Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Powering Our Future: How Service-Learning Aligned with Next Generation Science Standards Can Promote Science Learning, Social and Emotional Skills, and Civic Engagement

Each generation faces its own societal challenges. Two prominent issues—the climate crisis and America’s political divide—are heavy burdens for today’s youth. Without explicit focus in schools, it is hard to imagine how children will learn to work across differences and collaborate with others to solve complex environmental problems. Youth are very capable people, and school comes alive when they feel agency and see how their efforts matter in the community. Service-learning can help teachers make instruction feel relevant and teach skills that lead to civic engagement as youth learn to design, implement, and evaluate solutions to problems that are important to them. In this interview blog, the Connect Science project team explains how they developed curriculum and professional development to support teachers to engage their students in service-learning experiences.

Can you tell us about Connect Science and what it looks like in action?

Fueled by an IES Development and Innovation grant, our team developed and evaluated a science-based service-learning approach for the upper-elementary school years. In doing so, we answered a need that teachers and schools face as they strive to create engaging experiences aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Connect Science is a 12-week project-based learning unit for upper elementary students. Early on, teachers and students explore topics of energy and natural resources using lessons aligned with the NGSS. Teachers guide student learning on what it means to be an engaged citizen and on the social and collaborative skills needed to take action in the community. To prepare, teachers receive five days of professional development and follow-up coaching. Teachers also receive a Connect Science manual, related books, and science materials.

But what does Connect Science actually look like in action? Imagine fourth graders engaged in a science unit on renewable and non-renewable resources. The students learn about different energy sources and then discuss pros and cons of each source. They become aware that non-renewable energy resources are rapidly diminishing and would not always be available to generate electricity. The awareness of this problem energizes them to promote energy conservation. Toward that goal, the students decide to educate other students and families at their school about energy use. At the next open house night, they turn their cafeteria into an energy fair where they share important information. For example, one group of students teaches about what types of energy sources were used in their state to produce electricity and another group teaches ways that people can save energy in their home. Before and after the energy fair, the students administer a pre- and post-survey on energy facts to size up what their visitors learned.

How did the IES grant support the development and pilot testing of Connect Science?

In the first two years of this grant, we developed and tested materials with teachers. In the third year, we conducted a randomized controlled trial of Connect Science involving 41 classrooms with 20 in Connect Science and 21 in a waitlist comparison group, resulting in a student sample of 868 students (423 students participated in the intervention).

We found that Connect Science impacted teacher practices and student outcomes. Teachers in the Connect Science group were more effective at engaging in the two NGSS practices that we measured: eliciting and building on prior knowledge and creating opportunities for student critique, explanation, and argument. Further, we saw higher science achievement and energy attitudes and behaviors in the intervention than control condition. The social skill results hinged on the fidelity of implementation. When teachers used more Connect Science practices, students showed improved communication and social competence. As a result of these findings, Connect Science is designated as a Promising Program by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

What are the implications of your findings?

Too few projects integrate academic and social learning in schools. Often, high-quality NGSS materials are developed with little thought about the social skills students need to engage in that instruction. Likewise, social and emotional learning is often taught separately from academic content. Service-learning is a framework that bridges these two areas and allows students to engage in authentic, science-based work. Given our experiences, we have a few recommendations for educators eager to use service-learning.

  • Teach social, emotional, and collaborative skills with intention before launching into group work. In the elementary schools, children thrive from being in supportive caring classrooms and they respond well to lessons on active listening, respectful communication, and understanding people with multiple perspectives.
  • Leverage the existing curriculum and build in service-learning experiences. Rather than adding one more new topic, look at existing curricular topics and use service-learning to facilitate deep learning on content areas that already part of the curriculum.
  • Amplify youth voice. Teachers need to work with students to identify a relevant community problem and generate solutions to that problem. We carefully developed the Connect Science materials to be more teacher-directed toward the beginning of the unit and more student-directed toward the end. This approach was based both on theoretical and empirical work supporting the importance of student autonomy.

 


Sara Rimm-Kaufman is the Commonwealth Professor of Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. Her recent book for teachers, SEL from the Start, is based on the Connect Science work.

Eileen Merritt is a Research Scientist in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment at Virginia Tech. Her research and teaching focus on environmental and sustainability education.

Tracy Harkins is the owner of Harkins Consulting, LLC in Maine. Her focus is providing professional development and resources to engage and motivate student learners through service-learning. She will be offering an upcoming Connect Science Institute in Summer 2022.

For questions about this project, please contact Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov, NCER program officer.

The 2022 IES PI Meeting: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences

On January 25-27, 2022, NCER and NCSER hosted  our first Principal Investigators (PI) Meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. Even though we were hopeful and eager to connect with our grantees in person, given the continuing uncertainties due to COVID-19, we opted for our very first fully virtual PI meeting, and we are pleased to say it was a success on many fronts!

Our co-chairs, Brian Boyd (University of Kansas), and Doré LaForett (Child Trends and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) were instrumental in the success of this meeting. They helped identify the meeting theme: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences, suggested sessions (including the plenaries) that addressed the theme,  recommended strategies to encourage networking and engagement, and participated in two great sessions focused on Engaging in Anti-racist, Culturally Responsive Research Practices and the Importance of Identifying English Learners in Education Research Studies.

Here are a few highlights:

The meeting kicked off with a welcome from the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, followed by IES Director Mark Schneider’s opening remarks. Secretary Cardona reaffirmed the importance and need for high-quality education research to identify, measure, and address disparities in education opportunities and outcomes. Director Schneider spoke about improving the infrastructure of the education sciences and ways that IES will continue to encourage investigators to incorporate the SEER principles going forward. He also revealed a ninth SEER principle focused on equity, calling on researchers to “address inequities in societal resources and outcomes.” See a recap of his talk here.

This year’s theme was threaded throughout the meeting, emphasizing the importance and complexity of advancing equity and inclusion in the education sciences. The opening plenary speakers began the meeting with advice on how to center equity and inclusion in education research; the Commissioners provided updates on how NCER and NCSER are working to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; sessions focused on challenges and potential solutions for doing research with an equity lens; and the closing plenary discussed how to plan for diversity in education research.   

Deep conversations occurred around meaningful and relevant topic areas. Over three days, we had nearly 900 attendees going in and out of virtual rooms (with very few technology glitches—no small feat!) participating in discussions around four main topic areas:

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)—Sessions included discussions of centering equity in education research
  • COVID-19 Pandemic—Sessions included lessons learned from COVID-19 research pivots and considerations for research during COVID-19 and recovery
  • Methods & Measurement—Sessions included information on innovations in statistical methods, data collection tools, and scaling evidence-based practices
  • Results from IES Research—Sessions included highlights of findings from several IES-funded grants and Research and Development centers

See the agenda for a complete list of this year’s sessions.

Finally, although we weren’t able to be in the same physical room, one of the real benefits of this virtual meeting was the ability to record the sessions. IES continues to encourage the dissemination of IES-supported research to a wider audience, and we want to do our part by making the recordings from the sessions publicly available. We hope you enjoy watching the incredibly valuable and thought-provoking presentations and discussions and share widely with your networks.

 

 

Thanks to our attendees for their participation. Your engagement made this year’s meeting a true success. We are already looking forward to next year’s meeting!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for how to continue the conversation around DEIA, please do not hesitate to contact NCER Commissioner Liz Albro (Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov) or NCSER Commissioner Joan McLaughlin (Joan.McLauglin@ed.gov). We look forward to hearing from you.

From Disproportionate Discipline to Thriving Students: An IES Postdoc’s Mission

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. This week, Dr. Courtney Zulauf-McCurdy, an IES postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training (SMART) Center, shares her experiences and discusses her path forward.

 

My interests in child development began early on. I moved frequently for my parents’ work, so I was often seen as an outsider by the other children at the schools I attended. One school in particular had a group of “popular students” who bullied others and were particularly aggressive to peers. Often, teachers and parents would turn a blind eye to this behavior, and I became curious about how parents and educators respond to and shape child behavior.

