IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

A Renewed Focus on Education Leadership

Education leaders, such as school principals, have been the focus of education research for decades. While research suggests that there are substantial (albeit mostly indirect) relationships between school leadership and student achievement, there is still much to learn. More information is needed about how the knowledge, skills, abilities, and actions of school leaders are impacting student outcomes and the best ways to prepare and support school leaders.

Since 2004, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has only funded 15 research studies on education leadership through several education research grant programs. A technical working group met last year and recommended that NCER strengthen its portfolio of research on this important topic.

In response, IES is revamping its Education Leadership topic as a separate part of its Education Research grants program. By doing so, we hope to provide a greater focus on education leadership research and increase understanding of how school leadership can improve achievement and opportunities for students.

Through the leadership topic, IES is offering research opportunities on programs, policies, and practices that support leaders in K-12 education systems at the school, district, or state level and ultimately lead to improved student outcomes.  While IES invites all applications that meet the topic requirements, we are especially interested in

  • exploratory research on the specific competencies and behaviors needed by leaders to support at-risk or high-risk students and improve student outcomes in challenging educational settings, such as persistently low-performing schools and high-poverty schools and districts;
  • exploratory research on the relationship between student education outcomes and district policies regarding the identification and selection of education leaders, assignment of leaders to specific schools, leadership turnover, and the distribution of leadership roles and responsibilities among multiple individuals within a school;
  • evaluations of leadership interventions that have the potential to improve student outcomes; and
  • the validation of existing leadership measures and the development and validation of new leadership measures for the purpose of research, formative assessment, and accountability.

Education leadership researchers who have strong partnerships with school districts and/or state education agencies should also consider applying to the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic within the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy grants program.  This topic allows researchers to carry out initial research that is of importance to district and/or state partners and then develop a plan for future research.

For more information on funding opportunities for research on education leadership contact Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) or Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov) or visit the IES website. If you missed the deadline to submit an optional Letter of Intent for the Education Leadership topic, please email it to Katina or Corinne directly.

A One-Stop Shop for Leadership Research

We have consolidated all education research grants related to education leaders under our Education Leadership research portfolio. The focus of these studies varies and includes the development and validation of leadership measures (such as the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) and the exploration of potential relationship(s) between malleable factors (such as principals’ skills and behaviors) and student outcomes. In addition to these studies, NCER has funded research on education leadership through its R&D centers on school choice, scaling up effective schools, and analyzing longitudinal education data

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER

PHOTO: Principals meet with the U.S. Department of Education leadership in 2015 (courtesy of U.S. Department of Education)

IES Funded Researchers Receive Awards at AERA

The annual American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference is a great opportunity for thousands of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to learn from one another and make connections that will help improve education. It is also a chance to celebrate and honor those who are doing outstanding work in the education research field. This year’s conference, held April 8-12, was no exception.

Among the AERA award winners who were honored this week are five people who have received funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)—Michelene Chi, Douglas and Lynn Fuchs, Andrew Porter, and Daniel Schwartz.

Douglas and Lynn Fuchs received the 2014 “Distinguished Contributions to Research in Education Award,” which AERA describes as the premier acknowledgment of outstanding achievement and success in education research. The winner of this award gives a presentation at the annual conference. The Fuchs’ (pictured right) gave their presentation this year, which was entitled “The Changing Counterfactual in Schools and Classrooms: Implications for Educational Research. They are currently leading an IES research initiative, Improving Reading and Mathematics Outcomes for Students with Learning Disabilities: Next Generation Intensive Interventions.

The 2015 Distinguished Contributions winner, Andrew Porter (pictured left), also gave his address this week, entitled Standards-Based Reforms: Its Implementation and Effects. His most recent IES funding is to stand up a new Research and Development Center, the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning (C-SAIL).

In a recent post on the Inside IES Research blog, Dr. Porter discussed the work of C-SAIL , which seeks to deepen the understanding of the impact that college- and career-readiness standards are having on student outcomes. 

