Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

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. 

 

Investing in Scholars: The NCSER Early Career Development and Mentoring Grant Program

Featuring Michael Kennedy, University of Virginia

By Liz Berke, NCSER intern

What do these three individuals have in common:  a former special education teacher in Delaware, a former reading specialist in California, and a former special education teacher in Georgia?  They are the three Principal Investigators of the three inaugural projects funded by NCSER through its Research Training Program in Special Education: Early Career Development and Mentoring grant program.  Through this program, scholars embarking on their research careers in special education and early intervention have the opportunity to work with established mentors as they develop their research skills.   Over the next few months, we will be featuring the current research of our investigators that IES has supported through this and other research programs for early career investigators. We are looking forward to sharing their perspectives with our readers. 

First up in our series is Dr. Michael Kennedy from the University of Virginia.  A former special education teacher in Delaware, Dr. Kennedy is being mentored by Dr. Mary Brownell (University of Florida) and John Lloyd (University of Virginia).  The main aim of his IES funded project is to create valid measures of teacher practices and to work with practitioners to develop effective professional development materials and processes.  The materials are intended to help middle school science and special education teachers improve their delivery of evidence-based vocabulary instruction for students with disabilities.   Dr. Kennedy was recently awarded the Early Career Researcher award from the Instructional Technology Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and University of Virginia’s Alumni Board of Trustees All University Teaching Award.

We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kennedy about the challenges and benefits of starting a career in special education research and how IES is helping him reach his professional goals. 

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as an early career researcher? How do you hope this award will help you overcome those challenges?

I would say the biggest challenge as a young researcher is that my eyes are regularly bigger than my stomach in terms of wanting to take on huge research questions that would require a large interdisciplinary team and access to a plethora of resources.  Being patient and addressing questions that are still important, but actually doable as an Assistant Professor working on a shoestring budget definitely takes discipline.  The Early Career Award from NCSER has helped me assemble a team of Hall of Fame caliber colleagues that is really superb in helping me stay focused on one key component of the larger study at a time, while simultaneously helping me recognize how the initial studies are working toward something greater.  Working on one big project of my own design for four years is something I’ve never done before; I’ve learned it’s very easy to lose sight of the forest because of the pesky trees, so I really rely on my mentors for perspective and guidance.  

What advice would you give to early career researchers?

I think my best advice is to really lock down your niche within your field and go to work on creating new knowledge that people can really connect with in practical ways.  As an example, think about your sub-field’s most successful and well-known researcher and what they are known for (I’ll wait).  Isn’t it remarkable how easy it is to pair that person with the widget, curriculum, or broad body of research they are associated with?  It’s hard to imagine, but they were once Assistant Professors like us trying to get a program of research off the ground.  How did they do it?  Other than being really smart, their currency was, and remains new thinking and ideas that can be translated into materials that help students improve as evaluated by relevant dependent measures.  If you don’t have ideas that other people care about and can make a difference for people, you aren’t going to get very far in our line of work.  So that brings me back to my first comment – you have to become expert in your corner of the world, and then let your creativity take over.

What is your favorite aspect of working with your mentors?

I would say my favorite part of working with my mentors is the access to top notch feedback that simply does not exist post grad school for most people.  As doc students we are constantly receiving feedback from our advisors and other professors, but all of that pretty much goes away as we take our first jobs.  Sure we get feedback from journal editors & reviewers, but that is not regular enough to always make a big difference.  Being able to walk down the hall (or get on the phone in the case of my co-mentor) to have a conversation about a new idea or data specific to a project they are invested in is really a remarkable gift.  Another really important aspect of my relationship with my mentors is how differently they think about things than I do.  They ask questions I never considered and poke holes in my logic that can be frustrating, but I recognize how important it is to consider these perspectives and make sure I address it.  My advice for all considering applying for this project is to think very carefully about who you select as your mentor or co-mentors – think big and don’t settle!  

