Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

CTE Research Network Identifies Four Sites Ready to be Evaluated

 

In 2018, the IES awarded a grant1 to the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to lead a research network focused on career and technical education (CTE), the Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education Network (CTE Research Network). The mission of the CTE Research Network is to increase the number of CTE impact studies and strengthen the capacity of the field to conduct and use rigorous CTE research.

One of AIR’s primary tasks as the CTE Network’s Lead is to conduct an evaluability study (also called a feasibility study) to identify CTE models or programs that could be evaluated using a rigorous experimental design. The purpose of the study is to ease the way for other researchers to evaluate CTE by doing the advance work to find suitable sites that may be interested in participating in research. Any interested research team may approach one of these sites to partner in an evaluation. IES and AIR hope that qualified teams will submit an application to the IES Education Research Grants program, under the CTE topic, for grant funding to conduct an evaluation.

In a preliminary report released today, the CTE Network Lead describes the method they used to identify a broad range of programs and models, the vetting criteria, and the reasons for selecting the four sites. For each of the selected sites, the report also describes the scope of the program and student enrollment, the CTE programs offered, the data available, and the willingness of the sites to welcome researchers to evaluate the CTE program. In addition, the report includes the suggested next steps for researchers and possible limitations in carrying out an evaluation of the particular site or program model.

Prior research on CTE over the last half century has mostly been exploratory in nature or, at best, quasi-experimental. One of the primary reasons for the lack of experimental research is that it is difficult to assign students to elective courses. Even quasi-experimental designs are challenging, as it is difficult to statistically control for all the reasons a student might choose to enroll in CTE. See here and here for further discussion of the challenges in conducting CTE research.

The CTE Research Network has another upcoming effort to help increase the CTE evidence base: a free training on causal methods for CTE research. The training will take place online in August 2020; the deadline for applications is June 30, 2020.

News about the CTE Research Network and resources to help CTE researchers can be found on the Network’s website; IES also occasionally blogs about the research findings of Network members. Although most of the CTE Network members are currently studying CTE at the secondary level, we hope that more research will be conducted at the postsecondary level. Researchers interested in applying to IES for a grant to study CTE are welcome to contact Corinne Alfeld (contact information below).


1Using Perkins funds from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) in partial fulfillment of the legislative requirement for a national research center to carry out scientifically-based research and evaluation for the purpose of developing, improving, and identifying the most successful methods for addressing the education, employment, and training needs of career and technical education (CTE) participants in CTE programs [Sec. 114(d)(4)].

 

Written by Corinne Alfeld (corinne.alfeld@ed.org), IES program officer, and Katherine Hughes (khughes@air.org), principal investigator for the CTE Network Lead at AIR

 

IES is Providing Digital Technical Assistance for FY 2021 Research Grant Applicants

Given the many challenges that this year has brought, including the difficulties and uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IES is providing different resources and options to assist applicants as they begin preparing their applications. To ensure that program officers can focus their time on project-specific questions, applicants should review these resources first before seeking individual feedback.

First, have a copy of the documents that are needed to submit a proposal. Download a copy of the relevant request for applications (RFA) and the IES Application Submission Guide. This page has PDFs of these documents: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/21rfas.asp. Also, download the application package (search for CFDA 84.305) from https://grants.gov/. Contact Grants.gov (1-800-518-4726; support@grants.gov) if you need help with your electronic grant submission.

 

Next, take advantage of our digital technical assistance options.

  • On-demand webinars. These pre-recorded webinars answer questions about the grant competitions, how to apply, and how to prepare a strong application. You can access them here: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/webinars/.  

 

  • Virtual office hours. This year, we will host a series of drop-in hours during which a program officer will answer questions and give technical assistance. These office hours will help determine which competition or project type is the best fit and also understand some of the requirements and recommendations in the RFAs. Please see the schedule below along with the call-in information. This information is also posted here.

 

  • Cost analysis/Cost-effectiveness analysis. Many RFAs require a cost analysis plan, and some also require a cost effectiveness plan.  Please refer to our list of resources for developing these plans: https://ies.ed.gov/seer/cost_analysis.asp.

 

 

Finally, please make sure that you attend to the application due dates: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/futureComp.asp because IES does not accept late applications.

 

Virtual Office Hours

Staff from the research centers will host hour-long drop-in virtual sessions to provide technical assistance around particular competitions or research project types or for general purposes. Applicants are encouraged to join in the discussion and ask questions. These sessions are especially helpful if you are unsure of which competition or project type is the best match for you or if you are unclear on any changes to the requirements or recommendations. Below is a list of the current sessions and their topics. Please attend as many sessions as you would like.

