Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

A Renewed Focus on Education Leadership

Education leaders, such as school principals, have been the focus of education research for decades. While research suggests that there are substantial (albeit mostly indirect) relationships between school leadership and student achievement, there is still much to learn. More information is needed about how the knowledge, skills, abilities, and actions of school leaders are impacting student outcomes and the best ways to prepare and support school leaders.

Since 2004, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has only funded 15 research studies on education leadership through several education research grant programs. A technical working group met last year and recommended that NCER strengthen its portfolio of research on this important topic.

In response, IES is revamping its Education Leadership topic as a separate part of its Education Research grants program. By doing so, we hope to provide a greater focus on education leadership research and increase understanding of how school leadership can improve achievement and opportunities for students.

Through the leadership topic, IES is offering research opportunities on programs, policies, and practices that support leaders in K-12 education systems at the school, district, or state level and ultimately lead to improved student outcomes.  While IES invites all applications that meet the topic requirements, we are especially interested in

  • exploratory research on the specific competencies and behaviors needed by leaders to support at-risk or high-risk students and improve student outcomes in challenging educational settings, such as persistently low-performing schools and high-poverty schools and districts;
  • exploratory research on the relationship between student education outcomes and district policies regarding the identification and selection of education leaders, assignment of leaders to specific schools, leadership turnover, and the distribution of leadership roles and responsibilities among multiple individuals within a school;
  • evaluations of leadership interventions that have the potential to improve student outcomes; and
  • the validation of existing leadership measures and the development and validation of new leadership measures for the purpose of research, formative assessment, and accountability.

Education leadership researchers who have strong partnerships with school districts and/or state education agencies should also consider applying to the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic within the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy grants program.  This topic allows researchers to carry out initial research that is of importance to district and/or state partners and then develop a plan for future research.

For more information on funding opportunities for research on education leadership contact Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) or Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov) or visit the IES website. If you missed the deadline to submit an optional Letter of Intent for the Education Leadership topic, please email it to Katina or Corinne directly.

A One-Stop Shop for Leadership Research

We have consolidated all education research grants related to education leaders under our Education Leadership research portfolio. The focus of these studies varies and includes the development and validation of leadership measures (such as the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) and the exploration of potential relationship(s) between malleable factors (such as principals’ skills and behaviors) and student outcomes. In addition to these studies, NCER has funded research on education leadership through its R&D centers on school choice, scaling up effective schools, and analyzing longitudinal education data

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER

PHOTO: Principals meet with the U.S. Department of Education leadership in 2015 (courtesy of U.S. Department of Education)

A New Research Spotlight on Educating Highly Mobile Students

Across America, schools struggle with addressing the academic and social needs of students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-dependent. These students typically change residences and/or schools frequently (often multiple times within a given school year) making it difficult for them to succeed academically.  

This year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is shining a research spotlight on improving the education outcomes of highly mobile K-12 students through a new special topic within its Education Research grants program. The new Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students special topic invites research on:

  • support services that reduce barriers that highly mobile students typically face;
  • policies that allow highly mobile students to receive credit for full or partial coursework completed while attending their previous schools;
  • policies that facilitate the transfer of student records across jurisdictions, and help highly mobile students navigate standards, course, and graduation requirements that change from state to state;
  • policies and programs that address the academic, physical, psychological, and social needs of highly mobile students who may have experienced deprivation or trauma; and
  • state and local implementation of services for highly mobile students that are required by federal law or are provided through federally funded programs or interstate agreements.  

Through this special topic, IES also encourages studies that create or utilize shared/integrated data systems (such as records exchanges) to identify and track highly mobile students and pinpoint factors that could potentially be used to improve these students' outcomes. 

(Dr. Jill Biden, pictured above, mentioned this new special topic area in her remarks at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference as part of her focus on military families.)

Additional Opportunities for Research on Highly Mobile Students

Researchers who are interested in studying highly mobile pre-K students are invited to apply through to the Early Learning Programs and Policies topic. Similarly, researchers who are interested increasing highly mobile students’ access to, persistence in, progress through, and completion of postsecondary education are invited to apply through the Postsecondary and Adult Education Research topic. 

IES also encourages researchers to partner with local school districts or state education agencies to carry out initial research on highly mobile students and develop a plan for future research. This can be done through the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic.

For more information about funding opportunities for research on highly mobile students, please visit the IES website or contact Katina Stapleton.

For examples of previously funded research on highly mobile students, see  Promoting Executive Function to Enhance Learning in Homeless/Highly Mobile Children, Developing a Model for Delivering School-Based Mentoring to Students in Military Families, and Students in Foster Care: The Relationship between Mobility and Educational Outcomes.

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER; Program Officer, Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students

Photo of Dr. Biden courtesy of AERA

The Institute of Education Sciences at AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) will hold its annual meeting April 8 through April 12 in Washington, D.C.—the largest educational research gathering in the nation. This will be a special meeting for AERA, as it is celebrating 100 years of advocating for the development and use of research in education. The program includes hundreds of sessions, including opportunities to learn about cutting edge education research and opportunities to broaden and deepen the field. 

About 30 sessions will feature staff from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) discussing IES-funded research, evaluation, and statistics, as well as training and funding opportunities.

On Saturday, April 9, at 10:35 a.m., attendees will have a chance to meet the Institute’s leadership and hear about the areas of work that IES will be focusing on in the coming year. Speakers include Ruth Curran Neild, IES’ delegated director, and the leaders of the four centers in IES: Thomas Brock, commissioner of the National Center for Education Research (NCER); Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES); Joy Lesnick, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), and Joan McLaughlin, commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

On Monday, April 11, at 9:45 a.m., attendees can speak to one of several IES staffers who will be available at the Research Funding Opportunities—Meet Your Program Officers session. Program officers from NCER, NCSER, and NCEE will be on hand to answer questions about programs and grant funding opportunities. Several IES representatives will also be on hand Monday afternoon, at 4:15 p.m. for the Federally Funded Data Resources: Opportunities for Research session to discuss the myriad datasets and resources that are available to researchers.

NCES staff will lead sessions and present on a variety of topics, from The Role of School Finance in the Pursuit of Equity (Saturday, 12:25 p.m.) to Understanding Federal Education Policies and Data about English Learners (Sunday, April 10, 8:15 a.m.) and what we can learn from the results of PIAAC, a survey of adult skills (also Sunday, 8:15 a.m.). Dr. Carr will be a part of several sessions, including one on Sunday morning (10:35 a.m.) about future directions for NCES longitudinal studies and another on Monday morning (10 a.m.) entitled Issues and Challenges in the Fair and Valid Assessment of Diverse Populations in the 21st Century

On Monday, at 11:45 a.m., you can also learn about an IES-supported tool, called RCT-YES, that is designed to reduce barriers to rigorous impact studies by simplifying estimation and reporting of study results (Dr. Lesnick will be among those presenting). And a team from the IES research centers (NCER/NCSER) will present Sunday morning (10:35 a.m.) on communication strategies for disseminating education research (which includes this blog!).

IES staff will also participate in a number of other roundtables and poster sessions. For instance, on Tuesday, April 12, at 8:15 a.m., grab a cup of coffee and attend the structured poster session with the Institute’s 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs). This session will focus on building partnerships to improve data use in education.  REL work will also be featured at several other AERA sessions.  

Did you know that the National Library of Education (NLE) is a component of IES? On Friday and Monday afternoon, attendees will have a unique opportunity to go on a site visit to the library. You’ll learn about the library’s current and historical resources – including its collection of more than 20,000 textbooks dating from the mid-19th century. The Library offers information, statistical, and referral services to the Department of Education and other government agencies and institutions, and to the public.

If you are going to AERA, follow us on Twitter to learn more about our sessions and our work.  And if you are tweeting during one of our sessions, please include @IESResearch in your tweet. 

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

Building a Better RFA

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is committed to continuous improvement and that includes the process by which people apply for and access grants.

Since its authorization in 2002, IES’ research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)—have  been making efforts to improve the Requests for Applications (RFAs) we put out each year. In this spirit, we have conducted surveys of applicants the past few years and used that feedback to improve the current RFAs.

In Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 and 2015, all Principal Investigators (PIs) who submitted an application to the Education Research Grants Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305A) or the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305H) were contacted via e-mail and asked to participate in the web-based survey. In FY 2015, applicants to the Special Education Research Grants Program (CFDA #324A) were included in the survey request.  The response rates were good for all surveys:

Grant Program FY 2014 FY 2015
Education Research Grants Program 62% 66%
Partnerships and Collaborations Program 59% 73%
Special Education Research Grants n/a 55%

 

Survey respondents generally provided positive feedback in both years. Most respondents indicated they felt the RFAs were clear and helpful, though there were some areas that generated some confusion and criticism.  For example, in FY 2014:

  • Applicants to the Education Research Grants program thought it was inconvenient to have to refer to two separate documents, the RFA and the Application Submission Guide, in order to complete their application.
  • Applicants to the Partnerships and Collaborations program reported some confusion about the distinction between partnership activities and research activities.

In response to the FY 2014 RFA survey results, the Institute made a number of changes. For the FY 2015 Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants, changes included combining the RFA and the Application Submission Guide into one document to provide all the necessary information in one place. According to responses from the FY 2015 RFA survey, this change was positively received. The majority of the respondents to the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants surveys (n=398; 83%) reported that combining the RFA and Application Submission Guide was much better or somewhat better than having two separate documents. Overall, a majority of respondents (n = 161, 56%) felt the FY 2015 RFA was much better or somewhat better than in previous years, while another 43 percent felt that it was not better or worse.

For the Partnerships and Collaborations RFA, a number of changes were made to the FY 2015 RFA in response to the surveys. For example, the requirements for the research activities were disentangled from the requirements for the partnership in order to reduce redundancy within the application. Most respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey (n = 53; 73%) felt this change made the RFA much better or somewhat better.

Respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey also had some criticisms, and the Institute addressed those concerns in the FY 2016 RFAs. Specifically, in the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants RFAs, more detail was added to the requirements for the dissemination plan and for the cost analysis plan.  For the Education Research Grants RFA, the language around research gaps was expanded to clarify that these are not priorities. Changes made in the Special Education Research Grant RFA in response to the feedback from the survey included streamlining application requirements related to student disability, age range or grade level, outcomes, and settings across its 11 research topics.  More details were added about the partnership tracking strategy (an area of confusion for many applicants) in the Partnerships and Collaborations FY 2016 RFA.

IES continues to strive toward improving RFAs and welcomes comments and suggestions for improvement. More information on the RFA results is available here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/projects/.

New FY 2017 RFAs are being posted on the IES Funding Opportunities page. If you have comments, please write to us at IESresearch@ed.gov.

By Christina Chhin (NCER), Rebecca McGill-Wilkinson (NCER), Phill Gagné (NCER) and Kristen Rhoads (NCSER)*

* Since this blog post was written, Dr. Rhoads has taken a position with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. 

A Night to Play and Learn

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

It was an event that had the feel of an arcade, but the heart of a schoolhouse.

The Ed Games Expo on Wednesday, December 9, 2015, hosted 45 developers who are building games for learning that are designed to engage students across a variety of topics and subject matters. One-third of the games on display at the Expo are supported by the Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research (ED/IES SBIR) program, which provides awards to companies to improve the use of technology in education.

Photo by Lauren Kleissas

(Photo by Lauren Kleissas)

"Games are inherently engaging," said Brooke Morrill, an educational researcher at Schell Games. "A student may or may not be interested in a topic matter, but it doesn't matter. They are engaged in the game."

Schell Games was demonstrating a prototype of "Happy Atoms," a game that combines hand-on resources with technology to create an interactive learning experience. Users can use create atom models with balls and sticks; similar to the way it’s been done in Chemistry classes for generations. But using an app equipped with vision recognition software, users can scan the model they've built to see what they've created or if they've made any mistakes. The app then connects to curriculum-aligned content about the molecule and how it is used in the real world.

Happy Atoms (pictured below) was a long-time pet project of the company's CEO, Jesse Schell, who is a vanguard in the educational gaming industry. However, the company didn't have funding to put a full-time team on the game's development. In 2014, Schell received a Phase I funding from ED/IES SBIR to develop a prototype and, earlier this year, received a Phase II award to further develop and evaluate Happy Atoms.

"We wouldn't be where we are without our IES funding," Morrill said.

A few tables away, the Attainment Company was demonstrating ED/IES SBIR-supported technology that is designed to build the reading, comprehension, and writing skills of special education students. For instance, Access: Language Arts is an app and software designed to allow middle school students with intellectual disabilities to read adapted versions of the books their peers are reading (like The Outsiders and the Diary of Anne Frank) while building their writing skills and even engaging in research.

 

"We know many students, especially those with autism, are motivated by technology because of the consistency it provides," said Pamela J. Mims, an assistant professor of special education at East Tennessee State University, who is working with Attainment on Access: Language Arts.  "We collected a lot of data on this and we see a lot of engagement."

Engagement is a big part of what drove John Krajewski, of Strange Loop Games, to develop ECO, another game that has received Phase I and II funding through ED/IES SBIR. Krajewski calls ECO a “global survival game,” in which students work together to build and maintain a virtual world for 30 days.

“You are trying to build up enough technology for your society, but in the process you can pollute and damage this world to the point it could die on its own,” Krajewski said. “You have to make decisions as a group about what has to be done in this world.”

In order to preserve the world, players have to pass laws that will protect resources while allowing society to continue to develop. For example, students might decide to limit the number of trees that can be cut down each day. Then, they can use graphs and data to see the impact of their laws and the health of their world. ECO not only builds an understanding about ecology and environmental science, but it builds real-world skills, like collaboration, communication, and scientific conversation and debate.

Krajewski said the funding from ED/IES SBIR not only allowed the project to be developed, but was a vote of confidence that allows ECO to be accepted in the field.

“IES has given us total runway to make this thing happen, which is awesome,” he said.

ED/IES SBIR is now soliciting Phase I proposals from firms and their partners for the research, development, and evaluation of commercially viable education technology products. You can learn more on the IES website