The 2016 winner of the Distinguished Contribution to Research in Education Award is Michelene Chi, who is also an IES-funded principal investigator (PI). She will give her award address at next spring’s AERA conference in San Antonio.

Through an IES-funded grant, Dr. Chi (pictured right) is actively seeking to bring principles of learning from cognitive science into the hands of teachers so that their instruction can transform student learning.

Daniel Schwartz, who has spent his career bringing principles of learning from cognitive science into the classroom, received the 2015 Sylvia Scribner Award, which honors current research that represents a significant advancement in our understanding of learning and instruction. Dr. Schwartz (pictured left) delivered his award address at this week’s AERA meeting. His current IES project is seeking to create a set of principles to select problem sets for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) domains.

You can learn more about the AERA awards on their website. Congratulations to all the winners! 

Photo Credits: Douglas and Lynn Fuchs, Vanderbilt University; Andrew Porter, University of Pennsylvania; Michelene Chi, Arizona State University; Daniel Schwartz, Stanford University

By Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner, NCER

The Institute of Education Sciences at AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) will hold its annual meeting April 8 through April 12 in Washington, D.C.—the largest educational research gathering in the nation. This will be a special meeting for AERA, as it is celebrating 100 years of advocating for the development and use of research in education. The program includes hundreds of sessions, including opportunities to learn about cutting edge education research and opportunities to broaden and deepen the field. 

About 30 sessions will feature staff from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) discussing IES-funded research, evaluation, and statistics, as well as training and funding opportunities.

On Saturday, April 9, at 10:35 a.m., attendees will have a chance to meet the Institute’s leadership and hear about the areas of work that IES will be focusing on in the coming year. Speakers include Ruth Curran Neild, IES’ delegated director, and the leaders of the four centers in IES: Thomas Brock, commissioner of the National Center for Education Research (NCER); Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES); Joy Lesnick, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), and Joan McLaughlin, commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

On Monday, April 11, at 9:45 a.m., attendees can speak to one of several IES staffers who will be available at the Research Funding Opportunities—Meet Your Program Officers session. Program officers from NCER, NCSER, and NCEE will be on hand to answer questions about programs and grant funding opportunities. Several IES representatives will also be on hand Monday afternoon, at 4:15 p.m. for the Federally Funded Data Resources: Opportunities for Research session to discuss the myriad datasets and resources that are available to researchers.

NCES staff will lead sessions and present on a variety of topics, from The Role of School Finance in the Pursuit of Equity (Saturday, 12:25 p.m.) to Understanding Federal Education Policies and Data about English Learners (Sunday, April 10, 8:15 a.m.) and what we can learn from the results of PIAAC, a survey of adult skills (also Sunday, 8:15 a.m.). Dr. Carr will be a part of several sessions, including one on Sunday morning (10:35 a.m.) about future directions for NCES longitudinal studies and another on Monday morning (10 a.m.) entitled Issues and Challenges in the Fair and Valid Assessment of Diverse Populations in the 21st Century

On Monday, at 11:45 a.m., you can also learn about an IES-supported tool, called RCT-YES, that is designed to reduce barriers to rigorous impact studies by simplifying estimation and reporting of study results (Dr. Lesnick will be among those presenting). And a team from the IES research centers (NCER/NCSER) will present Sunday morning (10:35 a.m.) on communication strategies for disseminating education research (which includes this blog!).

IES staff will also participate in a number of other roundtables and poster sessions. For instance, on Tuesday, April 12, at 8:15 a.m., grab a cup of coffee and attend the structured poster session with the Institute’s 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs). This session will focus on building partnerships to improve data use in education.  REL work will also be featured at several other AERA sessions.  

