IES at 20
To offer a coherent set of recommendations that respond to our charge, the committee first needed to understand how the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and particularly its National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) currently operate. In this chapter, the committee describes IES’s operating structure, funding and staffing resources, the centers’ project types and topics, and recent policy and programming efforts. We will return to the discussion of how the research centers operate throughout this report, referring to this chapter’s content to respond to the questions posed by our statement of task.
IES’s operating structure is articulated in its founding legislation, the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), which specifies the institute’s organizing framework as well as the roles and responsibilities of each of its research centers and offices. The committee conceptualized the institute’s functions as mandated in the legislation as divided into three separate areas of responsibility: direction, administration, and programming, each of which has multiple offices or centers (see Figure 3-1 for a diagram of IES’s operational structure). In the following sections, we discuss the chief functions of each part of IES.
The programming work of IES is accomplished through the work of four independent research centers: NCER, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, and NCSER. As noted in Chapter 1, in accordance with the committee’s statement of task, this report is focused on the work of NCER and NCSER, also referred to as “the research centers” of IES. NCER and NCSER support a wide range of research activities with the broad goal of improving the quality of education in the United States. These research activities span from infancy through adulthood and across multiple education settings, depending on the center, and encompass three primary mechanisms: research grants, research and development (R&D Centers), and research networks. Grants for Education Research (including Education Research Grants [305A], Systematic Replication [305R], Special Education Research Grants [324A], and Systematic Replication in Special Education [324R]) comprise the central, continued work of NCER and NCSER. According to the IES website, these investments are intended to “advance our understanding of and practices for teaching, learning, and organizing education systems, and it helps to identify what works, what doesn’t, and why. The goal is to improve education programs and, hence, outcomes for all learners, particularly those at a heightened risk of failure” (IES, 2022a). Both NCER and NCSER also fund R&D Centers. At NCER, R&D Centers are intended to “contribute to the production and dissemination of rigorous evidence and products that provide practical solutions to important education problems in the United States. The R&D Centers develop, test, and disseminate new approaches to improve education outcomes” (IES, 2022b). The R&D Centers at NCSER have a similar purview, although their work is more squarely focused on improving child outcomes through enhancements in the special education and early intervention systems (IES, 2022c). Finally,
the Research Network program is an effort to marshal the talents and skills of multiple teams of researchers toward addressing complex problems in education. These networks provide a structure for researchers “to share ideas, build knowledge, and strengthen their research and dissemination capacity” (IES, 2022d).
NCER and NCSER also support the development of the next generation of education researchers through various research training programs including, but not limited to, predoctoral, postdoctoral, early career, and research methods training programs. NCER and NCSER fund these activities through a competitive grant process, and the funding to support research and research training programs is provided through annual congressional appropriations.1
IES has two primary functions that are part of the Office of the Director: (1) the Office of Administration and Policy provides ongoing administrative support for the activities of the centers and the Office of the Director and (2) the Office of Science is responsible for scientific issues across IES, including independent scientific peer-review processes of competitively funded research and research training grants, as well as reports conducted or supported by the institute. The deputy director for science serves as the Department of Education’s chief science officer. As noted in Chapter 1 of this report, this latter function is necessarily independent from both NCER and NCSER: In order to maintain the integrity of the peer-review process, governance of the scientific peer review of research and research training competitions is managed by an entirely separate IES office. For more discussion on how the Office of Science supports review, see Chapter 8 of this report.
IES has two primary directive entities: the National Board for Education Sciences (NBES) and the Office of the Director. As per ESRA, the primary responsibilities of NBES include (1) advising and consulting with the IES director on the policies of the institute; (2) considering and approving priorities proposed by the director to guide the work of the institute; (3) reviewing and approving procedures for technical and scientific peer review
1 This sentence was modified after the release of the report to IES to clarify how IES receives its annual appropriations.