All office hours will use the same call-in details. The program officer will allow participants into the meeting from the “lobby” at the beginning. We recommend you do not use video so that there is sufficient bandwidth. All times are shown in Eastern Standard time.

 

Join Microsoft Teams Meeting

+1 202-991-0393   United States, Washington DC (Toll)

Conference ID: 915 412 787#

 

If you would like to request accommodations (e.g., TTY), please send an email to NCER.Commissioner@ed.gov with this request as soon as possible.

You may have to download a free mobile application to use Microsoft Teams if you want the full audio and visual experience from your phone. Clicking on the linked “Join” hyperlink below should prompt you to do this. You can also refer to this article for information: https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/office/set-up-your-teams-mobile-apps-1ba8dce3-1122-47f4-8db6-00a4f93117e8

 

 

Virtual Office Hours Schedule

 

 

Monday, June 22

Tuesday, June 23

Wednesday, June 24

Thursday, June 25

12:30 – 1:30 pm ET

Competition fit: this will cover all NCER grant competitions and items such as applicant eligibility, general requirements, submission questions, and the IES review process.

Efficacy/Follow-Up and Replication: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of these types.

Exploration projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Development projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

2:00 – 3:00 pm ET

Exploration projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Development projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Is 305A (Education Research Grants) right for me? This will address general questions about CFDA 84.305A

Measurement projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

 

 

Monday, June 29

Tuesday, June 30

Wednesday, July 1

Thursday, July 2

12:30 – 1:30 pm ET

Development projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Exploration projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Measurement projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

 

2:00 – 3:00 pm ET

Competition fit: this will cover all NCER grant competitions and items such as applicant eligibility, general requirements, submission questions, and the IES review process.

Systematic Replication: this will focus on the requirements for a 305R or 324R application

Efficacy/Follow-Up: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Pathways to the Education Sciences: this will address common questions about this training program opportunity.  

 

How to Seek Funding to Support CTE Research Partnerships

Over the past six months, Advance CTE and IES have worked together to highlight the power of CTE research partnerships in improving quality and equity in CTE. In Michigan, years of close collaboration between the Department of Education and the University of Michigan has enabled state leaders to address critical policy questions like choosing a secondary CTE program quality performance indicator. South Dakota leveraged relationships in the research community to improve data quality and foster a data-driven culture at the state level. And in Massachusetts, state leaders are working alongside long-time research partners to identify critical access and opportunity gaps and build solutions that enable equitable access to high-quality CTE.

Partnerships like these provide measurable benefits by allowing state policymakers to make informed decisions that impact learner success and bolster state talent pipelines – but they do come at a cost. The partnerships highlighted in this series were supported via a combination of state, federal, and foundation funds. Research grant funds are most often used to cover personnel time for work on the research project, both at the university or research organization and at the partner education agency. As many of our state agency interviewees mentioned, it is difficult to carve time out of their regular responsibilities to work on a research project. By securing dedicated funding to cover part or all of a person’s salary, a state agency can afford to spend time on a research project. In addition, research grant funds can be used to provide incentives for students, teachers, and schools to participate in a research study, for the development and administration of surveys or classroom observation tools (to complement information available in administrative data systems), and for software and hardware to analyze and house the data.

With growing public support for CTE, fueled by urgent needs for skilled labor, CTE programs will be called upon to do even more. States should be prepared with a research and evaluation strategy to determine whether and which strategies are most effective (and cost-effective). So how should states go about establishing and funding new CTE research partnerships?  

Options for Financing State CTE Research Partnerships

There are a number of avenues states can take to finance CTE research. Federal sources of funding for CTE-related research include the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and the National Science Foundation. Education research funding may also be available at other agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture. Private funding for CTE research projects is also available from foundations such as the ECMC Foundation1, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The National Center for Education Research (NCER) at IES launched a special CTE topic in its Education Research Grants program in 2017 to encourage researchers to study CTE. Funded grants under this topic have examined CTE-related issues such as industry certifications, applied-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) CTE pathways and work-based learning. IES also funds CTE research under other programs and maintains a CTE Statistics webpage. In 2018, in partnership with the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), IES formed a CTE Research Network to increase the amount and quality of causal research in CTE. CTE Research Network members have been studying the impact of various CTE programs and delivery models on student high school, postsecondary and labor market outcomes. The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) began funding CTE research for students with disabilities in 2019.

New Opportunity to Apply for Federal Funding to Study CTE!

