Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Times of Plenty, Times of Scarcity: The Flow of Research Funding from NCER

By Tom Brock, NCER Commissioner

If you are a subscriber to the IES Newsflash, you have seen a series of announcements of our FY 2015 research grant and training awards. It is a banner year, with 117 new research and training grants being made. As shown in Figure 1, the new grants include 81 Education Research grants (84.305A), eight new training grants (84.305B), two Research and Development Centers (84.305C), 12 Education Statistics and Research Methodology grants, and 14 Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy grants (84.305H). This is the largest number of awards NCER has made in several years.

Figure 1. FY 2015 NCER Research and Research Training Awards

Why so many new awards? In part, it is because we had many strong applications this year, as determined through our peer review process. It is also because there is a natural ebb-and-flow in the proportion of our budget that is available for new awards. In years when many older grants are ending – such as FY 2015 – we have more money to make new awards; in years when many older grants are continuing, we have less money for new awards. This trend is illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. NCER Grant Funding: FY 2012 - FY 2017 (Estimated)

Unfortunately, the positive funding picture for FY 2015 has negative implications for FY 2016. The large number of new awards we are making this year will limit the amount of money we have for new awards next year. Indeed, we estimate that we will have only about 1/3 the funding for new awards in FY 2016 that we have in FY 2015. This is because a higher proportion of our budget will go toward continuation costs.

In anticipation of next year’s limited funds, we have established funding priorities and taken steps to contain expenditures for new awards in FY 2016. Our priorities emerged from discussions with the National Board of Education Sciences, and from input we received from technical working group meetings with education researchers and practitioners and the public. Below is a summary of the programs NCER will be competing and the steps we have taken to limit costs:

  • We are inviting applications for our Education Research Grants program (84.305A), which supports a wide variety of field-initiated research projects in 10 different topic areas. For the first time, however, we are restricting applications to four research goals: Exploration (Goal 1), Efficacy and Replication (Goal 3), Effectiveness (Goal 4), and Measurement (Goal 5). We are not inviting Development and Innovation (or “Goal 2”) applications, mainly because our Education Research Grant portfolio is already heavily weighted toward these projects. We also reduced the maximum amount of funding available for each of the research goals. For example, we reduced the maximum award for an Exploration project using secondary data from $800,000 to $700,000, and the maximum award for an Efficacy study from $3.5 million to $3.3 million. We did not reduce any maximum award by more than $200,000.
  • We are launching a new training program called Pathways to the Education Sciences (84.305B), which Katina Stapleton described in a June 4 blog. The Pathways program is the only training program we are competing in FY 2016; we are not inviting new proposals for pre- or post-doctoral training, or for methods training. We expect to make up to four awards for the Pathways program.
  • We are requesting applications for a Research and Development (R&D) Center on Virtual Learning (84.305C), which will support efforts by researchers to conduct rapid cycle experiments to improve widely-used education technologies in the K-12 sector. The Center will also explore how the large amounts of data generated by education technologies may be used to support meaningful improvements in classroom teaching and student learning. The Virtual Learning R&D Center was competed in FY 2015, but no application received a high enough score to justify an award. We expect to make one grant in FY 2016.
  • We are inviting applications for our Statistics and Research Methodology in Education program (84.305D), which is intended to produce statistical and methodological tools that will better enable education scientists to conduct rigorous education research. For FY 2016, we are limiting applications to Early Career researchers who are within five years of earning their PhDs. We will make up to four awards.
  • We are requesting applications for our Researcher/Practitioner Partnership program (84.305H), which provides funding for researchers and practitioners to work together on an education problem or issue that practitioners identify as a priority. We are not inviting applicationsfor the Continuous Improvement Research in Education program, in part so we can learn from recent grants under this topic. Nor are we inviting applications for the Evaluation of State and Local Programs and Policies program. For FY 2016, we will make up to five awards for Researcher/Practitioner partnerships.
  • We are launching a new program called Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Education Policy and Practice (84.305N), which I described in a blog post on May 27. For FY 2016, we are requesting applications from researchers who are interested in forming networks on two topics: (1) Supporting Early Learning from Preschool Through Early Elementary School Grades (Early Learning Network); and (2) Scalable Strategies to Support College Completion (College Completion Network).

We are hopeful that the funding limitations we have imposed on many of our programs are temporary. If you are applying for an education research or training grant in FY 2016, make sure you read the Request for Applications (RFA) carefully to make sure your proposed project and budget fall within the application guidelines. If our overall grants budget stays level, we anticipate somewhat greater capacity to make new awards in FY 2017.

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