are Black, compared to roughly 15% of students. These patterns have not shifted much over the last several decades, even though calls to diversify the teacher workforce started over 30 years ago.
  • The mismatch between student and teacher demographics may be due to “leaks” at multiple stages of the school-to-career pipeline, including lower rates of high school graduation amongst Black students relative to their White peers, similar gaps in college graduation rates, less interest in teaching as a career, and greater financial barriers and opportunity costs even when the interest is there.
  • Despite impressive work by educators, scholars, and policymakers to design multiple strategies for recruiting Black individuals into teaching, the bulk of these remain “promising practices” rather than evidence-based best practices.

How will your IES-funded study address the need for more Black teachers?

Because the underrepresentation of Black teachers in U.S. schools is notable and longstanding, researchers and school systems must work together—and quickly—to consider multiple strategies. Stating that we need to diversify the teacher workforce is neither new nor novel. The imperative was posed several decades ago, and it is time that we figure out how best to do it.

To address this challenge head on, I am collaborating with Ramon Goings, Seth Gershenson, and other scholars, as well as with state agencies and policy actors in Maryland to explore several recruitment strategies aimed at diversifying the teacher workforce, implemented at different stages of the school-to-career pipeline.

Aligned to the theoretical literature, a core feature of our study is that we focus on strategies that look locally for prospective teaching talent and are therefore known as “grow-your-own” programs. These approaches aim to align the demographics of incoming teachers with the demographics of current student populations and ensure that those incoming teachers are familiar with the local area. We further designed our study to explore multiple components of and potential solutions to the policy problem, given that recruitment is unlikely to be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Even though the partnership and data come from Maryland, the recruitment strategies and our study are relevant to the recruitment strategies used in states across the country.

The three strategies are—

  • Early exposure to teaching in high school through the Teacher Academy of Maryland—a career and technical education program of study—that provides high school students with an opportunity to learn about teaching as a career, gain teaching experience in a real-world classroom, and earn an associate’s degree in teaching alongside their high school diploma.
  • Financial support and incentives for college students, including the recently implemented Teaching Fellows for Maryland Scholarship. Scholarships aim to decrease financial barriers and opportunity costs that may prevent Black individuals from becoming teachers.
  • Career-changer programs, such as alternative-route teacher certification and residency programs that both decrease barriers to entry into the profession and focus on recruiting locally.

Our analyses will provide some of the first quantitative data linking the rollout of varied recruitment strategies and the workforce decisions of prospective Black teachers. Beyond analyses of each individual program, our findings will provide important guidance not only about how best to intervene but also when to do so. We look forward to sharing what we find and to building an evidence base alongside other scholars and funding agencies tackling this important issue.


David Blazar is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) in the Education Policy and Leadership program. He also is the Faculty Director of the Maryland Equity Project, a UMCP initiative to improve educational outcomes and close achievement gaps through research.

This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Wai-Ying Chow (Wai-Ying.Chow@ed.gov), the Effective Instruction program officer within the National Center for Education Research.