Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Disrupting the Status Quo to Support Latino Students from Immigrant Families

Driven in part by massive demographic shifts in the U.S. population, education and social behavioral research has increasingly attended to the growing diversity of the student population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos accounted for more than 50% of the U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020. While the country’s white population is shrinking, the Latino population grew by 23% in the last decade and now makes up almost 19% of the U.S. population. Although the raw numbers are worthy of attention, the change rate—and what it means for how schools and other systems serve students—may be even more important, especially given that the K12 education system is not built to accommodate such rapid demographic shifts.

NCES data show that, although there has been overall progress in improving high school graduation rates, the nation’s Latino student dropout rate is 65% higher than White students and almost 40% higher than Black students. Only 20% of Latinos aged 25 to 29 have obtained a college degree—the lowest degree attainment rate of any racial/ethnic subgroup. Growing evidence shows that the disparities in college participation among Latino and first-generation college students may become even more pronounced as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.

Since 2015, with the support of two IES-funded NCER grants, my team of colleagues and I have led work designed to challenge and innovate how schools support the positive development and college access and success for Latino students from immigrant families. Our Juntos Project was designed to create a new intervention model working directly with teachers, school leaders, and parents of Latino middle school students. The goal of the project was to address common challenges confronting immigrant families as they navigate the U.S. education system, to use effective strategies for recognizing and transforming teacher bias, and to create a school climate that centers equity leadership and builds authentic family-school partnerships—all with the promise to improve academic and school success for Latino students. The second project, Project LEAPS (Latino Education After Public School), which is currently underway, extends the model we developed in Juntos by working with teachers, parents, and school counselors to support the postsecondary readiness (and ultimately the college access and success) of Latino students as they transition from middle school to high school.

Through this work, we continue to learn important lessons about how to be disruptive given that current approaches have too often failed to make a lasting impact on nurturing the academic success and positive behavioral health of Latino students. Here are a few of those lessons:

Parents are the most important teachers in a child’s life. As much as education researchers and professionals attend to the role educators play in student life, our approach is designed to capitalize on the strengths of Latino families and the deep cultural value of familismo, which prioritizes dedication, connectedness, and loyalty to family, as essential targets of our intervention. Notwithstanding the influence of adult agents inside the education system, parents (that is, all of the adults in a child’s life who play a major role in raising them) play the most important and sustained role in raising healthy children. Although the education system frequently frames parents and home environments as “the problem” when considering the challenges of underserved students, data from the NCES National Household Education Survey show that parents of students of color are as likely or more likely to be engaged in their children’s education (for example, checking on homework completion, monitoring school performance) than their white peers. This is especially true for Latino parents, including those who are Spanish speaking and those who have low educational attainment themselves.

Move from a deficit framing to an asset framing. Undoubtedly, many Latino students and their families experience challenges as they navigate the education system. However, many of these challenges are not of their making. The fact that we can mark disparities in educational outcomes and access to higher education by race/ethnicity, poverty, rurality and other factors should be a source of outrage. None of these demographic characteristics should be correlated with school success or can legitimately be described as causal. The true causes stem from deeply rooted inequities embedded in the education system. One way to shift away from a student or family deficit framing is to focus on a more interesting question: What makes students, families, schools, and communities thrive in the face of difficult circumstances? The answers to this question can help us leverage assets that too often go untapped in service of student success.

Attend to within-group variation. Like other racial/ethnic groups, Latinos are not monolithic. Comparative designs in which outcomes for Latino students are contrasted with White students or students from other groups often contribute little to nuanced understandings about how variables linked to these group identifications might explain differences in outcomes. Ample research shows that within-group variation among Latinos on factors such as country of origin, nativity, generational history, language, time in U.S. residency, context of reception for immigrants, and acculturation level are more important in understanding the nature of risk and protection around academic and social behavioral adjustment than are between-group differences. In designing intervention programs for the families and students we serve, our goals are to understand these sources of variation and carefully attend to them in our development work.  


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see 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 Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Charles Martinez (@c_martinez) is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and the founding director of the Texas Center for Equity Promotion. He is a first-generation college graduate and a third-generation Mexican American. His Project LEAPS co-investigators are Heather McClure, University of Oregon, and Elma Lorenzo-Blanco, University of Texas at Austin.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Expectations Matter: Understanding Student Learning Outcomes and Implicit Bias in the Early Childhood Classroom

Educators bring implicit biases to the classroom which may impact discipline and development for students from historically disadvantaged households and communities, particularly students of color. Research has shown that some teachers show implicit (and explicit) preferences towards White students versus students of color. These implicit biases and lower expectations of students of color may negatively influence children’s early learning and development. With an IES exploration grant, Drs. Brian Boyd, Iheoma Iruka and Keith Payne are examining the relationship between malleable factors such as implicit bias, teacher expectations, and teacher-child interactions and student learning outcomes. Taking place in early education programs across 10 states and the District of Columbia, this study will examine links between implicit bias and school readiness skills in pre-school age children.