 

Questions? Comments? Please send them to: IESResearch@ed.gov

 

Adding Knowledge, Subtracting Student Challenges: The Math Cognition and Learning Conferences

By Rob Ochsendorf (NCSER Program Officer), Joan McLaughlin (NSCER Commissioner), and Liz Berke (NCSER Intern) 


How would you solve this problem?  7 + 25 – 23 = ___.  Skilled math students recognize key features of problems and use appropriate shortcuts when solving problems but recent research led by Dr. Katherine Robinson has shown that less than a third of 7th graders actually used shortcut strategies.  Dr. Robinson noted that, “These students show strong preferences for using well-practiced rote strategies for solving these problems rather than thinking deeply and flexibly about either the problems or how they can use their knowledge of arithmetic to facilitate problem solving.”  


During May of this year, Dr. Robinson and other researchers from across the world convened in St. Louis, Missouri to share findings in the growing area of research known as math cognition. This two-day conference entitled, “Typical and Atypical Learning of Complex Arithmetic Skills and Higher-Order Mathematics Concepts,” is part of a series of five annual conferences, Math Cognition and Learning Conferences  (MCALC), funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) with additional support from NCSER.  

Dr.  Joan McLaughlin, NCSER Commissioner, and Dr. Rob Ochsendorf attended MCALC this year and highlighted the importance of math cognition research to support students with or at risk for disabilities in their math learning.  NCSER funds a number of projects in this area, including a National Research and Development Center focused on understanding the cognitive processes involved in the development of fraction skills in elementary school children.  NCSER has taken an interest in the MCALC mission from the beginning and continues to support graduate students’ attendance and participation each year.  

 

At the conclusion of this year’s meeting, NCSER staff talked with lead investigators Dan Berch (University of Virginia) and David Geary (University of Missouri) to discuss the MCALC meetings and activities, which have included the founding of a new international society for math cognition (Mathematical Cognition and Learning) and an edited book series, in addition to the annual meetings.  


What do you think were the key takeaways from the 2015 MCALC meeting? 

The conferences really have two important, interrelated goals.  The first is social - to help researchers, especially the younger ones, develop connections with and discuss their ideas and current research with each other and senior members of the field.  This networking is important for building collaborations and for finding links between different areas of mathematical cognition and learning. The second is to more fully understand mathematical learning and cognition. The focus at this meeting on individual differences highlighted the importance of domain-general and math-specific knowledge in fostering both procedural and conceptual aspects of mathematical development, and provided directions for intervention with struggling students. 

What are the important long term contributions of this series of meetings? 

The long-term goal of the meetings and the new society is to bring together people with a shared interest in quantitative processing and development that might otherwise not be aware of one another's work, much less discuss it one-on-one. The 5-volume series coming out of the meetings is important as well.  We hope that these will provide a critical and useful reference work that highlights cutting edge advances across the whole field, from number processing in nonhumans to educational interventions.

Are there issues that you would like the IES research community to be aware of in terms of these meetings and these developments?  

I'd like to see more IES researchers entering the field. There is a clear need to better understand and foster students' mathematical development and there is now a thriving research community and literature base that makes this an exciting and rewarding field to be a part of. 


Two more MCALC meetings will be held in 2016 and 2017.  


May, 2016 - The Role of Linguistic, Cultural, SES, and Parenting Factors in Mathematical Cognitive Development  


May, 2017 - Improving Mathematical Learning: How Neurobiological, Cognitive, and Developmental Approaches Can Inform the Design of Effective Instructional Interventions 

 

If you are interested in attending one of these upcoming meetings, please contact Dr. Dan Berch.  

Other questions? Comments? Please contact us at IESResearch@ed.gov.

