The Department of Education is looking for researchers to apply for more than $90 million in new grants to support studies on reading comprehension, preschool curricula, learning and cognition, and strategies for moving proven programs into classrooms on a wide scale.
“The concept here is to focus money around needed areas to get some critical mass of research so that, after a period of five years, we can look back and come to some conclusions about what are effective educational practices with a solid, scientific basis of research,” said Valerie S. Reyna, a senior scientist and adviser to the director of the department’s recently formed Institute of Education Sciences.
The institute, which replaces the department’s office of educational research and improvement, is overseeing or co-directing the new grants.
The largest pot of money, $48 million, will support a fifth round of grants for the Interagency Education Research Initiative, a cross-disciplinary, cross- agency effort to support studies in reading, mathematics, and science. The Education Department runs that program with the National Science Foundation and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
According to the formal application request for the programs, which institute officials posted online Dec. 16, the grants for this round will focus on strategies for taking proven programs and successfully scaling them up so they have more impact on schools.
Beginning around August, the agencies plan to award a variety of grants through the cross-disciplinary program. To find out more, researchers can attend a “preapplication” meeting at the institute on Jan. 21.
In comparison, the preschool-grant program is aimed at systematically testing whether established programs for enhancing preschoolers’ school readiness work.
“There are curricula that have proliferated in that area in response to a perceived need. However, there was a gap in knowledge about the effectiveness of those curricula,” Ms. Reyna said. The institute expects to dole out 15 or more preschool-research awards, each one worth at least $350,000 in the first year.
The projects that get the funding will have to employ random- assignment research methods to gauge whether the programs they are testing get better results than more typical preschool classrooms. All the projects will use common yardsticks for measuring effectiveness so that the programs can be compared across studies. The application deadline for the preschool program is March 14.
For the grant program supporting research on student cognition and learning, which is also in its second round of funding, the methodological criteria are less rigid. Under that initiative, the institute plans to award 12 three-year grants—each one averaging about $250,000 a year—for studies that bring groundbreaking findings emerging from laboratory-based studies in cognitive science to bear on classroom learning. That application deadline is March 21.
The grants awarded through the year-old reading comprehension program will support research on helping children overcome learning hurdles that can set in as they move from learning to read to reading to learn.
Funding for that program, which also has a March 21 application deadline, will support up to 20 three-year grants of $250,000 to $350,000 each annually.