Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Career Pathways Research at HHS: Lessons and Opportunities for Education Research

Over the past few years, staff from IES and the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have been learning from and supporting one another’s work. Our offices have a shared interest in understanding and improving outcome for adults in postsecondary career pathway programs and for creating a strong evidence base.

We have even funded projects that dovetail nicely. For example, IES funded a development project focusing on Year Up, and OPRE included Year Up programs in their Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) Study.

For IES researchers not already aware of OPRE’s research, we would like to highlight three things that may be particularly relevant to the work IES hopes to support.

A Growing Portfolio of Career Pathway Research: For over a decade, OPRE has created a robust research portfolio longitudinal, rigorous experimental career pathways program research.  These career pathway programs provide postsecondary education and training through a series of manageable steps leading to successively higher credentials and employment opportunities. In particular, OPRE has supported the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) Study and the rigorous evaluation of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) Program. You can find reports from these and other self-sufficiency, welfare, and employment activities in the OPRE Resource Library.

Available Data and Funding Opportunity: Later this summer, OPRE will be archiving data from PACE and HPOG at the University of Michigan’s Inter-University Consortium on Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the Institute for Social Research. These data will be available as restricted-use files for secondary data analysis. To encourage research, OPRE announced a funding opportunity Career Pathways Secondary Data Analysis Grants to support secondary analysis these data. Applications are due August 16, 2019.

Understanding Programs’ Motivations for Participating in Research: Getting education programs (schools, universities, etc.) to join multi-year, randomized controlled trials is difficult. Programs are wary of random assignment or finding null or negative effects. Yet, the programs that participated in the PACE Study were overall quite supportive. A recent report “We Get a Chance to Show Impact”, Program Staff Reflect on Participating in a Rigorous, Multi-site Evaluation documents the hurdles and benefits of participation from a program’s point of view. These programs’ insights are particularly useful for any researcher hoping to form partnerships with education settings.

To learn more about the ongoing career pathways research at OPRE and their findings, please visit https://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/research/project/career-pathways-research-portfolio.

IES Announces Forthcoming Funding Opportunity For the R&D of an “ROI Tool” to Inform Students’ Postsecondary Education and Career Decision Making

Students with electronic devices sitting against a wall.

Overview

On or about February 15, 2019, the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (ED/IES SBIR) anticipates releasing a Special Topic Solicitation #91990019R0016 in Postsecondary Education. The solicitation will be announced through an IES Newsflash and will be posted here. It will request Phase I proposals for awards of up to $200,000 for 8 months to develop a prototype of a "ROI tool.” The tool will be designed to measure the costs versus benefits (the return on investment) of different postsecondary education and training programs to help students make well-informed choices about options to pursue after they complete high school.

Applicants must be a for-profit business 500 employees or less, and U.S. owned and operated. Applicants may partner with entities or organizations working on related initiatives in the field of postsecondary education, or may subcontract to non-profit researchers or individuals with specialized expertise as needed. The due date for submission for proposals will likely be on or about April 15, 2019, with awards in mid-June, and projects beginning shortly thereafter. All Phase I awardees will be eligible to apply for a Phase II award in 2020, for $900,000 for full scale development and research to test and validate the ROI tool.

Background

While many websites provide ways for students to explore colleges or careers and occupations of interest (e.g., such as College Scorecard and CareerOneStop), there is currently no tool that helps students understand the costs and benefits of individual postsecondary programs in an integrated, customizable, and user-friendly manner.  An ROI tool would likely combine information on individual program’s tuition and fees, time needed to complete, and expected earnings. Because these characteristics can vary significantly across programs and institutions, creating a single estimated measure of ROI would allow students to more easily compare postsecondary program options. If it helps students make better choices, it could lead to improved program completion rates, higher levels of employment and earnings, less education-related debt, and more satisfaction with their selected education and career paths. 

The ED/IES SBIR Special Topic intends to fund up to five (5) Phase I projects to (a) develop and research a prototype of an ROI tool, and (b) conduct planning and concept testing for a fully developed ROI tool that provides a user-friendly experience for students. The prototype of the ROI tool developed in Phase I shall integrate with one or more existing technology systems, data sets, data standards, or resources (such as CareerOneStop or College Scorecard), and add new data elements provided by an end-user.  After a successful Phase I project, it is anticipated that small businesses that win Phase II awards will complete the full-scale development of the ROI tool that was started in Phase I, including developing an interface to improve the experience of students using the ROI tool.