Understanding Disparities in Early Childhood

I pursued a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago out of a desire to advocate for children in both research and clinical practice. As a graduate student in the Social Emotional Teaching and Learning (SETL) Lab, I worked directly with parents, educators, and young children to understand how the school and home environment shape child behavior. Much of our research aimed to support teachers in improving children’s social-emotional development, but what I learned was that teachers weren’t providing equal opportunities and experiences to all children.

In particular, I became focused on an alarming disparity: disproportionate discipline. Not only are preschoolers being expelled at rates three times higher than students in K-12, but there are large discipline disparities by gender and race. In AY 2013-14, the U.S. Department of Education reported that Black children composed 19% of enrollment but 47% of those expelled. A report citing data from the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau found that children with social emotional difficulties are 14.5 times more likely to be expelled.

During graduate school, I explored the reasons why Black boys are being disproportionately expelled and found that it was at least in part related to teachers’ biased perceptions of parents. Because of this, I became interested in developing evidenced-based interventions for parents and educators to protect children from being expelled.

For my clinical internship, I specialized in integrated behavioral health at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where I provided evidenced-based practices to children and families in underserved community settings. Here, I learned about behavioral interventions that improve child behavior, which work best when parents and teachers work together across home and school. However, I noticed that children of color were less likely to receive evidenced-based interventions (such as classroom-based behavioral interventions or parent management training), and even when they do, parents and teachers experience barriers to working together to implement these interventions. As a result, I shifted my focus from designing new interventions to understanding how to improve the implementation of interventions in community settings that serve young children from under-represented backgrounds.

Moving from Intervention Development to Implementation Science

As a second year IES postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington (UW) SMART Center, I am combining my research interests with implementation science. I am partnering with educators and parents to understand how teacher perceptions of parents and parent engagement is an implementation determinant—that is, a barrier or facilitator. Together, we are learning how to reduce disparities in preschool by improving the implementation of interventions that allow for early, easy, and acceptable access to families who face the highest levels of barriers. 

I have been using stakeholder-engaged processes consisting of focus groups, community advisory boards, and rapid try outs of strategies to ensure equity by engaging the perspectives of families from under-represented minority backgrounds. Such community engagement aims to ensure that our interventions are culturally responsive and unimpeded by bias.

Through my work, I have learned that educators and parents want the best outcomes for their children but face a multitude of barriers that hinder their ability to engage. For example, preschool teachers have limited resources, face stress and burnout, are under-prepared and underpaid, leading to considerable barriers in addressing the mental health needs of young children. Likewise, parents face obstacles such as perceived bias from their child’s school and logistical barriers such as time and childcare.

Moving Forward

I will continue working directly with parents and educators to understand how we can place all young children (and their families) in the best position to thrive. I will continue to use research methods, such as community advisory boards and qualitative methods, that seek to elevate the voices of parents and educators to promote equitable child outcomes. Through continued collaboration with community partners, disseminating my findings to parents, educators, and practitioners and connecting research with culturally responsive early childhood practice and policies, I hope to dismantle disparities in preschool outcomes.


Produced by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants, and Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research.

A Work in Progress: Insights on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Education Research

For over a year, IES has been exploring how to expand participation in the education sciences and in our grant programs through a technical working group and a series of listening sessions. In recognition of Black History Month, we asked IES grantee Dr. D. Crystal Byndloss, MDRC’s director of outreach, diversity, and inclusion and senior associate, to discuss her career experiences and share advice for the field on how to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into education research. 

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

My research interests, especially those focused on identifying ways to support moderately and high-performing students of color from low-income backgrounds, stems from my personal experience. I was raised by a single mother, an immigrant to the United States, who enrolled me in K-12 schools where I was challenged academically and exposed to new social and cultural experiences. That foundation prepared me to enroll in a college that emphasized writing, where I developed my interest in research. In college, I was also embraced by two Black professors—a sociologist whose teaching style I wanted to emulate in the classroom and a historian who mentored me through the graduate school application process. These individuals—and my kindergarten teacher, a Black female immigrant who would go on to earn her doctorate—made it possible for me to believe that pursuing a PhD was a possibility for me.