of the activities of the institute; and (4) advising and providing recommendations to the IES director in a number of areas related to enhancing the scope and impact of IES-funded activities and enhancing the overall effectiveness of the institute. NBES consists of 15 voting members appointed by the President of the United States. The director of IES, each of the four commissioners of the National Education Centers, the director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the director of the Census, the commissioner of Labor Statistics, and the director of the National Science Foundation all serve on the board as nonvoting ex officio members. NBES has not met since 2016 due to a lack of quorum of appointed members, signaling that this directorial function has been inactive.2 President Trump announced his nomination of several additional members to the board shortly before the end of his term, but the board did not meet, and those members were never seated.3
The director of IES is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and serves a term of 6 years. ESRA outlines a series of responsibilities for the director specific to the ways that she or he should effectively carry out the mission of IES. The director and NBES share responsibility for setting the institute’s agenda and research priorities. Although the board is tasked with approving the director’s priorities, the director is offered substantial latitude in setting a course for the institute’s investments that is in line with the mission as articulated in ESRA. The committee also notes that, in practice, the director typically works closely with the each of the four IES center commissioners and the deputy directors to establish an agenda and substantive priorities for IES.
FUNDING AND STAFF LEVELS
Given the breadth of what IES is expected to accomplish as mandated in ESRA, its funding for both programmatic activities and staffing has historically been limited in comparison to other federal science, research, and statistical agencies with similar objectives. In 2021, IES received a congressional appropriation of $197 million for Research, Development, and Dissemination, about $172 million of which was available to cover the
2 The most recent NBES meeting was held on November 8, 2016. See https://ies.ed.gov/director/board/minutes/index.asp.
3 A reviewer of this report who was appointed by President Trump stated that “[President] Biden summarily dismissed the whole Board in 2021 with a one-line email.”
entirety of NCER’s grantmaking.4 NCSER,5 on the other hand, receives far less funding from Congress to perform its core responsibilities. In FY2021, NCSER’s appropriation was $58.5 million. For detailed information about funding at NCER and NCSER, see Appendix E for a series of tables provided to the committee by IES.
Although both NCER and NCSER face funding constraints, NCSER’s limited budget remains a particular and perpetual challenge. In FY2010, NCSER received more than $71 million, but this amount was cut by Congress by more than $20 million annually in subsequent years. NCSER’s current funding is still $27.1 million short of the buying power of its FY2010 funding level after factoring in inflation, an issue that has yielded serious consternation and instability within the special education research community.
In comparison, the Education and Human Resources division of the National Science Foundation operated in FY2020 and FY2021 with a $940 and $968 million budget, respectively. Similarly, funding for the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development—a subagency of the National Institutes of Health with a mandate similar to that of NCSER—has a $1.6 billion budget. The committee notes that these discrepancies in funding are a critical consideration in the recommendations in this report: Limitations in the centers’ capacities mean that both NCER and NCSER need to be extremely judicious in how they allocate resources.
Since IES was established in 2002, NCSER, NCER, and the Office of Science have also operated with limited staffing resources. NCER has ranged in its staffing from 13 to 17 full-time employees, while NCSER has ranged in its staffing from 5 to 7 full-time employees, and the Office of Science has ranged in its full-time employees from 6 to 9.
RECENT EFFORTS AND DECISIONS
In recent years, under the leadership of IES Director Mark Schneider, NCER and NCSER have implemented a series of policy and programming initiatives aimed at continuing IES’s legacy of funding and communicating robust research in education. In this section, we discuss a few of these efforts. Though the efforts described below are only a subset of the ongoing work at NCER and NCSER, the committee has selected these particular
4 This sentence was modified after the release of the report to IES to reflect the actual 2021 appropriation and to clarify the amount of the appropriation available to NCER for grantmaking.
5 NCSER was not able to run any of its competitions for FY2022 as the funds appropriated to NCSER were needed to meet outstanding commitments for current awards. The pandemic recovery competitions that NCSER was able to run in FY2022 are supported in their entirety via American Rescue Plan funds appropriated to IES.
examples for discussion here due to their relevance to this study’s statement of task.
In September of 2018, Director Schneider introduced a set of principles designed to define rigor in IES-funded research. Known as the Standards for Excellence in Education Research (or the SEER principles), the principles are comprised of a set of “key domains and core questions” aimed at identifying quality in research proposals and supporting the production of high-quality research (see Box 3-1). As noted on the IES website,
SEER codifies practices that IES expects—and increasingly requires—to be implemented as part of IES-funded causal impact studies. But note that many standards and associated recommendations are applicable to other types of research and IES increasingly requires applicable standards be followed in those studies as well. IES-funded researchers should consult grant and contract documents for more information about how SEER applies to your project.