Bennett Lunn, a Truman-Albright Fellow at IES, asked Dr. Iruka about her work and background. Below are her responses.

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

I am a Black woman, born in the United States but with parents who were born in Nigeria. I am the African diaspora that is rarely discussed because people see Black people as homogeneous. I was not always proud of my African roots or of my American roots – there is a double-edged sword in being a Black person in America and being an American Black in Nigeria. I was not always proud of being a Black person in America because of constant reminders about how much I have to overcome. I think my experiences as a Black woman in the U.S. with direct roots to Africa (my name is Nigerian), and who grew up in poverty (but did not know that then), give me an edge and a drive compared to those who just study poverty. Even when my papers and grants get rejected, I still know my experiences are valuable to me, my children, my family, and those fighting for justice. I bring all of who I am to my talks, papers, mentoring, networks, and partnerships. For me, there is no Iheoma without the village that I am a part of, my ancestors, my Nigerian and African diasporic heritage, and my experiences. I realize that my gender, race, culture, and other intersectional identities continue to shape my career and, most importantly, the journey I am on.

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

I see my research as part of a tapestry that shapes how people see others, especially those who are often made to feel invisible, like young Black boys and girls, their families, and their communities. I hope that my research is more than just “DEI,” which is the phrase of the season. I don’t mind that it is, but I hope it is not only for the moment, especially when discussing racial equity and anti-racism. I want my research and other collaborative work to be about seeing the humanity, the beauty, the joy, the assets, and the possibilities of those we often see and treat as invisible. Examining the role of implicit bias in the classroom is the focus of my current IES-funded research, and my most recent book, Don’t Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms, is a call to action for all educators, professionals, and others to not look away from the injustices directed at minoritized groups, especially Black people. We cannot look away; we must act and continue to act until justice has won. In the words of Malcom X, “Speaking like this doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression”. I hope my research, my talks, and my entire body of work cause researchers and those who fund research to look at themselves and ask how they can do better with the weapon they have–research!

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?

There is so much that can improve the enterprise of research and science. In early childhood education, as well as in other areas, it takes more than practice to create more equitable outcomes—research is needed to examine how systems create inequities. My RICHER framework, which provides actionable steps toward addressing bias and racism, is an ode to researchers and scholars, especially White scholars, about how they can do better in their science when their participants are non-white.

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

My biggest challenge is myself. While I have always had confidence in my skills, I was not always sure how direct I could be, especially with my White mentors, colleagues, and peers. There were times I felt I had to use coded language. As my journey has gone on, or because I am getting older and don’t have the energy to code, I have become more direct so the actions can be straightforward and clear. It is also crucial that I bring my lived experiences, including being the mother of two young Black children in America and wanting to see their experiences be even more equitable than mine. I want them to understand that their heritage, language, skin color, gender, and whatever other identities they have should be embraced because that will make them unique and motivate them to get through all the obstacles, including rejection, which are part of academia. I want them to embody Black joy!

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

Lean into the RICHER framework. You can’t truly support scholars from historically underrepresented groups, especially Black ones, unless you have a sense of critical consciousness. I would say that I have been fortunate in having mentors who did not question my skill or talent but created opportunities even before I thought I was ready. When I think about those specific individuals, I realize that they were mentors who supported many people of color. These mentors cared about me, not just the scholar but the person, and they still do. To support underrepresented researchers, you have to see “us,” not just our color or race, or ethnicity. Scholars of color are multi-faceted and bring a lot to the table because we have had to live in multiple worlds and speak multiple languages.

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

First, find your village of peers, scholars, and mentors, whether through your university, professional organization, or social organization. You want a place where you can lay your burdens down, have joy, and just be your full self. Second, be truthful and authentic about your journey. Allow mistakes to guide you and realize that mistakes ensure growth and do not define you. And third, be sure to have fun and enjoy what you do. While the research I do is emotionally laden, it is joyful and motivational because I get to be part of a larger community focused on justice and asset-building. When I can bring my whole self into my research and work, I know I am doing the right thing. So always ask yourself, am I doing what I am supposed to be doing, and how do I know?


This blog is part of a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. For other blog posts related to diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility, please see here.

Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka is a Research Professor of Public Policy and the Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This interview was produced and edited by Bennett Lunn, Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research.

 

Updates on Research Center Efforts to Increase Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

As we begin a new school year, NCER and NCSER wanted to share with our community some of the work we have been doing—and are seeking to do more of—in relationship to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). We plan to provide occasional updates via this blog to share progress and keep the conversations going.  