My dissertation examined how sociopolitical context influenced two education movements: a Black and Puerto Rican community’s involvement in the movement for community control of New York City schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and a Black community’s involvement in the creation of Milwaukee’s African-American immersion schools in the 1980s. Through my research, I was able to bring new voices to the literature and spotlight how these communities of color shaped the local public education landscape. I saw great value in the research endeavor and, during a postdoctoral fellowship, decided to explore a career as a researcher. I’ve been at MDRC for 15 years, where I’ve spent the last 12 working in K-12 education research. I’ve also worked as a consultant and as an assistant dean for research and associate director of a center at a college of education.

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

Through MDRC’s Equity Collaborative, we are incorporating stronger equity-based and culturally responsive approaches into our research and technical assistance. For example, posing impact research questions to understand where inequities exist in high school course-taking and conducting qualitative and implementation research that speaks to the contextual factors that shape or reinforce inequities through school-based policies and procedures. As part of the IES-funded Career and Technical Education Research Network (CTERN) Equity in CTE Work Group, I also have an opportunity to engage other researchers on such topics as how best to deepen the field’s understanding of issues of equity and inequity in CTE research and evaluation. As a coming attraction, keep an eye on the CTERN website where we will make available an equity framework for CTE researchers.

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?

I think we need to expand where we invest education research funding, a significant amount of which has been devoted to understanding what works for students from low-income backgrounds who are struggling academically. This is important work that needs to continue. We also need to expand our research inquiry to include more studies of interventions that help students from low-income communities who may be on track for academic success but who, without critical supports, are also in jeopardy of not reaching their full potential. Typically, we equate low income with low performing and, in so doing, miss a group of students who can benefit greatly from a variety of educational interventions. As a society, we need to move beyond the low expectations that are often placed on students from diverse communities—whether they are of color, from low-income backgrounds, or differently abled. We won’t be able to ameliorate inequities if we don’t fully appreciate the breadth of talent and potential that exists in these diverse communities.

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

My biggest challenge is not one that I have overcome. My biggest challenge in the current moment is managing demanding work and home lives and not becoming undone by both. I serve on MDRC’s executive management team, lead our DEI work, and contribute to research. I am also the primary caregiver to both my mother and younger sister who have significant health and caregiving needs. I always have a running list in my head of things that need to get done and things that did not get done. I know I must prioritize self-care and, with that in mind, recently committed to pausing for seven minutes a day to take a deep breath and be still. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small act of self-preservation, but there are days when my seven-minute break eludes me. I am a work-in-progress.

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

First, I would encourage doctoral programs to offer students a more expansive view of their career options beyond the academy. Research firms, policy organizations, education agencies, and funding and nonprofit organizations need and would benefit from the voices, talents, perspectives, and skills of scholars from underrepresented groups who could help shape their education research and evaluation initiatives. While I understand the academy’s desire to train its own workforce, students are seeking careers outside of the academy. Why not help them make more informed choices?

Second, thinking of IES in particular, the first time I attended an annual IES Principal Investigators meeting, I was stunned by the lack of racial diversity among the Principal Investigators in attendance. I asked myself: Where were the people who looked like me who were designing the studies, conducting the research, learning about new funding opportunities, and determining what research is of value to the field? Training fellowships, apprenticeships, and research partnerships serve as important bridges and pathway programs for underrepresented groups, and I would encourage IES to expand its current initiatives to reach more students and emerging scholars.

Third, borrowing an idea that a colleague shared with me, IES could develop an incentive program in which, during the proposal review process, it formally rewards teams that submit proposals that feature diverse research teams. This approach could lead to a set of innovative and inspired partnerships.

Finally, I ask everyone reading this blog to think about what you can do within your own sphere of influence to support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups. Consider inviting a student or peer researcher to join you at a meeting or conference where they can learn more about the research enterprise, discuss their own research interests, and be introduced to others with similar interests. Think creatively about partnerships and the types of opportunities that can be created that would allow scholars from underrepresented groups to bring their expertise to bear on a project you may be involved in or conceptualizing. There are myriad ways to offer support.

