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Faculty Contribute to New IES Report on Future of Ed Research

April 15, 2022
Professor Cynthia Coburn
Professor Cynthia Coburn and other coauthors will discuss their findings at the AERA annual meeting.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) should change its structures and policies to better meet changing priorities in education – including improving equity and the usefulness of research, according to a new report whose authors include several Northwestern University faculty members.

The consensus report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine made several bold recommendations for the direction of future research at the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research, two centers directed by IES. 

Among the findings:

  • The IES should revise its competitive grant process to make it more responsive to the needs of educators, learners, and communities.
  • Congress should re-examine the IES budget, which the report says does not appear to be on par with that of other agencies that fund education research.
  • IES should prioritize new research topics for NCER grants, including civil rights policy and practice, teacher education and education workforce development, and education technology and learning analytics.
  • New research topics for NCSER grants should include teaching practices and outcomes for students with disabilities, among others.
  • The report recommends IES implement a systematic and transparent process to regularly assess adding or removing new study topics moving forward.
  • IES should also regularly collect and publish information on the racial, ethnic, gender, disciplinary, and institutional backgrounds of grant applicants, principal investigators.

School of Education and Social policy professor Cynthia Coburn, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, and Beth Tipton of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, were both on the committee that authored the report, The Future of Education Research at IES: Advancing an Equity-Oriented Science.

Shirin Vossoughi, associate professor of learning sciences, and Megan Bang, professor of learning sciences and vice-president of the Spencer Foundation, authored one of the commissioned papers that fed into the report.

The report represents the committee’s careful weighing of evidence from public hearings, analysis of publicly available data, evidence from commissioned papers that reviewed relevant areas of research, and expert judgement of committee members themselves.

The committee worked to reach agreement among members from diverse research traditions and perspectives on all recommendations, which wasn’t always easy, Coburn said. Nonetheless, she notes, the committee came to consensus and stands behind the analysis and the recommendations in the report.

On Friday, April 22, 2022, Coburn and other committee members will discuss their findings as part of a symposium called “The Future of Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences: A Community Dialogue and Reflection.” The session, part of the upcoming American Educational Research Association annual meeting, is at 1:30 p.m. CDT in the Upper Level, Ballroom 6E of the San Diego Convention Center.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research, evaluation, statistics, and assessment arm of the Department of Education, examines the state of education in the United States, including early childhood education and special education; educational practices that support learning and improve academic achievement and access to educational opportunities for all students; and the effectiveness of federal and other education programs.