Actions on Diversity

At the end of 2020, IES convened a Technical Working Group (TWG) to get feedback on ways that the research centers could improve our investments focused on DEIA. Under the leadership of Drs. Katina Stapleton and Christina Chhin, we convened a stellar panel that participated in a robust conversation. That conversation and the recommendations from the panel are available in this summary document. We are already implementing some of the recommendations and wanted to share steps that we have taken and our plans for next steps to advance DEIA in IES-funded research.

  1. One of the first steps that we took in response to the TWG recommendations was to take a close look at our Requests for Applications (RFAs), identify potential barriers to applicants from underrepresented groups, and revise and/or add language that more clearly articulated our commitment to DEIA, both in terms of those that conduct the research and in the populations studied. These changes were reflected in our FY 2022 RFAs, and we will continue to revise and improve our application materials.
  2. IES has been committed to building expertise among a broad range of scholars in the education sciences for nearly two decades. The TWG noted, however, that there is a pressing need to provide funds for early career investigators who may be working at MSIs, teaching-intensive institutions, and/or at institutions with limited opportunities for research mentorship. In response, IES launched an Early Career Mentoring for Faculty at MSIs research program. This new program extends our FY 2016 training investment in MSIs that we recompeted in FY 2021: the Pathways to the Education Sciences Training program. This program is designed to encourage undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and masters-level students in groups that are historically underrepresented in doctoral education to pursue graduate study relevant to education research. Currently, there are seven IES-funded Pathways training programs in the United States, hosted by minority serving institutions (MSIs) and their partners. We are excited to see who applied in this first round of the Early Career Mentoring program and anticipate investing in this program in FY 2023 and beyond.  
  3. The TWG also recommended that IES intentionally reach out to the MSI community to ensure that they know about the opportunities available at IES. We held our first such event since the TWG on September 7, 2021, where IES hosted a virtual listening session at HBCU week. More than 250 scholars attended that session and provided valuable feedback on barriers to HBCU-based researchers applying for research funding from IES. We are in the process of scheduling additional listening sessions with other communities of researchers to provide more opportunities for input from diverse stakeholders and underrepresented groups.
  4. The TWG also recommended that IES take a deeper look at the demographic and institutional data of applicants to our grants programs to identify which groups of researchers and institutions are underrepresented. Data indicate that the percentage of applications received from MSIs between 2013 and 2020 was very small—4% of applications to NCER and 1% to NCSER. Of those applications that were funded, 10% of NCER’s awards were made to MSIs and none of NCSER’s awards were made to MSIs. IES reviewed the demographic information FY 2021 NCER and NCSER grant applicants and awardees voluntarily submitted, and among those who reported their demographic information, we found the following:
    • Gender (response rate of approximately 82%) - The majority of the principal investigators that applied for (62%) and received funding (59%) from IES identified as female.
    • Race (response rate of approximately 75%) - The majority of principal investigators that applied for (78%) and received funding (88%) from IES identified as White, while 22% of applicants and 13% of awardees identified as non-White or multi-racial.
    • Ethnicity (response rate of approximately 72%) - The majority of principal investigators that applied for (95%) and received funding (97%) identified as non-Hispanic.
    • Disability (response rate of approximately 70%) - The majority of principal investigators that applied for (97%) and received funding (96%) identified as not having a disability.

These data underscore the need for IES to continue to broaden and diversify the education research pipeline, including institutions and researchers, and better support the needs of underrepresented researchers in the education community. However, tracking our progress has proven to be a challenge. Responding to the demographic survey was voluntary so a significant number of applicants chose not to respond to particular questions. We strongly encourage all our grant applicants to respond to the demographic survey so that we will be better able to track our progress in improving diversity in our grant programs.

Addressing Misconceptions that Limit Diversity in IES Applicants

TWG panel members and attendees at the HBCU session highlighted a series of misconceptions that the education sciences community holds about the funding process at IES and recommended that IES identify communication strategies to address these misconceptions. IES hears that message loud and clear and wants to address at least a few of those misconceptions here.

Myth: IES only funds randomized controlled trials, limiting the range of researchers and institutions that can be competitive for IES grants.

Reality: IES funds a range of research, including measurement work, exploratory research, intervention development and testing, and efficacy and replication studies. We also fund a wide range of methods, including various experimental and quasi-experimental designs and mixed methods that combine quantitative and qualitative methods.

Myth: IES doesn’t support course buyout or summer salary.

Reality: IES supports grant personnel time to carry out research related activities. This can include course buyout and summer salary. Principal investigators on grants coordinate their budget planning with sponsored projects officers to ensure that their budgets comply with institutional guidelines as well as federal guidelines.

Myth: IES program officers are too busy to help novice applicants.

Reality: Because IES program officers are not involved in the peer review of applications, they can provide in-depth technical assistance and advice throughout the application process. They can even review drafts of proposals prior to submission! IES program officers can be your best resource in helping you submit a competitive grant proposal.

 

If you’d like to learn more about DEIA at IES, please see our Diversity Statement. You can also subscribe to our Newsflash and follow us on Twitter (@IESResearch) for announcements of future listening sessions. Please send any feedback or suggestions to NCER.Commissioner@ed.gov (National Center for Education Research) or NCSER.Commissioner@ed.gov (National Center for Special Education Research). Also, watch this blog over the next few months to read about the wide range of IES grantees and fellows from diverse backgrounds and career paths. Next up is our Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15, 2021) blog series.


Christina Chhin (Christina.Chhin@ed.gov), Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) assisted Commissioners Albro and McLaughlin in writing this blog.

Why School-based Mental Health?

In May 2021, we launched a new blog series called Spotlight on School-based Mental Health to unpack the why, what, when, who, and where of providing mental health services in schools. This first post in the series focuses on the why by discussing three IES-funded projects that highlight the importance of these services.

Increasing access to needed services. A primary benefit of school-based mental health is that it can increase access to much-needed services. A 2019 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) indicates that 60% of the nearly 4 million 12- to 17-year-olds who reported a major depressive episode in the past year did not receive any treatment whatsoever. What can be done to address this need? One idea being tested in this 2019 efficacy replication study is whether school counselors with clinician support can provide high school students a telehealth version of a tier-2 depression prevention program with prior evidence of efficacy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy-Adolescent Skills Training (IPT-AST). Through individual and group sessions, the IPT-AST program provides direct instruction in communication and interpersonal problem-solving strategies to decrease conflict, increase support, and improve social functioning.   

Improving access to services for Black youth. Social anxiety (SA) is a debilitating fear of negative evaluation in performance and social situations that can make school a particularly challenging environment. The connection between SA and impaired school functioning is likely exacerbated in Black youth who often contend with negative racial stereotypes. In this 2020 development and innovation project, the research team aims to expand Black youth’s access to mental health services by improving the contextual and cultural relevance of a promising school-based social anxiety intervention, the Skills for Academic and Social Success (SASS). Through community partnerships, focus groups, and interviews, the team will make cultural and structural changes to SASS and add strategies to engage Black students in urban high schools who experience social anxiety.

Reducing stigma by promoting well-being. The second leading barrier cited by adolescents for not seeking mental health treatment include social factors such as perceived stigma and embarrassment. One way to counteract these barriers is to frame intervention in more positive terms with a focus on subjective well-being, a central construct in positive psychology. In this 2020 initial efficacy study, the research team is testing the Well-Being Promotion Program in middle schools in Florida and Massachusetts. In 10 core sessions, students low in subjective well-being take part in group activities and complete homework assignments designed to increase gratitude, acts of kindness, use of signature character strengths, savoring of positive experiences, optimism, and hopeful or goal-directed thinking.

These three projects illustrate why we need to carefully consider school-based mental health as a logical and critical part of success in school, particularly as we navigate the road to helping students recover from disengagement and learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Next in the series, we will look at the what of school-based mental health and highlight several projects that are developing innovative ways to support the mental health of students and staff in school settings.


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research at IES

 

Spotlight on School-based Mental Health

This May as we recognize National Mental Health Awareness Month, schools around the country are welcoming students and educators back for in-person instruction after more than a year of remote or hybrid teaching and learning. One issue schools must consider during this transition back is the increase in mental health concerns among adults, young adults, and adolescents this past year. Here at IES, we support research that explores, develops, and tests innovative, field-initiated approaches to support mental health in schools and classrooms. This new IES blog series will explore school-based mental health by looking at IES-funded research that helps answer the five Ws:

 

  • Why school-based mental health? The first blog in the series will consider the benefits of school-based mental health such as providing increased access to services, especially for children of color, and potentially counteracting the stigma some associate with mental health treatment.

 

  • What can schools do to support the mental health of their students and staff? The second blog in the series will highlight several projects that are developing innovative new ways to provide mental health services in school settings.

 

  • When during the school day can schools implement these mental health practices so that they do not compete with the academic/instructional goals of school? The third blog in the series will highlight a variety of projects that delve into the implementation challenges inherent to providing school-based mental health services and support.

 

  • Who in the school should implement these mental health practices? The fourth blog in the series will explore the critical scale up challenge for schools of having staff with adequate time who can be appropriately trained to provide mental health supports to students.

 

  • Where can these mental health practices be implemented? The final blog in the series will investigate the implementation challenges of different education settings (PreK, elementary, middle, high school, postsecondary) for school-based mental health programs and practices.  

 

See these blogs for more information about some of the school-based mental health research supported through the two IES research centers, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).  


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research at IES