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Funding Opportunities | Education Research Grant Programs

Program Announcement: Special Topics in Education Research

Contact: Dr. Elizabeth Albro
(202) 245-8495

The Institute of Education Sciences funds Special Topics to provide additional encouragement for research in under-studied areas that appear promising for improving student education outcomes and that are of interest to policymakers and practitioners. In some cases, a special topic may be a research gap that had been identified in a standing topic but that had not received much attention from the research field. Other special topics are intended to encourage research in areas that are not obviously supported through the standing topics. The initial special topics were Arts in Education, Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students, and Career and Technical Education (now a regular topic). Information about grants funded under these initial special topics can be found on their program pages.

For FY 2019, the Institute is accepting applications under two new special topics: Foreign Language Education and Social Studies.

Program Officers:

Dr. Molly Faulkner-Bond
Telephone: 202-245-6890

Dr. Rebecca Kang McGill-Wilkinson
Telephone: 202-245-7613

The Foreign Language special topic supports research that examines how best to support English-speaking students who are learning a foreign language in school and how proficiency in two or more languages is linked to student education outcomes. Nationwide, at least 10.5 million students (approximately 1 in 5) are learning a foreign language in United States schools. Several recent national reports and government efforts have pointed to the critical need for U.S. citizens to be proficient in more than one language as a matter of diplomacy, economic competitiveness, global and cultural competence, and national security. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes foreign languages in its definition of a well-rounded education (section 8101 (52)), and authorizes state and local education agencies to use Federal funds for foreign language education through Title IV - 21st Century Schools. Additionally, the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO), part of the Department of Defense, has indicated that foreign language education is important for national security.

Learning an additional language may have value in itself, and may also support achievement in other academic content areas. For example, researchers have shown that English-speaking students enrolled in foreign language programs perform as well as, or better than, similar students instructed only in English on academic content assessments in English.

For FY 2019, the Institute is interested in research on foreign languages including but not limited to:

  • Exploration of the relationship between foreign language learning and other academic outcomes (e.g., reading or math), cognitive functions (e.g., cognitive flexibility), or social and behavioral competencies (e.g., cultural competency, empathy, or self-efficacy).
  • Development and testing of interventions to support teaching and learning of and in foreign languages, including instructional materials, curricula, and professional development for use in bilingual and dual-language immersion (DLI) programs.
  • Development and validation of assessments of foreign language proficiency, multilingualism, and other aspects of foreign language learning and instruction.
  • Studies of the efficacy or effectiveness of foreign language learning programs and policies (including DLI), especially as they impact academic outcomes such as reading, writing, and STEM.

Program Officer:

Dr. Edward Metz
Telephone: 202-245-7455

Through the Social Studies special topic, the Institute seeks to strengthen the research base for teaching and learning social studies and its core disciplines. Social studies education is intended to prepare students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to understand complex social and economic issues. Recently, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 expanded the curricular focus of U.S. education to encourage states to include social studies and its core disciplines of civics, geography, economics, and history as part of 17 subjects that make up a well-rounded education. Such an expansion will have to address the current level of student knowledge in social studies. For example, the 2014 National Assessment of Education Progress found that only 18 percent of eighth-graders performed at or above Proficient in U.S. History, 27 percent performed at or above Proficient in Geography, and 23 percent performed at or above Proficient in Civics. Students from lower-income and minority backgrounds performed lower than those in other groups.

For FY 2019, the Institute is interested a wide range of social studies research including but not limited to:

  • Exploration of the relationship between social studies and civic skills, attitudes, and participation, particularly for students from low income and minority backgrounds.
  • Exploration of the relationship between social studies and core academic content (e.g., math, science, reading, writing) and social and behavioral competencies, such as socio-emotional development and interpersonal skills.
  • Development and testing of social studies interventions that actively engage students through forms of experiential and collaborative activities, such as through roleplaying, debates, inquiry and investigation, real-world problem solving, and service learning.
  • Development and testing of interventions designed to support students in becoming digitally literate citizens in the 21st century, including those which integrate new forms of technology within social studies programs, such as social media, multi-user virtual environments, virtual and augmented reality, and wearables.
  • Studies of the efficacy or effectiveness of state and district policies designed to engage students in disciplinary and cross-disciplinary social studies programs.
  • Validation of existing and development and validation of new measurement and assessment tools for use in social studies programs.