There is good news for state leaders and researchers interested in initiating CTE research partnerships. NCER has just released its Fiscal Year 2021 Request for Applications (RFA) for its Education Research Grants Program (CFDA 84.305A). This grants program, one of several in NCER, was established in 2002 to produce research that is scientifically rigorous and relevant to the needs of education practitioners and decisionmakers. NCER welcomes CTE-related research proposals under the CTE topic or under other topics (such as STEM, Improving Education Systems, and Postsecondary and Adult Education). NCSER has a separate RFA for its special education research grants program (CFDA 84.324A) and welcomes applications to study CTE for students with disabilities.

Research grant applications are due at midnight (Eastern time) on August 20, 2020. Letters of intent (not required but encouraged) are due on June 11, 2020. Each of the open RFAs, as well as archived webinars for applicants about the IES grant process, are available on the IES funding opportunities page.

Applicants should start early to make sure they have everything they need. In addition to viewing on-demand webinars, applicants should be sure to read the RFA closely and pay attention not only to the application requirements but also to the IES recommendations for a strong application. For example, applicants should describe their theory of change and any prior research on the issue; align their research methods to the research questions; describe measures and data source; and make sure the sample size offers adequate statistical power. This grants program is very competitive, and peer reviewers will be paying attention to whether applicants follow the recommendations. Everyone involved in the submission process should also familiarize themselves with the IES submission guide, which details the steps necessary to successfully submit an application online.

We are eager to hear any and all ideas! Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.alfeld@ed.gov) and Austin Estes (aestes@careertech.org) would be happy to discuss them, and Corinne can also provide technical assistance in writing a research grant application to IES. She can be reached by email to set up a phone call to discuss project ideas.


This final blog post wraps up our series aimed at increasing state Career Technical Education (CTE) research partnerships by highlighting ways to seek research funding. Corinne Alfeld, Research Analyst at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and Austin Estes, Manager of Data & Research at Advance CTE, collaborated to create this blog series in the hopes that more state agencies would partner with researchers to examine research questions related to CTE using state data.

 

1The ECMC Foundation is a funder of Advance CTE’s work.

 

Learning from CTE Research Partnerships: Using Data to Address Access and Equity Barriers in Massachusetts

As part of our ongoing blog series aimed at increasing state research on career and technical education (CTE), Corinne Alfeld, Research Analyst at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and Austin Estes, Senior Policy Associate at Advance CTE, are conducting interviews with individuals who are part of successful CTE State Director research partnerships. The third interview was with Cliff Chuang at the Massachusetts Department of Education and Shaun Dougherty of Vanderbilt University. Note: this interview, from February 5, 2020, has been edited for length and clarity.Photograph of Cliff Chuang and Shaun Dougherty

Could you start by talking about the projects that you’ve worked on, your research questions, and how you settled on those research questions?

Shaun - It grew out of my dissertation work that was using some of the school data and then some of the statewide data from Massachusetts. It started pretty narrowly but the director of research was happy enough with what I was able to do that she talked about whether we could address some additional questions, and more data was becoming available. That more or less triggered the expansion, and then with Cliff coming into the role it became a two-way conversation that was more explicitly about what’s of academic interest and what’s of interest or of need on the practice and policy side for CVTE (career/vocational technical education).

Cliff – I would say that the particular catalyst for our most recent partnership is our desire as an agency to understand the waitlist demand issues related to chapter 74 CVTE in Massachusetts. If I recall correctly, we put out an RFR (request for responses)[1] for a research partner to help us analyze different aspects of who is and is not getting access to CVTE programs in Massachusetts. And Shaun and his partner Isabel at Harvard, a grad student there, their bid was selected. From that project there have been a lot of offshoots through the CTEx exchange collaboration that Shaun and others have established. We’ve been engaged in a lot of informal research inquiry as well as additional formal research that uses that data.

Could you talk a little bit about what the findings were from that project and what have been implications in the academic space but also on the policy front, how are you using those findings to change policy in Massachusetts?

Shaun – The basic findings were that in fact there is much more interest in these high-quality CTE programs, these chapter 74-approved programs in these standalone technical high schools, than can be met by current supply. This was more confirmatory evidence with a little more granularity and maybe confidence in the figures than was possible previously.

Cliff – Shaun’s team also helped us look at just the straight enrollment data comparisons, which is still not as ideal as looking at applicant data. It was helpful to have a more rigorous definition of what data protocols are needed around application and admissions. We have now made the decision to collect waitlist data systematically at the state level to allow researchers like Shaun to more rigorously analyze across the board the attributes of who’s interested in voc tech, who’s getting in, who’s applying, etc.

I think it also stimulated a variety of program initiatives on the part of state government in Massachusetts to increase access to CVTE programs through collaborative partnerships like After Dark, which is an initiative that seeks to utilize shop space in our technical schools after the regular school day paired with academics provided by a partner academic school to get more kids the technical training that we are unable to do in the standard day program structures.

