Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Evidence on CTE: A Convening of Consequence

In 2018, NCER funded a research network to build the evidence base for career and technical education (CTE). As with other research networks, the CTE Research Network comprises a set of research teams and a lead team, which is responsible for collaboration and dissemination among the research teams. On March 20, 2024, the Network held a final convening to present its findings to the field. In this blog, Network Lead Member Tara Smith, Network Director Kathy Hughes, and NCER Program Officer Corinne Alfeld reflect on the success of the final convening and share thoughts about future directions.

Insights From the Convening

An audience of CTE Research Network members, joined by educators, administrators, policymakers and other CTE stakeholders, gathered for a one-day convening to hear about the Network’s findings. Several aspects of the meeting contributed to its significance.

  • The presentations highlighted an important focus of the Network – making research accessible to and useable for practitioners. The agenda included presentations from four Network member researchers and their district or state partners from New York City and North Carolina. Each presentation highlighted positive impacts of CTE participation, but more importantly, they demonstrated the value of translating research findings into action. Translation involves collaboration between researchers and education agency staff to develop joint research questions and discuss the implications of findings for improving programs to better serve students or to take an innovative practice and scale it to other pathways and schools.
  • Brand-new and much-anticipated research was released at the convening. The Network lead announced a systematic review of all of the rigorous causal research on secondary-level CTE from the last 20 years. This is an exciting advancement for building the evidence base for CTE, which was the purpose of the Network. The meta-analysis found that CTE has statistically significant positive impacts on several high school outcomes, such as academic achievement, high school completion, employability skills, and college readiness. The review found no statistically significant negative impacts of CTE participation. The evidence points to the power of CTE to transform lives, although more research is needed. To guide future research, the review provided a “gap analysis” of where causal research is lacking, such as any impacts of high school CTE participation on academic achievement in college or attainment of a postsecondary degree.
  • National CTE leaders and experts put the research findings into a policy context and broadcasted its importance. These speakers commented on the value of research for CTE advocacy on Capitol Hill, in states, and in informing decisions about how to target resources. Luke Rhine, the deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) said, “The best policy is informed by practice [...] and the best practice is informed by research.” Kate Kreamer, the executive director of Advance CTE, emphasized the importance of research in dispelling myths, saying that “if the data are not there, that allows people to fill the gaps with their assumptions.” However, she noted, as research increasingly shows the effectiveness of CTE, we must also guard against CTE programs becoming selective, and thus limiting equitable access.

New Directions

In addition to filling the critical gaps identified by the Network lead’s review, other future research questions suggested by researchers, practitioners, and policymakers at the convening include:

  • How can we factor in the varied contexts of CTE programs and the wide range of experiences of CTE students to understand which components of CTE really matter?  What does it look like when those are done well?  What does it take to do them well? Where is it happening?
  • How can we learn more about why students decide to participate in CTE generally and in their chosen pathway? What are the key components of useful supports that schools can provide to help them make these decisions?
  • How do we engage employers more deeply and actively in CTE programs and implement high quality work-based learning to ensure that students are acquiring skills and credentials that are valued in the labor market?
  • What are evidence-based practices for supporting special student populations, such as students with disabilities, or English language learners?
  • How can we harness state longitudinal data systems that link education and employment data to examine the long-term labor market outcomes of individuals from various backgrounds who participated in different career clusters or who had access to multiple CTE experiences?

While IES alone will not be able to fund all the needed research, state agencies, school districts, and even individual CTE programs can partner with researchers to study what works in their context and identify where more innovation and investment is needed. The work of the CTE Research Network has provided a good evidence base with which to start, and a good model for additional research that improves practice and policy. Fortunately, the CTE research field will continue to grow via the support of a new CTE Research Network – stay tuned for more information!


This blog was co-written by CTE Network Lead Member Tara Smith of Job for the Future, CTE Network Director Kathy Hughes of AIR, and NCER Program Officer Corinne Alfeld.

Questions can be addressed to Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov.

IES Releases a New Public Access Plan for Publications and Data Sharing: What You Need to Know

In 2011, IES took a first step towards supporting what was then a burgeoning open science movement—publication and data sharing requirements for awardees. This growing movement found its first government-wide footing in 2013 with the release of a memo from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that provided guidance on the need for federally funded researchers to share publications and develop plans for sharing data.

Since that time, infrastructure and informational support for open science practices have continued to grow across federal funding agencies, and adherence to open science principles has evolved with them. In August 2022, OSTP released a new memo providing updated guidance on open science practices. The memo focused on equity, increasing public access to and discoverability of research, and establishing new data and metadata standards for shared materials.