Because data for ROI at the program level may only be available from some states, regions, or sets of institutions at this time, it is expected that the scope of the ROI tool developed in Phase I & II would be limited and would not be an attempt to calculate ROI for every program and institution in the country. Applicants must propose a project scope that appropriately reflects the datasets that are to be integrated within the new ROI tool, and the amount of funding and time allotted for development and research of the SBIR awards in Phase I and II.  Small businesses that are interested in this solicitation must have expertise with related efforts in the field to enhance student choices by linking education and workforce information.

Potential applicants may submit questions to ED’s Contracting Specialist Kevin.Wade@ed.gov. All questions and responses will be posted publically on the same website where the solicitation is posted as Amendments to the Solicitation.

 

Informing Future Research in Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Career and Technical Education (CTE) has been evolving and expanding at a rapid pace in recent years as industry and education leaders focus on students’ readiness for college and careers. While some studies have shown positive effects of CTE on students, the evidence base is thin. To learn more about the research needs of the CTE field, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and the National Center for Education Research (NCER) at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) convened a group of experts in policy, practice and research related to CTE.  The discussion held by the Technical Working Group (TWG) led both NCER and NCSER to increase their investments in CTE for fiscal year 2019: NCSER included a CTE special topic, and NCER changed its CTE topic from a special topic to a standing topic. Applications to both are due August 23, 2018.  Both research centers hope to fund more studies that will help us better understand this growing aspect of education.

The TWG focused on the following four questions:

  1. Who is served by CTE and who is left behind? From national CTE statistics, we know that 82% of all public high schools offer CTE. And, 85% of students earn at least one credit in CTE with the average high school student earning 2.5 CTE credits. However, TWG members noted that research is lacking on specific subpopulations in CTE, such as students from various demographic backgrounds and students with disabilities. Disaggregated data on these dimensions are needed to better understand the CTE experiences of the range of students being served. Such data may help educators improve equity of access to high quality programs for all students.
  2. What do we know―and need to know―about CTE policies, programs, and practices at the secondary and postsecondary levels?  TWG experts discussed the need to know more about industry-recognized credentials and about business and industry engagement in CTE at the secondary level. They argued that we do not know if credentials align with industry requirements, nor do we understand the impact of different types of credentials on student outcomes and wage trajectories. TWG members also noted that the higher the perceived quality or prestige of the CTE program, the more exclusive it becomes, and the more difficult it is for disadvantaged students to obtain access. TWG members also expressed concerns about CTE teacher training, particularly for experts who are recruited from industry without prior teacher preparation. As the experts discussed postsecondary CTE, they suggested that the field would be best served by framing the conversation about secondary to postsecondary pathways as a continuum that enables transparent and sequential transitions from secondary to 2-year and then to 4-year programs or to training or employment, with guidance for students to understand possible sequences.
  3. What are the critical methodological issues in CTE?  TWG members noted that, with a few notable exceptions (e.g.,  a 2008  MDRC study on career academies in New York and a recent study of CTE high schools in Massachusetts), few causal studies on CTE have been conducted. There is an urgent need for more high quality, causal research on CTE policies and programs. In addition, the experts noted that there is almost no research on students with disabilities in CTE. TWG members concluded that the field needs to re-conceptualize CTE research – including better defining CTE students, instructors, programs, and measures – and identify the critical research questions in order to encourage more research in this field.
  4. What is needed to advance CTE research?  State CTE administrators want to know how to identify quality CTE programs so they know how to spend their dollars most effectively on programs that best meet the needs of students. Policymakers also want to know what “works” and what the benefits are of such investments. The TWG members encouraged studies that examine the educational benefits of particular instructional approaches. They also highlighted the importance of collaborative cross-institutional and cross-agency efforts to advance CTE research.

Readers are invited to read the summary of the TWG discussion.

By Corinne Alfeld (NCER program officer) and Kimberley Sprague (former NCSER program officer)

Building Evidence: Changes to the IES Goal Structure for FY 2019

The IES Goal Structure was created to support a continuum of education research that divides the research process into stages for both theoretical and practical purposes. Individually, the five goals – Exploration (Goal 1), Development and Innovation (Goal 2), Efficacy and Replication (Goal 3), Effectiveness (Goal 4), and Measurement (Goal 5) – were intended to help focus the work of researchers, while collectively they were intended to cover the range of activities needed to build evidence-based solutions to the most pressing education problems in our nation. Implicit in the goal structure is the idea that over time, researchers will identify possible strategies to improve student outcomes (Goal 1), develop and pilot-test interventions (Goal 2), and evaluate the effects of interventions with increasing rigor (Goals 3 and 4).