I would also add that Shaun is continuing other aspects of the research now that we’re very excited about, based in part on some of the research they did do to look at longer term trends of students and their outcomes post high school.

Shaun – The first order concern is that lots of people want [access to CVTE programs] and there’s a limited amount of it, so should we have more?

The second order concern – but certainly not secondary question – is one about equity and whether or not the students who were applying and the students who were getting access look like a representative cross-section of the community at large.  We know that students who choose CTE or select a lot of it are maybe different than those who don’t, but we don’t know a ton about whether and how we expect students who are making those investments to look like the overall population or whether or not access concerns lead to equity concerns.

Cliff – We would like to look more closely at whether the gaps are simply due to application gaps – which is still an issue in terms of kids not applying – or whether there are actual gaps related to who is applying and getting in. That was the data gap that we haven’t quite been able to close yet. But Shaun was able to create some comparative data that is just based on enrollment that has allowed us to engage in these conversations. We’re having the conversation about trying to expand the number of seats available so there’s less of a waitlist, but also to ensure that access into the existing seats is equitable and doesn’t disadvantage certain subgroups over others.

Over the course of the partnership, what have been some of the major challenges and hurdles that you’ve faced? What are some of the speedbumps that you’ve hit getting things formalized up at the front?

Shaun – Fortunately, one thing that we didn’t face, although I know it’s an obstacle in many places, is processes related to how one gets permissions and access to the data. In fact, as the process has evolved, having those structures in place has made it really easy, so that if Cliff and I say “hey, we’d like to add this,” it’s a pretty easy amendment of the MOU (memorandum of understanding). And then the people who deliver the data get approval and then they deliver it through a secure portal.

Cliff – I would also say that researchers left on their own probably would have had much less success in getting district participation in the survey study we did together. I, on the other hand, am someone with positional authority at the state level and established relationships that I can leverage to get that participation. And then I can pass it off to the research team that actually has the expertise and bandwidth to execute on the very labor-intensive data collection, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

It seems like you have a good partnership and a good synergy between the state office and the research team. If you were talking to CTE leaders and other researchers, what are some strategies and practices to make sure that partnership runs effectively and can be as impactful as possible?

Cliff – I think it’s important to have someone in the role of a researcher director type person whose job it is to facilitate these partnerships and to do some of the nitty gritty around data sharing, MOUs, etc. The other thing I would say is to have a commitment to an evidence base in terms of policymaking, and have people in the programmatic leadership who see the value of that and have enough knowledge of how research functions to parlay whatever policy or relational capital they have to support the research agenda.

Shaun – I think sometimes overcoming the incentives related to purely academic publishing restricts some of the willingness of some academic researchers to invest or to think about important questions in practice and policy. It’s being willing to realize that strong partnerships with local and state agencies means that more and better work can be done, and the work can have impact in real time. There is something very fulfilling and useful and practical about taking that approach from a research standpoint and then, if you come from practice like I did, then it helps ground the work.

Other blog posts in this series can be viewed here.

 

[1] Cliff explained that this is a formal process by which they solicited proposals for pay. “What’s been nice is that because it’s a partnership, Shaun has secured funding from other sources so there’s not an explicit contractual arrangement always. Aspects of the research that are ongoing are follow-ons from the original study. We have an interest in continuing to mine the data long-term to inform practice and policy.”

What Are we Learning about Applied STEM CTE Course-taking by Students with Disabilities?

February was National Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, which celebrates the importance of CTE and the achievements and accomplishments of CTE programs across the country. IES supports research in this area, including grants funded through the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

Dr. Michael Gottfried at the University of California Santa Barbara was awarded a 2-year grant in 2019 from NCSER to investigate whether participating in applied STEM career and technical education (AS-CTE) courses in high school is related to pursuing and persisting in STEM majors and/or careers for students with learning disabilities (SWLDs). Although a significant number of SWLDs participate in CTE courses, little is known about the types of AS-CTE courses they take and the extent to which taking these courses is related to postsecondary and employment outcomes. This project uses data from two nationally representative, longitudinal studies, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:2009).

The descriptive evidence resulting from this project will have important implications for policymakers and educators about promoting SWLDs’ interests in CTE and STEM and facilitating their access to these courses. We take a moment to share our recent conversation with Dr. Gottfried to understand the importance of this project and what he is learning.

Tell us about your project and what you hope to accomplish (or why a focus on STEM and SWDs?)

