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Funding Opportunities | Education Research Grant Programs

Program Announcement: Special Topics CFDA 84.305A

This year, the Institute of Education Sciences (Institute) has introduced a new set of 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. For FY 2017, the Institute is accepting applications under three special topics: Arts in Education, Career and Technical Education, and Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students.


Program Officers:
Dr. Erin Higgins
Telephone: (202) 245-6541

Dr. James Benson
Telephone: (202) 245-8333

The Arts in Education special topic supports research to understand the implementation and effects of arts programs and policies at the K–12 level in order to improve the education outcomes of students. Research connecting student participation in the arts to academic outcomes and social/behavioral competencies has the potential to inform contemporary policy debates regarding the benefits of arts programming in schools. Advocates of the arts have long argued for their inclusion in schools, for their general benefits, such as improved innovation, creativity, and communication, as well as for their perceived positive effects on literacy, math achievement, critical thinking, and engagement in school. In addition, there is some evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience suggesting a relationship between participation in the arts and improved cognitive and neural processing.

States and school districts often feel the need to make tradeoffs between instruction in core subjects (e.g., math, reading) and instruction in the arts, in part because of the emphasis on testing in core subjects as well as because of budgetary pressure. Given the potential of the arts to contribute positively to students' success in school, new research is needed to rigorously assess the effect of arts participation on education outcomes, including a close look at potential mediators of any effects, the types of outcomes impacted, and the conditions under which these relationships hold.

Other important research questions about arts participation include identifying how best to incorporate the arts to ensure the broadest impact on student achievement in other academic areas (i.e., math, science, reading, writing). For example, arts programming varies in type, intensity, and quality. Research is needed to identify which forms are clearly linked to improved student outcomes, and when in the course of schooling they are most impactful. Finally, some researchers have noted strong correlations between arts participation for at-risk youth and high school graduation as well as attending postsecondary schooling. Subgroup analysis is needed to assess whether arts programming can reduce disparities in academic outcomes.


Program Officer:
Dr. Corinne Alfeld
Telephone: (202) 245-8203

The Career and Technical Education (CTE) special topic supports research to understand the implementation and effects of CTE programs and policies at the K–12 level in order to improve the education and career outcomes of students. K–12 CTE has been evolving and expanding with new and updated career areas (e.g. mechatronics, graphic design), connections with employers and postsecondary institutions, increased emphasis on industry credentials, innovative delivery structures such as career academies and pathways, and increases in state funding to enact policies to support CTE expansion. However, while CTE has become increasingly considered as a way to improve high school students' career readiness prior to graduating from high school, there is little consensus about what it means for a student to be "career ready."

Through this special topic, the Institute seeks primarily to explore and evaluate policies, programs, and practices implemented at the K–12 level that are aimed at increasing students' career readiness. Specifically, the Institute encourages research to understand the variety of CTE programs, students' exposure to and experience with CTE opportunities, what constitutes high quality CTE, and what effect participation in different types of programs has on a variety of career- and college-readiness indicators. The Institute is particularly interested in understanding what types of programs work best for whom and under what conditions.

The Institute encourages research that explores the relationships between specific career-focused school, program, or curricular features and student education outcomes, as well as the longitudinal pathways and outcomes for students enrolled in K–12 CTE programs (e.g., postsecondary education and employment). Such studies could make use of existing administrative datasets from school districts, institutions of higher education, states, industries, employers, and other relevant organizations. There is also a need for research on CTE teacher qualifications, recruitment, training/professional development, and retention. In addition, research is needed to develop and pilot new career-oriented programs or policies designed to support students' education and career outcomes. At the same time, there is a need for the development or improvement of measures of students' technical, occupational, and career readiness skills. Finally, there are a number of existing career-focused schools or programs and state or district policies or reforms to support CTE that need to be evaluated to determine their impact on student education outcomes: e.g., awarding of vocational diplomas, district use of career-readiness measures, implementation of career academy models, awarding academic credit for CTE courses, schools' offering of online career exploration tools, and CTE teacher certification requirements.


Program Officer:
Dr. Katina Stapleton
Telephone: (202) 245-6566

The Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students (Highly Mobile Students) special topic supports research to improve the education outcomes of students who face social/behavioral and academic challenges because they frequently move from school to school because of changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This category of students, typically referred to as highly-mobile students, includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-dependent. Definitions of highly mobile students vary and can be based on the number of times students change schools and/or residences. For example, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, about 13 percent of all K-8 students change schools four or more times in a given school year, and these students are disproportionately poor, African American, and from families that do not own their home.

Through this special topic, the Institute seeks to support research on systemic policies and practices that help highly mobile students succeed in school despite residential and/or school mobility. The long-term outcome of this research will be a body of evidence on effective policies and practices that support the educational needs of highly mobile students.

There are a number of factors that can potentially negatively impact the education outcomes of highly mobile students. For example, while federal policies such as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001 and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 give students enrollment rights, frequent changes in schools and districts cause students to face changing curricula and subject matter, and older students may have difficulty accruing credits. Highly mobile students may also struggle with other family issues that accompany the source of their mobility (e.g. parental deployment, transferring between foster families, the need to work to help support family or self). More research is needed on support services that reduce these barriers in order to increase student achievement. More research is also needed on policies to stabilize school placements of highly mobile students.

Because highly mobile students interact with multiple education systems, the Institute encourages collaboration amongst these systems to develop and evaluate practices and policies to assist highly mobile students in enrolling in, attending, and succeeding in school. For example, the Institute invites research on policies that facilitate students receiving credit for full or partial coursework completed while attending their previous schools. Researchers could also propose to study policies that facilitate the transfer of student records across jurisdictions or policies designed to help students navigate standards, course, and graduation requirements that change from state to state. The Institute also invites research on policies and programs that address the physical, psychological, and social needs of highly mobile students who may have experienced deprivation or trauma in addition to addressing required academic outcomes.

The Institute encourages studies that create or utilize shared/integrated data systems (such as records exchanges) to identify and track highly mobile students and also to identify factors that could potentially be used to improve these students' outcomes. The Institute also encourages the development and evaluation of state and local policies and programs to implement services for highly mobile student populations required by federal law, or provided through federally funded programs (e.g., Migrant Education Program) or interstate agreements (e.g., Military Interstate Children's Compact Commission).