Over the years, IES has received many applications and funded a large number of projects under Goals 1-3.  In contrast, IES has received relatively few applications and awarded only a small number of grants under Goal 4. To find out why – and to see if there were steps IES could take to move more intervention studies through the evaluation pipeline – IES hosted a Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting in 2016 to hear views from experts on what should come after an efficacy study (see the relevant summary and blog post). IES also issued a request for public comment on this question in July 2017 (see summary).

The feedback we received was wide-ranging, but there was general agreement that IES could do more to encourage high-quality replications of interventions that show prior evidence of efficacy. One recommendation was to place more emphasis on understanding “what works for whom” under various conditions.  Another comment was that IES could provide support for a continuum of replication studies.  In particular, some commenters felt that the requirements in Goal 4 to use an independent evaluator and to carry out an evaluation under routine conditions may not be practical or feasible in all cases, and may discourage some researchers from going beyond Goal 3.   

In response to this feedback, IES revised its FY 2019 RFAs for Education Research Grants (84.305A) and Special Education Research Grants (84.324A) to make clear its interest in building more and better evidence on the efficacy and effectiveness of interventions. Among the major changes are the following:

  • Starting in FY 2019, Goal 3 will continue to support initial efficacy evaluations of interventions that have not been rigorously tested before, in addition to follow-up and retrospective studies.
  • Goal 4 will now support all replication studies of interventions that show prior evidence of efficacy, including but not limited to effectiveness studies.
  • The maximum amount of funding that may be requested under Goal 4 is higher to support more in-depth work on implementation and analysis of factors that moderate or mediate program effects.

The table below summarizes the major changes. We strongly encourage potential applicants to carefully read the RFAs (Education Research, 84.305A and Special Education Research, 84.324A) for more details and guidance, and to contact the relevant program officers with questions (contact information is in the RFA).

Applications are due August 23, 2018 by 4:30:00 pm Washington DC time.

 

Name Change

Focus Change

Requirements Change

Award Amount Change

Goal 3

Formerly “Efficacy and Replication;” in FY2019, “Efficacy and Follow-Up.”

Will continue to support initial efficacy evaluations of interventions in addition to follow-up and retrospective studies.

No new requirements.

No change.

Goal 4

Formerly “Effectiveness;” in FY2019, “Replication: Efficacy and Effectiveness.”

Will now support all replications evaluating the impact of an intervention. Will also support Efficacy Replication studies and Re-analysis studies.

Now contains a requirement to describe plans to conduct analyses related to implementation and analysis of key moderators and/or mediators. (These were previously recommended.)

Efficacy Replication studies maximum amount: $3,600,000.

Effectiveness studies maximum amount: $4,000,000.

Re-analysis studies maximum amount: $700,000.

 

 

By Thomas Brock (NCER Commissioner) and Joan McLaughlin (NCSER Commissioner)

IES Funds New Research in Career and Technical Education

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funds research in a broad array of education topics. In fact, the Education Research Grants Program alone funds research in 11 specific topics, such as early learning, reading and writing, STEM, postsecondary and adult education, English learners, social behavioral contexts for learning and others.

In 2017, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) introduced a twelfth area, Special Topics, to address important areas in education that are of high interest to policy makers and practitioners where there is a research gap.

As we noted in a previous blog, Career and Technical Education (CTE) is one such area. Across the country, CTE programs and policies are growing, creating a greater need for high-quality, independent research in this area. The Career and Technical Education (CTE) special topic seeks to fill this research gap by funding projects that study the implementation of CTE programs and policies and how they impact student outcomes in K-12 education. In 2017, IES has funded its first three special topic research grants on CTE:

  • New York University will study the impact of New York City's Career Technical Education programs on students' career and work-related learning experiences, social and behavioral competencies, high school completion, and transitions to college and the work place;
  • The Education Development Center will lead a study that compares three different ways that CTE is delivered in California—career academies, career pathways, and elective CTE courses. The researchers will examine relationships between CTE delivery mode and student outcomes; and
  • A study of Florida’s CTE certification program will be conducted by Research Triangle Institute (RTI). The study will identify which high school certifications are associated with a higher likelihood of passing certification exams and whether obtaining a certification leads to better attendance, graduation rates, and postsecondary enrollment and persistence.

For its 2018 grant competition, IES is again accepting applications for CTE research grants, as well as two other special topics.

The Arts in Education special topic funds research to better understand how arts programs and policies are implemented and the impact they have on student outcomes. The research coming out of this program can help inform policy debates regarding the benefits of arts programming in schools. (Read a recent blog post on this topic.)

The Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students special topic seeks to fund research aimed at improving the education and outcomes for students who frequently move schools because of changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds or are a part of military families. (Read a recent blog post on this topic.)

You can learn more about these and other funding opportunities on the IES website, and on Facebook and Twitter

Written by Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES