Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

NCER’s Investments in Education Research Networks to Accelerate Pandemic Recovery Network Lead Spotlight: Dr. Thomas Brock, ARCC Network

We hope you enjoyed the first NCER network lead spotlight! Today, we would like to introduce Dr. Thomas Brock, director of the Community College Research Center. Dr. Brock’s network, the Accelerating Recovery in Community Colleges (ARCC) Network, aims to provide timely, actionable research from the pandemic that policymakers and practitioners can use to help community colleges recover from the challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Happy reading!

NCER: What are the mission and goals of the Accelerating Recovery in Community Colleges Network?

Dr. Brock: The primary goal of the ARCC Network is to provide timely, actionable research that policymakers and practitioners can use to help community colleges recover from the challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. These include steep drops in enrollment—particularly for students of color and male students—and learning losses associated with illness, stress, and challenges of online learning.

 

NCER: Why is the ARCC Network important to you?

Dr. Brock: The ARCC Network is important because community colleges are important. They enroll about one-third of all undergraduate college students in the U.S., including many who are from low-income backgrounds and the first in their families to attend college. The nation needs strong community colleges to help students advance educationally and economically. The nation also needs community colleges to prepare workers and support the economy in essential fields such as health care, information technology, construction trades, and manufacturing.

NCER: I understand that you had a central role in establishing the research networks grant program at IES. What is your view of a research network, and how does it differ from a traditional education research project?

Dr. Brock: There is an old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With the research networks, IES intends to generate a body of work on a critical education problem or issue that is more impactful than an individual research project is likely to generate. This is because members of a research network come together regularly to discuss their ideas, tackle common methodological challenges, share data collection tools, and make sense of their emerging findings. They think about how to distill, align, and communicate research results from the early stages rather than as an afterthought. This benefits policymakers and practitioners, who look to researchers for insights and guidance. It also benefits the research community by building consensus on what has been learned and what new questions need to be addressed.

NCER: How do you think the ARCC Network will impact our nation’s community colleges?

Dr. Brock: Our hope is that the ARCC Network will help policymakers to be attentive to the needs of community colleges and shed light on the populations and places that need the most help. We also hope that the network will help identify promising policies and practices to promote rapid recovery.

NCER: What are some of the biggest challenges to recovery in community colleges?

Dr. Brock: Community colleges are largely funded based on enrollment. To date, the decline in enrollment has not led to too much reduction in academic programs or services because of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), authorized by Congress. HEERF funding ends after the 2022–23 academic year. If enrollments do not rebound quickly, community colleges will have to make significant cuts. This could lead to a downward spiral in which even fewer students enroll or persist, because they do not find the courses or services that they need.

Another challenge to recovery is learning loss. We know from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that there have been declines in reading and math achievement in K–12 schools during the pandemic. As these students mature and enter postsecondary education, they may be less well prepared for college-level work. Community colleges have made significant reforms to developmental education programs in recent years but will need to do more to ensure entering students succeed in college-level courses and make progress toward their academic and career goals.

Finally, we know that the pandemic has taken a severe toll on physical and mental health. Community colleges will need to find ways to reduce stress and promote wellness for everyone in their campus community–students, faculty, and staff.

NCER: What are some effective ways to translate education research into practice so that your work will have a direct impact on states and community college systems? What are some barriers to uptake of research outcomes by these organizations?

Dr. Brock: The ARCC Network will actively disseminate the research findings produced by individual research teams and by our national scan of community college enrollments and recovery practices. We will build a website that functions as an information hub for the most recent enrollment trends and reliable evidence on recovery strategies. We will conduct interactive workshops and webinars for state and local community college leaders and staff who are interested in learning from and adapting research-based practices to support pandemic recovery. We will use our connections with national organizations, like the American Association of Community Colleges and Achieving the Dream, and social media to ensure we reach a broad audience.

NCER: Are there some generalizable tools or lessons learned that are likely to come out of this network project that you think will benefit the education research community as a whole?

Dr. Brock: Yes. One area of focus for ARCC researchers, for example, is how to design and deliver effective online learning. Prior to the pandemic, most research on online learning in community colleges indicated it was not as effective as in-person instruction, but many colleges have upped their game with improved technology and better training and support for faculty who teach online. We have also seen from the pandemic that online learning benefits some students who might not otherwise attend community college, including students who live far from campus (especially in rural areas) or who are juggling demands of work and parenting. We hope to reframe the research debate so that it is less about online versus in-person instruction and more about how to provide online instruction most effectively to students who prefer this modality. We expect the lessons and tools from the ARCC Network will be broadly relevant to community colleges and may be adapted to other education sectors.


Thank you for reading our conversation with Dr. Thomas Brock! Come back tomorrow for our final grantee spotlight!  

NCER’s Investments in Education Research Networks to Accelerate Pandemic Recovery Network Lead Spotlight: Dr. Rebecca Griffiths, LEARN Network

Welcome to the first installment of the NCER research network leads spotlight series! With funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), NCER has invested in research grants that will generate information about accelerating learning that is useful, usable, and used. The awardees, who are members of these new research networks, are addressing the urgent challenges faced by schools as they support students’, teachers’, and school districts’ recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Today, we’ll take you through our conversation with Dr. Rebecca Griffiths, senior principal education reporter at SRI International, and hear about the Leveraging Evidence to Accelerate Recovery Nationwide Network (LEARN Network).

 

NCER: What are some of the biggest challenges facing education systems, teachers, and learners post-COVID, and what are some ways that education researchers can help to target solutions to those challenges?

Dr. Rebecca Griffiths: The biggest challenges facing education systems, teachers, and learners post-COVID are not new, for the most part; rather, they are long-standing problems and inequities that have worsened. To put a finer point on it: while all students lost ground academically, students from underserved and underresourced communities were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, further exacerbating existing academic disadvantages. 

For education researchers hoping to support COVID recovery by introducing evidence-based programs and practices, timing is an issue. Designing a new curriculum or intervention typically takes years of development and testing, and we (as a country) don’t have that luxury. Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. What we can do is focus attention on solutions that already have proven effectiveness, which means making sure that educators know they exist and have support for implementing them. Some adaptation may be needed given the urgency of the current circumstances. For example, if the number of students reading two years below grade level jumped from a handful to a large share, teachers will need a different way to meet that need. So an intervention or online tutoring system may need to be adapted to serve many more kids. 

There are a few implications here for researchers who develop products such as curriculums and interventions that are intended to impact student learning:  

  1. We should be thinking about how our products and interventions can be adapted to meet needs with greater urgency at a larger scale. This may mean that the implementation process needs to be simplified, streamlined, or reconfigured to support new participants (such as parent tutors) in the educational process.  
  2. We should ensure that the products and interventions we provide fit with the needs, environments, and decision-making processes of educators. Gold-standard efficacy studies will not make a solution attractive to users if the solution doesn’t address a high-priority need, is overly difficult and expensive to implement, or doesn’t fit the criteria of various stakeholders who have a say in selecting products and interventions for their schools. We need to attend to the user environment, which we can do by ensuring the communities we aim to serve have a voice in designing solutions. 
  3. We can do a much better job with how we typically disseminate information about evidence-based products. “Dissemination” sounds a bit like dropping a bunch of leaflets out of an airplane, but actually requires a much more energetic stance than this word implies. Effective dissemination integrates at least four activities that commercial providers typically undertake to get their solutions out into the world: building interest in and awareness of a solution (marketing); persuading people that a solution is the best choice for their needs and that they should dedicate resources to it (sales); making sure that people have access to a solution (distribution); and making sure that people have the support they need to implement a solution with integrity (customer support). Those of us who develop educational products and interventions need to think beyond journal publications and academic conferences if we want to reach a meaningful share of our target users. Of course, not all researchers have the capacity or desire to undertake these activities, and in these cases, we might consider alternate pathways to scale, such as licensing our intellectual creations to others (e.g., curriculum publishers or entrepreneurs) who are equipped and appropriately motivated to take these steps.

NCER: What is your view of a research network, and how does it differ from a traditional education research project?

Dr. Griffiths: A research network seeks to amplify the impact of its members so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and to generate lessons learned for a broader community. We can do this by identifying promising strategies and shared challenges within the network, facilitating a learning community to share expertise and experience among network members in service of overcoming those challenges, and then documenting these processes and successes to share with the broader field. 

NCER: What are the specific goals for this network, and how does it support the goals of the ARP?

Dr. Griffiths: The LEARN Network (which stands for Leveraging Evidence to Accelerate Recovery Nationwide) is led by SRI and includes four teams of researchers focused on scaling existing EBPs in K–8 literacy or mathematics: Targeted Reading Instruction  (TRI) for students in K–3, integrating  for students in grades 2–6, Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS)  Reading to improve learning for underrepresented student groups, and an adaptation of the Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI) for underserved middle-grade students.

The network has two related goals. One is to adapt and scale adoption of evidence-based practices and products that can help educators address the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, particularly for students who were disproportionately harmed. Of our four product teams, three are focused on K–8 literacy, especially supporting students who are reading below grade level, and the fourth is focused on an intervention for fifth-grade math. As the 2022 NAEP scores showed, early math and literacy are critical areas in which we need to help students make up lost ground. As network lead, SRI will help these projects prepare for scaling.

Longer term, the LEARN Network will provide a model, tools, and resources to inform the development and adoption of educational innovations. These resources will help education researchers ensure that their innovations are designed from the ground up with the potential to achieve impact at scale for students. They will also help practitioners and policymakers know what to consider when investing in educational innovations.

NCER: How do you envision this network working to reach those goals? What’s the value added for building this network relative to a set of independent research teams?

Dr. Griffiths: In the LEARN Network, SRI is assembling and deploying a pool of scaling, equity, and research experts to accelerate progress. The product teams are experts in their respective fields of literacy and math education, which we can augment with a more demand-driven perspective of their research products. We can take them through a structured process of investigating stakeholders’ needs, aligning products and practices to educators’ environments and selection criteria, and developing effective dissemination strategies. SRI brings unique expertise to this task, given our history of transitioning inventions from laboratories to market.

We are also assembling a group of external advisors with networks and expertise in rural and small-town schools, state educational systems, ed-tech investing and entrepreneurship, and implementation science.

Through the LEARN Network, product teams have access to a rich set of perspectives and expertise that would be impractical to build for individual projects.        

In addition, SRI will conduct some original research to advance our understanding of how educators and educational agencies select and adopt products and interventions. We know these processes are confounding to many researchers, in part because they vary so much by school, district, and state. At the same time, we believe we can help our network and the broader research community by shedding some light on a few key questions, such as how these processes may differ by product type (e.g., complete curriculum vs. supplementary resources), district characteristics (e.g., size, locale), and other key factors. Our research will also explore current barriers or challenges to identifying EBPs aligned with their contexts and students’ needs and explore what resources or tools would make it easier to do so.

Last, the product teams include seasoned researchers with decades of experience developing and disseminating evidence-based practices and products. They bring valuable perspectives from these experiences, and they are also investigating some similar questions about how educators discover and decide what tools to use. As network lead, we aim to create spaces and facilitate conversations so that all the teams can learn from each other.

NCER: What approaches do you propose to use to cultivate a meaningful connection among the research teams in the network? What are some challenges in bringing independent research teams together like this?

Dr. Griffiths: Our aim is to be very responsive to what the product teams tell us they want help with, while encouraging them to aim high with their scaling goals. In education research, we often think of scaling in terms of growing implementation from a few schools to a few dozen schools. What if we reframed our perspective to consider “reach”? As in, What share of the nation’s 100,000 public schools, or a particular population of students, are we reaching? That really shifts how we think about what kind of organizational infrastructure or strategic choices are needed to have a meaningful impact. 

Our purpose as network lead is to help network members be successful, and to do that, we know that we need to demonstrate our ability to add value. The product teams all have ambitious goals and tight timelines, and we are mindful of that. Fortunately, the product teams were already aware of the Invent-Apply-Transition framework that SRI pioneered and saw how it could be helpful to them. In order to support meaningful connections among the teams, we are facilitating regular cross-team meetings, each focused on a particular challenge (for example, stakeholder mapping, product-user fit, dissemination strategies). In these working sessions we will draw upon expertise residing in the product teams, in SRI’s education division and our unit that is focused on transitioning inventions to market, and among our external advisors. We anticipate that these will be rich, generative sessions that will provide the product teams (and SRI) with new insights about pathways to scale.

NCER: Are there some generalizable tools or lessons learned that are likely to come out of this network project that you think will benefit the education research community as a whole?

Dr. Griffiths: As I mentioned, we are drawing heavily from SRI’s Invent-Apply-Transition framework to guide product teams through the process of preparing to scale. As we do this, we are developing tools and resources specifically for scaling education products that will be accessible to a broader community of researchers who aspire to have a wide-reaching impact. We also expect to learn some things through our work with the product teams that we can share through briefs and presentations. In addition, we are considering how we might design engagements for a broader community of researchers that allow for more-interactive sharing of tools, resources, and lessons. Stay tuned!


Thank you for reading our conversation with Dr. Rebecca Griffiths! Come back tomorrow for our next network lead spotlight!  

 

Save the Date: Leveraging Evidence to Accelerate Recovery Nationwide (LEARN) Network Launch Event

Join us on January 19, 2023, from 3pm EST-4:30pm EST, as members of the IES-funded LEARN (Leveraging Evidence to Accelerate Recovery Nationwide) Network convene publicly for the first time to share their network's goals and vision. Learn more from the network teams during this virtual event

and hear from IES Director Mark Schneider about his hopes for the LEARN Network in the coming years as IES looks to the future with a focus on progress, purpose, and performance.

The LEARN Network was established to focus on adapting and preparing to scale existing, evidence-based products to address learning acceleration and recovery for students in K-12, particularly for students from underrepresented groups disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to generating solutions to the nation’s most pressing challenges to COVID-19 recovery within the education sector, IES expects that the combined efforts of this network will lead to the establishment of best practices for how to prepare to effectively scale evidence-based products.

The LEARN Network includes a scaling lead and four product teams. The scaling lead, led by a team at SRI International, is facilitating training, coaching, and collaboration activities with product teams; ensuring educator needs and perspectives are addressed; and providing a model for the field that ensures evidence-based products are developed with the potential to achieve impact at scale for students—particularly those in most need—from the start. Product teams are focused on preparing to scale literacy products for students in K-3 (Targeted Reading Instruction; Grantee: University of Florida), 4th-5th grade (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies; Grantee: AIR), and middle school (Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention; Grantee: SERP) as well as a math product for students in 5th grade (Classwide Fraction Intervention combined with Math Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies; Grantee: AIR).

Registration is now open, and we hope to see you there! For more information on the event and to register, visit https://learntoscale.org/

Grateful for Our Interns: The 2022-23 Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Interns

In honor of Thanksgiving, NCER and NCSER would like to express their gratitude to all of the student volunteer interns that are giving their time and talents to help us understand and communicate about education research. In our third blog about these interns, we are highlighting our diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) interns. These interns come to us through the Virtual Student Federal Service program and are being mentored by Katina Stapleton (NCER).

Audrey Im (she/her)

I am from the Bay Area in California and am currently a UCLA undergraduate majoring in political science and minoring in professional writing and film. Ever since I was young, my dream profession was to be a teacher—the process of sharing knowledge with other people is thrilling for me. I was lucky enough to have great teachers with distinct, effective teaching styles, and I knew that somewhere along the road, I wanted to have the same effect on another generation of students as those teachers had on me. Currently, I am focused on learning how to write in a manner that makes information accessible.

Fun Fact: I love writing poetry! Recently, I've been doing a monthly poetry project where I write a poem using only song lyrics from my favorite tunes of the month. It's been very fun and challenging. I would highly recommend trying it out!

 

Zaakirah Rahman

I’m currently a senior at the City College of New York pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English education and a minor in sociology. I was born and raised in Queens, so I’ve been a part of the New York City school system for as long as I can remember. This has helped fuel my passion for pursuing education as a career. School has contributed a lot to my life, from teaching me what I know to even being a second home at times. I’d like to give back through being in the classroom myself and enacting real change. I currently work at the New York Public Library as a page, a job that is suited to my love for reading. Additionally, I’m the outreach chair for the New York chapter of an organization called MIST (Muslim Interscholastic Tournament), where we organize an annual tournament with various competitions for high school students. The tournament itself champions helping students bring out the best in themselves, and my role helps me meet all kinds of people to share this experience.

Fun Fact: I love photography and am owner to an ever-growing collection of cameras.

 
 

Grateful for Our Interns: The 2022-23 Data Science Interns at NCER and NCSER

In preparation for Thanksgiving, NCER and NCSER would like to express their gratitude to all the student volunteer interns who are giving their time and talents to help us understand and communicate about education research. In our second blog about these interns, we are highlighting our data science interns. These interns come to us through either the Virtual Student Federal Service program or the Student Volunteer Trainee Program. The interns are working on different data science tasks, such as data visualizations, finding ways to connect publication information from different federal databases to funded NCER and NCSER projects, and helping to understand and improve internal data on research projects. Their primary mentors, Sarah Brasiel (NCSER) and Meredith Larson (NCER), are proud to introduce the team.

Megan Church

Headshot of Megan Church

I am a senior at William & Mary, pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a double major in data science and psychology. I am a lead researcher at William & Mary's School of Education, focusing on elementary students’ interactions with data. Due to my interest in education research and love of creating data visualizations, the IES data science internship seemed like the perfect fit. I hope this opportunity will give me a glimpse into the inner workings of the research branch of the U.S. Department of Education and help me decide on a future career path.

Fun Fact: I have been to seven concerts this year in six cities, three states, and two countries.

Katelyn Egan

Headshot of Katelyn Egan

I am pursuing a master’s degree in educational psychology with a concentration in learning analytics through the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I’m looking forward to applying the data science and analysis skills I have learned in my program and learning more about the research goals and initiatives of the Institute of Education Sciences. Previously, I received a Fulbright grant to work with English language learners at a vocational secondary school in Bulgaria for the 2019-20 academic year and worked as a teacher for 2 years in South Africa with the Peace Corps. I have also spent 2 years working in the educational technology industry and hope to continue using data science and analytics to serve K-12 educators and students.

Fun Fact: I play the bassoon!

Juliette Gudknecht

Headshot of Juliette Gudknecht

I am pursuing a master’s degree in the applied statistics program at Columbia University. My prior internships at NASA, the U.S. State Department, and my university were among the experiences that helped me prepare for this internship. My goal is to pursue a PhD in special education studying autism spectrum disorder in academic contexts. I applied for this internship to gain critical data analysis skills and learn about the U.S. Department of Education and IES. I hope this experience will allow me to gain the necessary skills to become a qualified researcher in quantitative studies within special education. Thank you to everyone at IES for this amazing opportunity!

Fun Fact: I have my own nonprofit for Autism advocacy!

Rikesh Patel

I am pursuing a bachelor's degree in economics with minor in data science engineering at University of California, Los Angeles. I have honed my analytical and technical skills in working with SharePoint databases in past internships, which led me to this internship. I will be working with internal data to help the research centers gain more insight into their grants and contracts. I fell in love with data years ago, and now I aspire to become a full-fledged data scientist in the future, applying Python, SQL, and other technical knowledges to do my best. One day, I want to help develop a model that helps people all over the world.

Fun Fact: I recently got into traveling. This winter, I'm planning on taking some cooking classes in Greece!

Morgan Tucker

Headshot of Morgan Tucker

I am in my final undergraduate year at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, studying international political economy and data science. I currently work as a research assistant for UT’s Innovations for Peace and Development Lab, researching the connections between government/agency responsiveness and discrimination towards citizens and am using many different packages, analytics, and visualization tools in R to do so. I previously worked under the U.S. Embassy Amman as a data management intern, where I created tutorials, researched best data management practices, and incorporated feedback to improve data collection, management, and distribution. I also used Python and SQL as a data scientist for the V&A Waterfront marketing team in South Africa, using large data sets, advanced querying, and machine learning to develop consumer profiles. Right now, my main goal is to remain sane as I reach the end of my undergraduate experience. I also hope to stay in Austin and enroll in a master’s programs this fall to further hone my programming skills and work at the intersection of data science and government. With my background in economic development and R programming, this internship opportunity was the perfect mix of both and will be an amazing way to improve my programming expertise and see what my future career may look like.

Fun Fact:  I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa this past summer. I learned a lot about urban economic development during my time there and can’t wait to visit again!