In this blog post, Dr. Laura Namy, associate commissioner of the Teaching and Learning Division at NCER, and Erin Pollard, project officer for the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) at NCEE, describe IES’s new Public Access Plan and address some important changes in requirements resulting from the new White House guidance for researchers receiving federal funding.

IES, in collaboration and consultation with other funding agencies, has been developing and implementing new policies and guidance to extend our commitment to open science principles. These new policies serve to support broader access among researchers, educators, and policymakers, as well as the general public whose tax dollars subsidize federally-funded research. The resulting changes will certainly require some adjustments and some learning, and IES will be offering guidance and support as these requirements are implemented.   

IES’s commitment to open science practices is already reflected in our Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER principles) and other expectations for awardees. These include—

  • Pre-registering studies
  • Uploading full text of published articles to ERIC
  • Submitting (and adhering to) a data management plan
  • Sharing published data
  • Including the cost of article processing charges (APCs) in project budgets to support publishing open access (OA)

The new policies reflect dual priorities: increasing both immediacy and equity of access. For current grant and contract awards, the requirements in place at the time that awards were made will still apply for the duration of those current awards. For each future award, Requests for Applications/Proposals (RFAs and RFPs), Grant Award Notices (GANs), and contracts will indicate the relevant public access/sharing requirements to identify which requirements are in place for the specific award.

Below are some important changes and what they mean for our IES-funded research community.

All publications stemming from federally funded work will have a zero-day public access embargo.

This means that an open access version must be available in ERIC immediately upon publication for all articles proceeding from federal research funding. The current 12-month grace-period before articles become fully available will be gone. Although we’ve seen this change coming, publishers of journals that are not already open access will need to adapt to this new normal, as will universities and many researchers who do not already routinely publish OA. 

What does this mean for IES-funded researchers? 

IES-funded researchers are already required to upload the full text of all articles to ERIC immediately after acceptance. Until now, ERIC released the full text within 12 months of publication. However, for all NEW grants awarded in fiscal year 2025 (as of Oct 1, 2024) and beyond, this zero-day public access embargo requirement will be in effect. Note that the relevant public access requirement depends on the year that the award was made, not the publication date of the article (for example, articles published in 2025 and beyond based on data collected through grants awarded before 2025 will still be under the 12-month embargo). IES awardees will need to ensure (either through your publisher or your own efforts) that a full-text version of the accepted manuscript or published article is uploaded to ERIC for release as soon as it is available online. To facilitate the transition, we encourage all awardees to publish their work in OA journals where feasible, and to budget for APCs accordingly. IES will provide additional guidance to support researchers in complying with this new requirement.

Data sharing will be required at time of publication, or if unpublished, after a certain time interval, whichever comes first.

This means that data curation and identification of an appropriate data repository will need to occur in advance of publication so that data can be shared immediately after publication rather than as a follow-along activity after publication occurs. Although funding agencies will vary in their sharing timelines, IES anticipates requiring data to be shared at time of publication or (for unpublished work) no later than 5 years after award termination. 

What does this mean for IES-funded researchers? 

All awardees who publish findings based on data collected under a new award made in fiscal year 2025 and beyond will need to release the reported data into a data repository at the time of publication. This calls for a change in data curation practices for many researchers who have focused on preparing their data for sharing post-publication. As noted above, any data that remain unshared 5 years post-award will need to be shared, even if publications are still pending. One best practice approach is to set up the data filesharing templates and curation plans in anticipation of sharing prior to data collection so that data are ready for sharing by the time data collection is complete (see Sharing Study Data: A Guide for Education Researchers). When multiple publications stem from the same data set, we recommend planning to share a single master data set to which additional data may be added as publications are released. Researchers should budget for data curation in their applications to support this activity.

Applications for IES funding have shifted from including a data management plan (DMP) to a data sharing and management plan (DSMP) to foreground the shift in emphasis to routine data sharing. Specific plans for sharing data, documentation, and analytic codes in particular repositories will need to be included. In anticipation of new requirements, we encourage researchers to move away from hosting data sets on personal websites or making them available solely upon request. DSMPs should identify an appropriate publicly available data repository. There is now guidance on Desirable Characteristics of Data Repositories for Federally Funded Research that should be followed whenever feasible. IES will be providing additional guidance on repository selection in the coming year. Principal investigators (PIs) and Co-PIs must be in compliance with data sharing requirements from previous IES awards in order to receive new awards from IES.

Unique digital persistent identifiers (PIDs) will need to be established for all key personnel, publications, awards, and data sets.

Digital object identifiers (DOIs) for journal articles are PIDs that uniquely identify a single version of a single publication and can be used to identify and reference that specific publication. This same concept is now being extended to other aspects of the research enterprise including individual researchers, grant and contract awards, and data sets. Unique PIDs for individuals facilitate tracking of individual scholars across name changes, institution changes, and career-stage changes. Having universal conventions across federal funding agencies for individuals, awards, and data sets in addition to publications will not only facilitate discoverability but will help to link data sets to publications, investigators to grants, grants to publications, etc. This will help both researchers and funders to connect the dots among the different components of your important research activities.