Did you know that the National Library of Education (NLE) is a component of IES? On Friday and Monday afternoon, attendees will have a unique opportunity to go on a site visit to the library. You’ll learn about the library’s current and historical resources – including its collection of more than 20,000 textbooks dating from the mid-19th century. The Library offers information, statistical, and referral services to the Department of Education and other government agencies and institutions, and to the public.

If you are going to AERA, follow us on Twitter to learn more about our sessions and our work.  And if you are tweeting during one of our sessions, please include @IESResearch in your tweet. 

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

C-SAIL: Studying the Impact of College- and Career-Readiness Standards

The nationwide effort to implement college- and career-ready standards is designed to better prepare students for success after high school, whether that means attending a postsecondary institution, entering the work force, or some combination of both. But there is little understanding about how these standards have been implemented across the country or the full impact they are having on student outcomes.  

To fill that void, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funded a new five-year research center, the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL). The center is studying the implementation of college- and career-ready standards and assessing how the standards are related to student outcomes. The center is also developing and testing an intervention that supports standards-aligned instruction.

Andy Porter (pictured right), of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, is the director of C-SAIL and recently spoke with James Benson, the IES project officer for the center. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

You have been studying education standards for over 30 years. What motivated you to assemble a team of researchers and state partners to college- and career-readiness standards?

Standards-based reform is in a new and promising place with standards that might be rigorous enough to close achievement gaps that advocates have been fighting to narrow for the last 30 years. And with so many states implementing new standards, researchers have an unprecedented opportunity to learn about how standards-based reform is best done. We hypothesize that the only modest effects of standards-based reform thus far are largely due to the fact that those reforms stalled at the classroom door, so a focus of the Center will be how implementation is achieved and supported among teachers.

What are the main projects within the Center, and what are a few of the key questions that they are currently addressing?

We have four main projects. The first, an implementation study, asks, “How are state, district, and school-level educators making sense of the new standards, and what kinds of guidance and support is available to them?” We’re comparing and contrasting implementation approaches in four states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio and Texas. In addition to reviewing state policy documents, we’re surveying approximately 280 district administrators, 1,120 principals, and 6,720 teachers across (the same) four states, giving special attention to the experiences of English language learners and students with disabilities.

The second project is a longitudinal study that asks, “How are college- and career-readiness standards impacting student outcomes across all 50 states?” and “How are English language learners and students with disabilities affected by the new standards?” We’re analyzing data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and other sources to estimate the effects of college- and career-readiness standards on student achievement, high school completion, and college enrollment. Specifically, we’re examining whether implementing challenging state academic standards led to larger improvements in student outcomes in states with lower prior standards than in states with higher prior standards.

The third project is the Feedback on Alignment and Support for Teachers (FAST) intervention study, in which we are building an original intervention designed to assist teachers in providing instruction aligned to their state’s standards. FAST features real-time, online, personalized feedback for teachers, an off-site coach to assist teachers in understanding and applying aligned materials, and school-level collaborative academic study teams in each school.

The fourth project is a measurement study to determine the extent to which instruction aligns with college- and career-readiness standards. C-SAIL is developing new tools to assess alignment between teachers' instruction and state standards in English language arts and math.

How do you envision working with your partner states in the next few years? How do you plan to communicate with states beyond those partnering with the Center?

We’ve already collaborated with our partner states–Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas–on our research agenda, and the chief state school officer from each state, plus a designee of their choice, sits on our advisory board. Additionally, we’re currently working with our partner states on our implementation study and plan to make our first findings this summer on effective implementation strategies immediately available to them.

All states, however, will be able to follow our research progress and access our findings in myriad ways, including through our website (pictured left). Our Fact Center features downloadable information sheets and the C-SAIL blog offers insights from our researchers and network of experts. We also invite practitioners, policymakers, parents and teachers to stay up-to-date on C-SAIL activities by subscribing to our newsletter, following us on Twitter, or liking us on Facebook.

Looking five years into the future, when the Center is finishing its work, what do you hope to understand about college- and career-readiness standards that we do not know now?

