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Letter from the Commissioner: Emerging Themes from NCER FY 2022 Awards

One of the most exciting times of the year for NCER is when we announce new awards. It is always enjoyable and rewarding to see how the projects we fund reflect the emerging and ongoing needs of our education and education sciences community.

I thought I would share my perspective on key themes that I see in the body of research that we have funded in FY 2022 to date. I invite you to explore the full list of awards and their project abstracts to see what other themes jump out to you.

But first, a quick summary of our newest FY 2022 awards. For our FY 2022 Education Research Grants competition (84.305A), NCER awarded 45 grants, investing more than $92 million across multiple content areas and project types. Awards were given to 35 institutions in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The research projects will take place in at least 21 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 15,000,000 learners and 360,000 educators from diverse backgrounds will participate. And four projects will be using data from seven extant national datasets. The diversity of participants and locations is only one aspect of the work. As is true for all our Education Research grants, these funded projects will undertake various research activities.

Now, what are the themes that jumped out to me as I reviewed the project abstracts?

Understanding Equity and Reducing Inequities

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated ongoing inequities. Opportunities to learn have been unequally distributed across communities and learners, as have markers of achievement. Education researchers worldwide are building knowledge about these inequities and are developing solutions. Our newest projects will add to this critical conversation. One project will examine links between inequities in educational opportunities to inequality in education outcomes in New York State, adding to two ongoing projects looking at related questions in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Others will examine equity questions about community college students and youth in foster care. And at least two new projects will build measures intended to equitably assess school screenings and classroom interventions. Students are not the only focus in our body of work focused on equity understanding how to diversify the teacher workforce in Tennessee is the question of this new study.

Addressing Stakeholder Needs

There is an ongoing need for collaborative research investments that draw on research expertise to answer current needs. In addition to projects funded through NCER’s programs that have explicit requirements for collaborations between practitioners and researchers, many of our field-initiated projects are asking and answering questions rooted in the needs of educators and education systems. As such, some projects involved in partnerships with state and local education agencies are answering questions about equity in New York State, developing early literacy micro-credential courses for DC Public Schools, examining school security measures in Tennessee and Virginia, and evaluating an early intervention program for school mental health professionals in Detroit Public Schools.

Projects are also exploring non-credit career technical education programs in the Virginia Community College System, linkages between CTE teacher preparation and learner outcomes in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Washington, and the extent to which California Community College students access existing basic needs safety net benefits they are eligible for and how accessing those benefits is linked to education outcomes.

Leveraging Innovative Approaches and Technology

As we progress through this global pandemic, the importance of effective education technology solutions continues to grow. IES has supported research investments at the forefront of education technology for the past twenty years, and we continue to fund new research in this area. Of note in this latest round of awards are efficacy tests of innovative instructional approaches, which include an educational robotics program, a mixed-reality professional development environment, and a technology-based personalized early math program.

We are also supporting the development of technology-delivered instruction for early childhood learners, elementary science students, middle-school mathematics learners, and postsecondary students learning to code. Additionally, our funded research teams are also building out professional development solutions for early literacy educators, educators of English learners, and high school world history teachers. Another project is exploring how artificial intelligence techniques can be used to efficiently categorize teacher applicant short-answer responses to improve teacher hiring.

Understanding the Longitudinal Outcomes of Early Childhood Interventions

For decades, researchers have relied upon the findings from two studies carried out in the 1960s and 1970s with small numbers of participating children to inform decision-making about early childhood education. The world has changed tremendously since then, and so has early childhood education. Practitioners and policymakers must have more recent longitudinal information to make well-informed decisions about early childhood education. I am excited to see that we are supporting five new projects that are looking at longitudinal outcomes of participation in public early childhood programs in Boston, New York City, Westminster Public Schools outside of Denver, Tennessee, and for children who are part of our ECLS-K:11 national sample.

Using Mixed-Methods Approaches Across Every Project Type

IES has been calling on investigators to include mixed methods in their research for many years, drawing, in part, on recommendations provided during a Mixed Methods Technical Working Group in 2015. While we fund mixed methods studies every year, it is notable that out of the 45 new research grants that we just awarded, 14 have explicitly described their methodological approach as mixed methods designs.

These are just some of the themes that jumped out to me! Are there others that you see?

Please contact me at elizabeth.albro@ed.gov with any questions or reactions to this post.