In March of 2021, Director Schneider introduced a competition designed to stimulate innovation in digital learning. According to his blog (Schneider, 2021), the challenge is
designed to incentivize developers of digital learning platforms to build, modify, and then test an infrastructure to run rigorous experiments that
can be implemented and replicated faster than traditional on-ground randomized control trials. The long-term goal of the competition is to modernize, accelerate, and improve the ways in which we identify effective learning tools and processes that improve learning outcomes.
The winning team will have demonstrated that their platform can successfully support researchers in conducting rapid, reproducible experiments in formal learning contexts. The winning team will be announced in March 2023 and will receive a $1 million prize.
In 2018, Director Schneider announced that IES would be reviewing its existing commitments to research-practice partnership (RPPs) models for conducting research and building knowledge. Though IES had historically funded RPPs through a number of funding mechanisms outside of NCER and NCSER, NCER began a specific competition solely for RPP models in 2013. This competition became a topic in a new competition focused on NCER’s investment in partnership work, Partnership and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice of Policies, in 2014. This RFA invited applications under three topics: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education, Continuous Improvement Research in Education, and Evaluation of State and Local Programs and Policies. The Evaluation topic was competed as a separate topic from 2009 to 2014. The Partnership and Collaborations competition was discontinued in 2019. Director Schneider expressed concern with the extent to which RPP models were focused primarily on “process rather than outcomes,” noting that IES would continue to “encourage, support, and prioritize collaboration between researchers and practitioners, but without specifying how that cooperation should be structured” (Schneider, 2020).
Given the identification of usefulness in education research as a crosscutting theme described in Chapter 1, the committee notes the existence of multiple bodies of research that provide evidence related to the utility and function of research-practice partnerships. While not all RPPs are successful at achieving all intended outcomes, research shows that co-designed interventions from RPPs can positively impact student learning outcomes (e.g., Krajcik et al., 2021; Saavedra et al., 2021; Coburn & Penuel, 2016; Booth et al., 2015; Barab, Greslfi, & Ingram-Goble, 2010; Geier et al., 2008; Snow, Lawrence, & White, 2009), as well as teaching and assessment
6 Although IES uses the convention “researcher-practitioner partnerships” in its work, the committee elected to use the more commonly used to term “research-practice partnerships” throughout this report.
outcomes (DeBarger et al., 2017; Yarnall, Shechtman, & Penuel, 2006). RPPs have supported efforts that resulted in dramatic reductions in high school dropout rates (Allensworth, 2015), and they have enabled partners to make effective use of research to inform their thinking and guide local decision making (Penuel et al., 2020; Henrick, Jackson, & Smith, 2018). Indeed, an evaluation of IES’s RPP initiative conducted by the IES-funded National Center for Research in Policy and Practice found that, from the perspective of nearly all grantees, the program was achieving its stated purposes (Farrell et al., 2018).
Though RPPs are no longer a separate topic, NCER continues to fund research that involves partnerships between researchers and practitioners, including awards made under the FY2020 and FY2021 Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking competitions.
In responding to its charge, one of the committee’s chief concerns was understanding the current state of funding in NCER and NCSER: that is, who has been funded through NCER and NCSER competitions over time, and what institutions and research areas have not received funding. Given our focus on the importance of attending to equity at every step in the NCER and NCSER funding process, the committee was interested to know how successful IES has been in engaging researchers from multiple disciplines, across institutions, and from a variety of backgrounds.
In its open sessions with IES staff, the committee asked for demographic and institutional information related to funded and unfunded applicants, as well as reviewer panels, and was informed that such information was not available for privacy and statistical reasons. In a post shared to the Inside IES Blog on September 16, 2021, IES shared limited demographic data about applicants (see Box 3-2).
The committee notes that the communication of this information is a critical step to helping IES address equity issues both inside and outside the organization. Throughout this report, the committee will discuss how continued sharing of data along these lines can buttress IES’s good work in each of the areas of our statement of task.
This chapter describes the current state of IES: its current structure and funding levels, as well as recent policy and programming efforts. In the following chapters, the committee will make use of this information in order to address the committee’s statement of task.
Allensworth, E. (2015). The use of ninth-grade early warning indicators to improve Chicago schools. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 18(1-2), 68–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/10824669.2013.745181.