Through our implementation study, we will have documented how states are implementing new, challenging state academic standards; how the standards affect teacher instruction; what supports are most valuable for states, districts, and schools; and, how the new standards impact English language learners and students with disabilities.

Through our longitudinal study, we will have combined 50-state NAEP data with high school graduation rates, and college enrollment in order to understand how new standards impact student learning and college- and career-readiness.

Through our FAST Intervention, we will have created and made available new tools for teachers to monitor in real-time how well-aligned the content of their enacted curriculum is to their states’ college- and career-readiness standards in ELA and math.

Finally, but not least, we will have led policymakers, practitioners and researchers in a national discussion of our findings and their implications for realizing the full effects of standards-based reform. 

 

Building a Better RFA

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is committed to continuous improvement and that includes the process by which people apply for and access grants.

Since its authorization in 2002, IES’ research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)—have  been making efforts to improve the Requests for Applications (RFAs) we put out each year. In this spirit, we have conducted surveys of applicants the past few years and used that feedback to improve the current RFAs.

In Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 and 2015, all Principal Investigators (PIs) who submitted an application to the Education Research Grants Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305A) or the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305H) were contacted via e-mail and asked to participate in the web-based survey. In FY 2015, applicants to the Special Education Research Grants Program (CFDA #324A) were included in the survey request.  The response rates were good for all surveys:

Grant Program FY 2014 FY 2015
Education Research Grants Program 62% 66%
Partnerships and Collaborations Program 59% 73%
Special Education Research Grants n/a 55%

 

Survey respondents generally provided positive feedback in both years. Most respondents indicated they felt the RFAs were clear and helpful, though there were some areas that generated some confusion and criticism.  For example, in FY 2014:

  • Applicants to the Education Research Grants program thought it was inconvenient to have to refer to two separate documents, the RFA and the Application Submission Guide, in order to complete their application.
  • Applicants to the Partnerships and Collaborations program reported some confusion about the distinction between partnership activities and research activities.

In response to the FY 2014 RFA survey results, the Institute made a number of changes. For the FY 2015 Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants, changes included combining the RFA and the Application Submission Guide into one document to provide all the necessary information in one place. According to responses from the FY 2015 RFA survey, this change was positively received. The majority of the respondents to the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants surveys (n=398; 83%) reported that combining the RFA and Application Submission Guide was much better or somewhat better than having two separate documents. Overall, a majority of respondents (n = 161, 56%) felt the FY 2015 RFA was much better or somewhat better than in previous years, while another 43 percent felt that it was not better or worse.

For the Partnerships and Collaborations RFA, a number of changes were made to the FY 2015 RFA in response to the surveys. For example, the requirements for the research activities were disentangled from the requirements for the partnership in order to reduce redundancy within the application. Most respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey (n = 53; 73%) felt this change made the RFA much better or somewhat better.

Respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey also had some criticisms, and the Institute addressed those concerns in the FY 2016 RFAs. Specifically, in the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants RFAs, more detail was added to the requirements for the dissemination plan and for the cost analysis plan.  For the Education Research Grants RFA, the language around research gaps was expanded to clarify that these are not priorities. Changes made in the Special Education Research Grant RFA in response to the feedback from the survey included streamlining application requirements related to student disability, age range or grade level, outcomes, and settings across its 11 research topics.  More details were added about the partnership tracking strategy (an area of confusion for many applicants) in the Partnerships and Collaborations FY 2016 RFA.

IES continues to strive toward improving RFAs and welcomes comments and suggestions for improvement. More information on the RFA results is available here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/projects/.

New FY 2017 RFAs are being posted on the IES Funding Opportunities page. If you have comments, please write to us at IESresearch@ed.gov.

By Christina Chhin (NCER), Rebecca McGill-Wilkinson (NCER), Phill Gagné (NCER) and Kristen Rhoads (NCSER)*

* Since this blog post was written, Dr. Rhoads has taken a position with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.