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IES Seeks Bidders for New Research and Training Projects

The Institute of Education Sciences announced this week that it is soliciting proposals for a boatload of research competitions, including one aimed at helping states and districts gear up to evaluate the school-improvement efforts they put in place with economic-stimulus dollars from the Race to the Top Fund.

Working in partnership with universities or research groups, states and districts can get up to $1.2 million a year, over five years, to measure their progress in implementing a wide range of education-reform efforts, including some that might be underwritten by Race to the Top, through the research agency's Evaluation of State and Local Education Programs competition. This is an ongoing grant program, says Lynn Okagaki, IES' commissioner for education research, but the agency added a new April 1 deadline to accommodate researchers who want to hit the ground running when states and districts start up their new new federally funded initiatives in the fall. The other two deadlines for this research program are in June and September.

The agency is also looking for bidders on at least four national research centers, some new and some ongoing, each of which can qualify for up to $2 million a year over five years. The National Research and Development Center for State and Local Policy, for instance, will study state and district education policies aimed at improving education outcomes for K-12 students. The agency has two centers that operate under this umbrella now—the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Date in Education Research, or CALDER at the Urban Institute and the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University—but their contracts are due to expire soon. The number of centers will depend in part on the quality of the proposals; applications are due in September.

Under the Special Education Research and Development Center, IES wants to create a center to focus on school-based interventions for secondary students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD.)

"The projects we've funded so far target preschool and early elementary children with ASD," Okagaki said. "IES is competing this new center, in part, to direct research attention on adolescents with ASD." Applications are due in September for this award.

Another national research center out for bid is the National Research and Development Center on Cognition and Adult Literacy, which is aimed at studying the cognitive processes that underlie reading and basic math in adult learners and developing instructional approaches targeted to that group.

The fourth center will be aimed at research on postsecondary education and employment. The agency already funds the National Center on Postsecondary Research at Teachers College, Columbia University, but the new incarnation of the center calls for broadening the focus to include labor-market outcomes.

The agency is also shopping for institutes to run two postdoctoral training programs— one in education sciences and one in special education—and one interdisciplinary predoctoral program to nurture budding education researchers. To learn more about these programs, which are growing in number throughout the country, see this story I wrote back in 2008.

Finally, the institute is offering grants of up to $400,000 a year, over three years, for research projects aimed at developing new or improved methods for conducting the kind of research that the agency supports. In particular, it seeks techniques for boosting the power of research effects in randomized studies. Remember all those "no effects" studies?

If this seems like a long list, just wait. Later this month, IES plans to announce the rest of its research competitions for 2010. And that list, which covers the majority of the agency's research dollars, will be much longer.

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