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

My advice applies to anyone in any field: find a mentor and a sponsor—a mentor who will show you how to navigate the field and push you to stretch outside your comfort zone and a sponsor who will create opportunities for you or who will advocate for you when opportunities are being discussed and you are not in the room.


Dr. D. Crystal Byndloss is a member of the IES Technical Working Group Increasing Diversity and Representation of IES-funded Education Researchers. Byndloss holds dual roles at MDRC. She is the organization’s first director of outreach, diversity, and inclusion and a senior associate in the K-12 Education policy area, where for more than a decade she has researched and directed initiatives to promote college access and success for students with low incomes. She is a senior adviser to the IES-funded evaluation of the New York City P-TECH Grades 9-14 school model and is part of the IES-funded CTE Advise evaluation research team.

 

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, 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 Black History Month blog series, we are focusing on African American/Black researchers and fellows as well as researchers who focus on the education of Black students.

 

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.

 

IES Honors Sade Bonilla as 2019 Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow

Each year, IES recognizes an Outstanding Fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. Sade Bonilla, the 2019 awardee, received her doctorate in the Economics of Education from Stanford University. She is currently an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where her research focuses on K-12 education policy with a particular emphasis on high school to college transitions, career and technical education, and educational inequity. Sade recently presented her research and received her award at the 2022 IES Principal Investigators meeting in January. In this blog, we’ve asked her to share her career journey and recommendations for current and emerging education researchers.

How did you become interested in a career in education research?

My interest in educational inequity and reform efforts in public education stemmed from my personal experience as a Latina from a working-class family attending urban public schools. I was attracted to the field of education policy and research as a first-generation college student because the field seeks answers to questions that are intensely personal for me: what works for poor minoritized kids? In other words, how can policy be designed and implemented such that kids like me were not an exception. There were several key adults in my educational career that believed in me and told me about opportunities—such as opportunities for financial aid to attend private colleges—that shifted my life trajectory. When I arrived at college, I took public policy and education courses and read articles on so many different topics. I was floored that asking and pursuing the answers to questions that one finds interesting could be a career. 

What inspired you to focus your research on understanding the effects of local and state educational policies aimed at eliminating structural inequality?

My interest in investigating how contemporary educational reforms impact the trajectories of traditionally underserved youth stems from my personal experience and the knowledge of how historical and current policies—school segregation, redlining, justice system, etc.—serve to reinforce social inequality in schools. Schools are a cornerstone of our formative experience, and they are also central to communities, civic discourse, and career preparation. Given that schooling is so integral to how we learn to navigate society, I have been interested in understanding which policies and programs allow students to have agency to create their own paths. 

What do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

When I started graduate school, I received the advice to read the literature extensively and think about where I could add value in terms of advancing our understanding of certain questions. As I sought to figure out which questions to ask and answer, I drew on my personal experience and those of my family members to think about how students succeed in high school and choose a career path that may involve postsecondary education. I found it helpful to think through how first-generation families like my own navigate high school and the transition to college. This also led me to realize the importance, as a quantitative researcher, of speaking with people in the field. I have really enjoyed pursuing researcher-practitioner partnership research and have been learning about examples of youth participatory research that I hope to support someday as well. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars that are pursuing a career in education research?

I would advise them to choose questions that they are passionate about and to attend to questions and areas that tend to receive less attention. If an area of study is crowded and there are lots of people working in that space, be sure you think about how your work and thinking can provide unique insight. I would also hope that emerging scholars seek to do work that influences what happens in schools. To that end, I think it is important to pay attention to how practitioners are framing and understanding issues in the education system. Having this deeper understanding of the field will elevate your research and make it more impactful. 


Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see herehere, 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 research training blog series, we are featuring winners of the 2019-2021 Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow awards. The 2019 winner, Sade Bonilla, was a fellow in the Stanford University Predoctoral Training Program in Quantitative Education Policy Analysis.

Produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research and Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.