Barab, S.A., Gresalfi, M.S., and Ingram-Goble, A. (2010). Transformational play: Using games to position person, content, and context. Educational Researcher, 39(7), 525–536.
Booth, J.L., Cooper, L.A., Donovan, M.S., Huyghe, A., Koedinger, K., and Pare-Blagoev, E.J. (2015). Design-based research within the constraints of practice: AlgebraByExample. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 20(1–2), 79–100. https://doi.org/10.1080/10824669.2014.986674.
Coburn, C.E., and Penuel, W.R. (2016). Research-practice partnerships: Outcomes, dynamics, and open questions. Educational Researcher, 45(1), 48–54.
DeBarger, A.H., Penuel, W.R., Boscardin, C.K., Moorthy, S., Beauvineau, Y., Kennedy, C., and Allison, K. (2017). Investigating science curriculum adaptation as a strategy to improve teaching and learning. Science Education, 101(1), 66–98. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21249.
Farrell, C.C., Davidson, K.L., Repko-Erwin, M., Penuel, W. R., Quantz, M., Wong, H., Riedy, R., and Brink, Z. (2018). A Descriptive Study of the IES Researcher–Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research Program. Boulder, CO: National Center for Research in Policy and Practice.
Geier, R., Blumenfeld, P., Marx, R.W., Krajcik, J., Fishman, B.J., and Soloway, E. (2008). Standardized test outcomes for students engaged in inquiry-based science curricula in the context of urban reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(8), 922–939.
Henrick, E.C., Jackson, K., & Smith, T.M. (2018). Assessing the impact of partnership recommendations on district instructional improvement strategies. In P. Cobb, K. Jackson, E. Henrick, T.M. Smith, and the MIST Team (Eds.), Systems for Instructional Improvement: Creating Coherence from the Classroom to the District Office (pp. 209–220). Harvard Education Press.
Institute of Education Sciences (IES). (2022a). Education Research and Method. IES Website, February 2022. https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/research/researchMethods.asp.
——— (2022b). Research and Development Centers. IES Website, February 2022. https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/research/randdCenters.asp.
——— (2022c). Special Education Research and Development Centers. IES Website, February 2022. https://ies.ed.gov/ncser/research/developmentCenters.asp.
——— (2022d). Research Networks. IES Website, February 2022. https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/research/researchNetworks.asp#:~:text=Through%20the%20Research%20Networks%20program,their%20research%20and%20dissemination%20capacity.
——— (2021). Updates on Research Center Efforts to Increase Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. IES Blog, September 16. https://ies.ed.gov/blogs/research/post/updates-on-research-center-efforts-to-increase-diversity-equity-inclusion-and-accessibility.
Krajcik, J.S., Schneider, B., Miller, E., Chen, I.-C., Bradford, L., Bartz, K., Baker, Q., Palincsar, A., Peek-Brown, D., and Codere, S. (2021). Assessing the Effect of Project-Based Learning on Science Learning in Elementary Schools. Michigan State University.
National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences. (n.d.). Survey and Program Areas. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/.
Penuel, W.R., Farrell, C.C., Anderson, E.R., Coburn, C.E., Allen, A.-R., Bohannon, A.X., Hopkins, M., and Brown, S. (2020). A Comparative, Descriptive Study of Three Research–Practice Partnerships: Goals, Activities, and Influence on District Policy, Practice, and Decision Making. National Center for Research in Policy and Practice.
Saavedra, A.R., Liu, Y., Haderlein, S.K., Rapaport, A., Garland, M., Hoepfner, D., Morgan, K. L., and Hu, A. (2021). Knowledge in Action Efficacy Study over Two Years. USC Dorsife Center for Economic and Social Research.
Schneider, M. (2021). Compete to win the XPRIZE Digital Learning Challenge. Blog post. March 22. https://ies.ed.gov/director/remarks/3-22-2021.asp.
Schneider, M. (2020). Research-Practice Partnerships, Redux. Blog post. February 4. https://ies.ed.gov/director/remarks/2-4-2020.asp.
Snow, C.E., Lawrence, J., and White, C. (2009). Generating knowledge of academic language among urban middle school students. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(4), 325–344. https://doi.org/10.1080/19345740903167042.
Yarnall, L., Shechtman, N., and Penuel, W.R. (2006). Using handheld computers to support improved classroom assessment in science: Results from a field trial. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 15(2), 142–158.