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Research on Special Education, Career-Tech Ed., and Research Partnerships Sought by Education Department

The Institute of Education Sciences, the research agency for the U.S. Department of Education, put out calls for a bevy of new research projects for fiscal 2019, particularly around issues of special education and research partnerships.

The agency has offered special education research grants in more than a dozen areas, from autism to transitions for students with disabilities, but highlighted three new research areas: career and technical education for students with disabilities, as well as issues around students with disabilities who are also English-language learners or involved in government systems such as foster care or juvenile justice.

In general education, career and technical programs have been a burgeoning research field. Allen Ruby, an associate commissioner for policy and systems at IES' National Center for Education Research, noted that CTE was added as one of a rotating group of "special topics" for research in fiscal 2018, and so many researchers and state agencies expressed interest that it became a regular research area for fiscal 2019. 

"There are more students with disabilities that concentrate on career and technical education than students without disabilities, but we really don't know what components of it work for them, what programs are most effective, what [students'] outcomes are," said Joan McLaughlin, the commissioner of IES' National Center for Special Education Research. "We really need more on it."

Educators and policymakers also need more information about how disabilities affect English-learners and those in the foster care or juvenile justice facilities—particularly because students with disabilities become involved in those systems at higher rates than students without special needs. 

"These are the kids who really face a double-whammy," McLaughlin said. "These students are often highly mobile ... they already are at risk for poorer outcomes, but add disability on top of that and you have some of the biggest issues and worst achievement gaps that you can face. ... We realize we need research on all fronts. There's not a lot out there." 

The idea is to really get some teams of researchers coming together with different perspectives and slightly different takes on the problem—in other words, a collaborative network rather than individual research projects. 

IES' general education research grants also are accepting applications across 14 different topic areas, from school leadership and improving education systems to math, reading, writing, and education technology. This year, as part of a rotating set of special topics, the agency is also looking for new research projects related to social studies and foreign language education. 

"We've picked two areas that are pretty large in education, with a lot of interest from multiple populations," Ruby said, noting that foreign language development is of increasing economic and national security concern to policymakers, even as fewer students are studying multiple languages.

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