Our project is investigating the pathway students take in the pursuit of and persistence in STEM majors and careers for SWLDs. SWLDs are currently underrepresented in STEM fields throughout the STEM pipeline from high school to college to career. This SWLD-STEM college and career gap will continue to persist and potentially worsen unless there are efforts to lessen this underrepresentation of SWLDs in STEM fields. To address this, our research team is exploring AS-CTE courses that SWLDs take in high school and the extent to which taking these courses promotes advancement towards postsecondary success and careers in STEM. Unlike traditional STEM courses, AS-CTE courses emphasize the application of math and science concepts directly to practical job experiences by offering “hands-on” logic and problem-solving skills. They are designed to reinforce traditional academic STEM learning and motivate students’ interests and long-term pursuits in STEM areas. Using two nationally representative samples of high school students, we are examining whether high school AS-CTE can help prepare SWLDs for college, STEM fields of study in college, and careers in STEM or with STEM applications. We hope that this project will provide new evidence for policymakers and educators that will help facilitate access to AS-CTE courses in schools in order to promote short- and long-term interest in STEM for SWLDs.

What are applied STEM career and technical education courses students with disabilities can take in high school?

AS-CTE courses encourage the alignment of applicable job-related skills with academically challenging coursework targeted to students at all ability levels. These courses fall into two of the sixteen broad CTE categories: engineering technology and information technology. Some examples of engineering courses offered in high schools include Biotechnical Engineering, Wind Energy, Laser/Fiber Optics, Aerospace Engineering, and Computer-Aided Design Software. Some examples of information technology courses are Database Management and Data Warehousing, Business Computer Applications, Web Page Design, Geospatial Technology, and Networking Systems. 

What have you learned so far about enrollment in CTE and applied CTE courses by students with disabilities and related outcomes for those students?

We are currently in the beginning stages of our project, but through our analyses thus far we have found that SWLDs are more likely to take CTE courses than the general student population but less likely than other students to enroll in AS-CTE courses. In other words, SWLDs are taking CTE courses, just not in STEM areas. We see this pattern becoming even more prominent in the recent years.

What are some of the challenges with your research?

Although using large national datasets such as ELS and HSLS provides extremely rich information and data about high school students across the nation, there are some limitations to the conclusions that we can draw when using extant longitudinal data. First, although we are able to examine AS-CTE course taking patterns for high school students, no data exist in either dataset on why students chose to take AS-CTE courses. Second, there is no detailed information available in these datasets about course content, including design, curriculum, rigor, and quality of an academic course, all of which affect student achievement. Third, the datasets identify SWLDs based on parent survey responses about whether a doctor, healthcare provider, teacher, or school official had ever told them that their student had a learning disability. There is no verification that the student has an official special education label of LD, so there may be some variability in the population of SWLDs in the datasets, which could impact what we find.

What other research is needed to improve CTE course-taking and outcomes for students with disabilities?

Our project is quantitative, which has many strengths such as identifying patterns and trends. Yet, we believe that a future qualitative project would be useful to complement the work we are doing. For instance, there are many lingering questions that we cannot address. For example, why are SWLDs taking fewer AS-CTE courses? What does SWLDs’ sense of STEM self-efficacy look like in these AS-CTE courses? What types of supports are teachers providing in these courses? These types of questions could be addressed with future qualitative research in which teachers and students can be interviewed and followed.

What other recommendations do you have to support research in this area?

For our work, we plan to address diversity within the SWLD group. For instance, we are going to explore differences by gender for SWLDs taking AS-CTE courses. We propose that future research could consider this type of heterogeneity.

Dr. Gottfried also has funding from NCER in a related project exploring whether and how AS-CTE course-taking can help prepare low-income students for college and for careers in STEM or with STEM applications.

If your state, district, or school is looking for resources for developing and improving the quality of your CTE program, the Association for Career and Technical Education has many high-quality CTE tools, including a Quality CTE Program of Study Framework. The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition also has many resources to increase engagement in CTE by students with disabilities, including the on-demand webinar, Toward Best Practices: Programs that Work, Models Toward Success. This webinar was recorded on December 19, 2019 with a panel of experts and practitioners in workforce education and CTE led by Dr. Michael Harvey, Professor of Education in the Workforce Education and Development academic program at the Pennsylvania State University. Advance CTE connects CTE leaders across states and has resources to support CTE at the state level.

This blog series was co-authored by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov) and Jacquelyn Buckley (Jacquelyn.Buckley@ed.gov) at IES and Michael Gottfried (mgottfried@education.ucsb.edu). IES began funding research grants in CTE in 2017 and established a CTE Research Network in 2018 through NCER. NCSER started funding research grants in special education in CTE in 2019. IES hopes to encourage more research on CTE in the coming years in order to increase the evidence base and guide program and policy decisions.