This Father's Day, Let’s Celebrate Fathers of Children with Disabilities

By Amy Sussman, NCSER Program Officer

When researchers study the impact of families on children, they usually investigate the role of mothers on their typically developing children. In an era when fathers are participating in child care responsibilities more than ever before, it should be no surprise that they also have a strong influence on their children’s education and development. Dr. Brent McBride of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been examining the role of fathers for over 30 years, carrying out both basic and applied research to inform and guide the development of initiatives aimed at supporting men in their efforts to parent young children. His more recent work on fathers investigates the impact of fathers of children with disabilities and/or developmental delays. Through a grant funded by the Institute's National Center for Special Education Research, Dr. McBride has been exploring data available from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Birth Cohort to investigate the roles fathers play in families of children with disabilities, a challenging parenting context. I recently asked him to describe how his interest in this subject emerged and to share some of his findings and their implications.

How did you become interested in studying fathers’ parenting of children with disabilities?

While working closely with one of my colleagues in special education, Rosa (Amy) Santos, we realized that we have several parallel and complementary research interests and began exploring ways in which our mutual interests could be merged. I was aware of the growing body of research that first emerged in the 1970s suggesting that active father involvement can lead to positive outcomes for both children and families. Although this literature is rich and diverse, the majority of the research has been with fathers in families of typically developing children. Little is known about father involvement in families of children with disabilities. Even less is known about the ways in which early intervention (EI) service providers and early childhood special educators reach out and support the unique needs of fathers. My work with Dr. Santos has been focused on using an interdisciplinary perspective to address this gap in the research.

What are some of your findings on how father involvement impacts children with disabilities?

Although we have had a number of encouraging and intriguing findings, I will describe just a few of them here. The first one is related to the impact of father involvement in routine caregiving, literacy, play, and responsive caregiving activities on maternal and family functioning. Our findings suggest that over time, when fathers are responsive to the needs of their children with autism spectrum disorder and related disabilities and engage in literacy activities with them, mothers experiences less stress and fewer depressive symptoms. This is important because maternal stress and depression have been found in previous research to be significant predicators of lower quality parenting by mothers of children with disabilities. We also examined the impact of early father involvement on children’s school readiness upon kindergarten entry for those who have disabilities or developmental delays but are not placed in self-contained special education classrooms. Results were mixed. For example, fathers’ play involvement at 9 months was negatively related to cognitive functioning but positively related to sociability and fewer behavior problems upon kindergarten entry. These analyses raised several intriguing questions that warrant further investigation. Another part of our investigation built upon previous research indicating that fathers are noticeably absent from EI services in spite of emerging evidence suggesting they can have a positive impact on child and family functioning. In an attempt to explore these barriers, our team analyzed data from EI service providers suggesting that inflexible schedules represent the most salient barrier, with expectations related to gender roles, father’s perceptions of EI services, and EI providers’ limited ability to adapt as additional barriers. Although EI providers believed that fathers could have a positive impact on their children’s development, they were less confident that efforts to target fathers would enhance EI services.

Do these results have any real-world implications for enhancing the development or school readiness of these children?

Most of the findings to emerge from our research program have clear implications for ways to enhance the school readiness of children with disabilities and/or developmental delays. For examples, findings have highlighted fathers’ engagement in early parenting activities such as responsive caregiving, play, reading to children, and routine caregiving has the potential to positively impact later child outcomes and family functioning. They also provide targets that EI service providers may want to focus on as they explore ways to help better prepare fathers to meet the needs of their children with disabilities. Findings on the disconnect between EI providers’ beliefs about father involvement and their actual practices when providing services suggest that they could benefit from training to more effectively include fathers in the services they provide to children and families.

Does your work have any implications for future research on this topic?

The next step in our program of research will be to use the lessons learned to date from our findings to guide the development, implementation and evaluation of an intervention program aimed at providing EI service providers with the basic foundation for developing the understanding, knowledge base and skill set needed to more fully engage fathers in the receipt of EI services, thus improving child functioning and outcomes. Doing so will be an important first step in moving EI from mother centered to truly “family centered.”

 

Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov