Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Rural Education Research: Current Investments and Future Directions

By Emily Doolittle, NCER Program Officer

In school year 2010-11, over half of all operating regular school districts and about one-third of all public schools were in rural areas, while about one-quarter of all public school students were enrolled in rural schools.(The Status of Rural Education)

 

About 12 million students are educated in rural settings in the United States. Teaching and learning in these settings generates unique challenges, both for the schools operating in rural areas and for the researchers who want to learn more about rural schools and their needs. Recognizing this, NCER has made targeted investments in rural education research through two of its National Education Research and Development (R&D) Centers.

The National Research Center on Rural Education Support focused on the educational challenges created by limited resources in rural settings, such as attracting and retaining appropriately and highly qualified teachers and providing them with high-quality professional development. Specific projects included:

  • The Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) program, which seeks to help rural teachers, who often work in isolation, turn struggling early readers (kindergarten and 1st grade) into fluent ones. Using a laptop and a webcam, a TRI Consultant supports the classroom teacher as they provide diagnostically-driven instruction in one-on-one sessions.
  • The Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program (REAL) professional development model, which helps teachers consider the academic, behavioral, and social difficulties that together contribute to school failure and dropout for adolescent students. Accordingly, REAL is designed to provide teachers with strategies to help students make a successful transition into middle school.
  • The Rural Distance Learning and Technology Program, which examined the role of distance in advanced level courses for students and professional development for teachers; and
  • The Rural High School Aspirations Study (RHSA), which examined rural high school students’ postsecondary aspirations and preparatory planning.

The National Center foResearch on Rural Education (R2Ed) examined ways to design and deliver teacher professional development to improve instruction and support student achievement in reading and science in rural schools through three projects:

  • The Teachers Speak Survey Study investigated (1) variations in existing rural professional development (PD) experiences; (2) differences in PD practices between rural and non-rural settings; and (3) the potential influence of PD characteristics on teacher knowledge, perceptions, and practices in one of four instructional content areas: reading, mathematics, science inquiry, or using data-based decision making to inform reading instruction/intervention.
  • Project READERS evaluated the impact of distance-provided coaching on (1) teachers' use of differentiated reading instruction following a response-to-intervention (RTI) model and (2) their students' acquisition of reading skills in early elementary school.
  • Coaching Science Inquiry (CSI) evaluated the impact of professional development with distance-provided coaching for teaching science using explicit instruction with guided inquiry and scaffolding on teacher instructional practice and science achievement in middle and high school.

R2Ed also conducted two related sets of studies.

  • The first set explored ecological influences and supports that may augment educational interventions and outcomes in rural schools. The goal of this work is to understand contextual influences of rurality and how they interact to influence parent engagement in education and child cognitive and social-behavioral outcomes.  
  • The second set explored methodological and statistical solutions to challenges associated with the conduct of rigorous experimental research in rural schools.

As R2Ed completes its work, NCER is considering how to support rural education research going forward. As a first step, we hosted a technical working group meeting in December 2014 to identify research objectives of importance to rural schools and to reflect on the success of the R&D Center model to advance our understanding of rural education. A summary of the meeting is available here on the IES website.  The ideas shared during this meeting will help guide future IES investments in rural education research.  

Please send any comments or questions to IESResearch@ed.gov.

 

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

Featuring Michael Kennedy, University of Virginia

By Liz Berke, NCSER intern

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to early career researchers?

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

What is your favorite aspect of working with your mentors?

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

 

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