Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

The 2022 IES PI Meeting: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences

On January 25-27, 2022, NCER and NCSER hosted  our first Principal Investigators (PI) Meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. Even though we were hopeful and eager to connect with our grantees in person, given the continuing uncertainties due to COVID-19, we opted for our very first fully virtual PI meeting, and we are pleased to say it was a success on many fronts!

Our co-chairs, Brian Boyd (University of Kansas), and Doré LaForett (Child Trends and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) were instrumental in the success of this meeting. They helped identify the meeting theme: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences, suggested sessions (including the plenaries) that addressed the theme,  recommended strategies to encourage networking and engagement, and participated in two great sessions focused on Engaging in Anti-racist, Culturally Responsive Research Practices and the Importance of Identifying English Learners in Education Research Studies.

Here are a few highlights:

The meeting kicked off with a welcome from the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, followed by IES Director Mark Schneider’s opening remarks. Secretary Cardona reaffirmed the importance and need for high-quality education research to identify, measure, and address disparities in education opportunities and outcomes. Director Schneider spoke about improving the infrastructure of the education sciences and ways that IES will continue to encourage investigators to incorporate the SEER principles going forward. He also revealed a ninth SEER principle focused on equity, calling on researchers to “address inequities in societal resources and outcomes.” See a recap of his talk here.

This year’s theme was threaded throughout the meeting, emphasizing the importance and complexity of advancing equity and inclusion in the education sciences. The opening plenary speakers began the meeting with advice on how to center equity and inclusion in education research; the Commissioners provided updates on how NCER and NCSER are working to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; sessions focused on challenges and potential solutions for doing research with an equity lens; and the closing plenary discussed how to plan for diversity in education research.   

Deep conversations occurred around meaningful and relevant topic areas. Over three days, we had nearly 900 attendees going in and out of virtual rooms (with very few technology glitches—no small feat!) participating in discussions around four main topic areas:

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)—Sessions included discussions of centering equity in education research
  • COVID-19 Pandemic—Sessions included lessons learned from COVID-19 research pivots and considerations for research during COVID-19 and recovery
  • Methods & Measurement—Sessions included information on innovations in statistical methods, data collection tools, and scaling evidence-based practices
  • Results from IES Research—Sessions included highlights of findings from several IES-funded grants and Research and Development centers

See the agenda for a complete list of this year’s sessions.

Finally, although we weren’t able to be in the same physical room, one of the real benefits of this virtual meeting was the ability to record the sessions. IES continues to encourage the dissemination of IES-supported research to a wider audience, and we want to do our part by making the recordings from the sessions publicly available. We hope you enjoy watching the incredibly valuable and thought-provoking presentations and discussions and share widely with your networks.

 

 

Thanks to our attendees for their participation. Your engagement made this year’s meeting a true success. We are already looking forward to next year’s meeting!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for how to continue the conversation around DEIA, please do not hesitate to contact NCER Commissioner Liz Albro (Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov) or NCSER Commissioner Joan McLaughlin (Joan.McLauglin@ed.gov). We look forward to hearing from you.

Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Behavioral Interventions in Early Childhood

The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention is designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Dr. Jun Ai recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Her research focuses on the implementation of early childhood behavioral interventions, particularly for young learners with disabilities and those from minoritized communities. We recently caught up with Dr. Ai to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.

How did you begin your career journey as an education researcher?

My research focuses on the equitable and sustainable implementation of early childhood positive behavioral interventions and supports (EC-PBIS) to promote the social-emotional and behavioral health of all children, especially those with disabilities and/or from minoritized groups. Before starting my PhD program, I was a special education teacher working with students with autism spectrum disorders in China. That’s when I learned about applied behavioral science and PBIS. I decided to become a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) during my doctoral studies at the University of Kansas. Through my BCBA practicum, I worked with young children with disabilities and challenging behaviors in self-contained settings.

Meanwhile, I was also supervising pre-service teachers and behavioral analysts working in inclusive early care and education settings where behavior issues were addressed through multi-tiered EC-PBIS. These experiences deepened my interest in EC-PBIS and led me to research how to prepare professionals to use multi-tiered EC-PBIS to promote foundational social-emotional competence and prevent challenging behaviors for all children, regardless of their abilities or forms of diversity. Most importantly, I study how equitable and sustainable implementation of EC-PBIS can reduce racial disciplinary disparities to eventually eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education. Through my dissertation and NCSER-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas, I led multiple independent research projects in these areas. With the support from my mentors, Judith Carta, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jay Buzhardt, I also had the opportunity to work on several NCSER-funded projects that address issues in EC-PBIS and the implementation of evidence-based practices.

What is the most rewarding part of your research?

Currently, I serve on the Iowa state leadership team of EC-PBIS and continue to expand my scholarship on EC-PBIS implementation through my research and teaching capacities. The most rewarding part of my work has been gaining expertise in a variety of research methodologies, especially mixed-methods research. Mixed-methods research allows me to carry out rigorous quantitative intervention and test hypotheses while also hearing the voices of participants and various stakeholders using trustworthy qualitative methodology, with data from each method informing the other. As a result, I can tackle complex issues related to implementing interventions in real-world settings and improve the design of interventions.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

One of the greatest needs is around diversifying the researcher leadership workforce. Higher education institutions need to prioritize recruitment, retention, and tailored support for educational researchers from historically and currently marginalized groups based on their race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, disabilities, and more.

Equally important is the need to increase funding resources for minority researchers whose scholarship aims to dismantle systemic racism and racial inequities in our educational systems. Researchers of color need more seats at the table to disturb the power imbalance within the research community, advocate for students and families in their own communities, and improve the relevance of education research for diverse groups.

Last but not least, the education research community at large needs to question the status quo of how to conduct research for, with, and by diverse communities.

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

Find the research topic that gives you goosebumps. It might be hard at the beginning when research interests are highly directed by the existing research agenda of advisors or funding sources. But don’t let that feeling of butterflies go. Try to start small. It might mean stepping out of your normal circle to find mentors, allies, or funding agencies that are also excited about your mission and your research interests.

Remember that you need to be so good that nobody can ignore you. Researchers of color, especially minoritized early career scholars, still need to work multiple times harder to be seen and heard. Unfortunately, this will still be true in the foreseeable future. Find and join minority education researcher communities through professional organizations or organize your own. You are not in this alone.

While continuing to hone your craft, speak up for yourself and your community when you can. Recognize your own burdens and privileges and stand with the most oppressed. Learn about and practice how to have a voice at the table even though your culture or your lived experience told you otherwise. The work you care about can change students' and families’ lives. Your work matters. Your voice matters.

This year, 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.

This blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

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.

 

Supporting Bilingual Learners in Early Childhood

The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention was designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Xigrid Soto-Boykin recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor and senior scientist at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on early childhood education for bilingual learners, including those with communication impairments. We recently caught up with Dr. Soto-Boykin to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.

Photo of Xigrid Soto-Boykin

As a Puerto Rican who learned English at age 11 and who was the first person in my family to attend college, my passion for conducting research focused on high-quality early childhood education for Latinx preschoolers stems from my personal experiences.

During my postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas under Dr. Judith Carta, I had the opportunity to conduct community-based research in a local bilingual early childhood center in Kansas City. Initially, my goal was to expand my dissertation work, which focused on evaluating the effects of bilingual emergent literacy instruction for Latinx preschoolers. However, like all great stories go, my research agenda took some unexpected twists and turns. On the day my initial research study was approved, we were informed we needed to work remotely and that we could not go on-site to conduct our research due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What initially felt like a major setback became an opportunity to expand my research. While working remotely, I continued to collaborate with the administrators and teachers to determine their most pressing needs. We co-constructed a strategic plan for identifying the center’s strengths and areas for improvement. To address areas identified as major needs, we began initiatives to provide educators with ongoing professional development and families with engagement opportunities. Through this research-community partnership, we were awarded a Kauffman Quality Improvement Grant. This grant is funding our creation of the infrastructure necessary to apply data-based decision making to guide teacher professional development and monitor children’s school readiness and bilingual development.  

In 2020, as the nation was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and a reckoning of the structural racism impacting the lives of Black and Brown individuals, the work I was doing at the bilingual early childhood center became contextualized. I saw how teachers who earn minimal wages risked their lives to provide essential care for children and families. I saw how families struggled to make ends meet after losing their jobs. I began understanding how linguistic discrimination impacts the way researchers, educators, and policymakers address bilingualism. As I read outside my typical fields of speech-language therapy, bilingualism, and early childhood special education, I began to see how the interconnected systems in our society impact the lives of Latinx bilingual children.

This renewed understanding led me to where I am today. In 2020, I launched a website, habladll.org, containing free resources for parents, teachers, and therapists working with bilingual children. I am presently an assistant research professor and senior scientist of bilingual learning at The Children’s Equity Project (CEP) at Arizona State University. The CEP is a non-partisan center that seeks to inform research, policy, and practice to promote equitable access to early childhood education. In this role, I am applying what I learned during my postdoctoral fellowship to ensure young dual language learners with and without disabilities and their families receive the bilingual support they deserve.

My research and personal experiences are one and the same. I see myself as a scholar-activist with the goal of creating just educational experiences for Latinx children and their families. I am grateful for my training, mentors, colleagues, and community partners who continue to equip me with the tools to co-create a world where Latinx children receive high quality early childhood instruction centered on their unique linguistic and cultural assets.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, hereand here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

This blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.