What does this mean for IES-funded researchers? 

All key personnel on new IES-funded projects are now required to establish an individual digital PID (such as ORCID) prior to award. DOIs will continue to be the PID assigned by publishers for publications. Authors reporting on IES-funded data should be vigilant about acknowledging their IES funding in all publications stemming from their IES grant awards. Coming soon, IES-funded researchers should be prepared for new digital PIDs (in addition to the IES-specific award numbers) associated with their grants to ensure consistency of PID conventions across funding agencies. New guidance for PID conventions for awards and data linked to IES-funding is forthcoming. 

The Bottom Line

These changes constitute an important step forward in increasing equitable access to and transparency about IES-funded research activities, and other federal funding agencies are making similar changes. The immediate changes at IES (establishing an individual PID and preparing a DSMP) are not onerous, and the bigger changes still to come (immediate sharing of publications and supporting data, using PIDs to refer to awards and data sets) will be rolled out with guidance and support. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions or concerns at Laura.Namy@ed.gov or Erin.Pollard@ed.gov. Or to learn more, please view the presentation and discussion of Open Science at IES that took place at the 2023 PI Meeting.

Message from the NCSER Commissioner on Recent and Upcoming Competitions

On May 28, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) announced plans for our fiscal year (FY) 2025 Special Education Research Grants Program through a Federal Register notice. Careful readers will note that, for this competition, we are focusing on a specific topic: Education Systems. We did so both because it highlights a domain of much-needed research and because, as in years past, we find ourselves in a situation where the field continues to propose more high-quality research than NCSER has resources to support. I offer more details below.

Why is NCSER running a focused Research Grants Program competition in FY25?

The short answer to this question is that, in FY24, the number of proposed projects peer reviewers rated as Excellent or Outstanding outpaced the funds we had available. As some may remember, we faced a similar situation in FY23. At the time, a handful of unfunded projects that had scored in the “fundable” range (that is, below 2.00 in our scoring system)  but were not funded due to a lack of available funding. Fortunately, the vast majority of these FY23 studies resubmitted in FY24 and were recommended for funding. The problem is that we now have a new set of proposals in a similar spot. These applicants could reapply again in FY25, but we worry this is creating a pattern that will be hard to break. Absent a marked change in NCSER’s funding levels, how do we get out of this yo-yo of a cycle?

I want to honor the work—and acknowledge the excellence—that the community displayed throughout our FY24 competition. As such, my first priority in FY25 is to fund as many of the projects as we can that scored at or below 2.00 in FY24. But this decision comes at a cost: the need to focus our FY25 competition in some way. How we’ve chosen to do that—and our rationale for that choice—is described in more detail below.

More changes are likely in the years ahead. We hope we will have more funds in FY26 and beyond based on the interest in our grant competitions. But, in the absence of substantial increases in our funding appropriations, NCSER will need to be more selective in its investments, such as limiting the number of topics we compete in a given year or placing restrictions on the number of projects we intend to support on any one topic. We are at a point where we routinely receive more high-quality proposed research than we can support without making sacrifices to other investments that are critical to improving outcomes for students with or at risk of disabilities. This includes our early career programs that train the next generation of special education scholars, our methods trainings that strengthen special education research, and our research and development centers that provide national leadership on some of the most important issues facing special education today. I am not prepared to abandon these other programs, or close off opportunities to new investments, as each are equally important as our primary research competition in growing the knowledge base underlying high-quality special education.

We all know that every funder operates within resource constraints, and that leaders within funding organizations are responsible for making hard choices about prioritization. But the consequences of the current funding context are not lost on me. I recognize how much work goes into writing a proposal, and in the consequences of delays in funding opportunities—for the research getting done, for the success of partnerships with stakeholders, and for individuals’ own careers. I know from personal experience the feeling of receiving a score in the fundable range only to be notified that there is not sufficient funding for one’s project. There’s disappointment too for our program officers, who have spent countless hours working with first-time applicants and those who have resubmitted their projects one or more times. All these factors are balanced in making decisions about how to make the best use of NCSER’s available funds. And I am proud at how much the field of special education research has accomplished, making the most of our available resources.

Why focus on education systems?

With limited funds for new research awards, NCSER decided to invest in systems-level education improvements for students with disabilities. NCSER has long encouraged systems-level research, but we typically receive a small number of systems proposals each year. While NCSER has generated considerable evidence about individual- and classroom-based programs and practices for learners, we need more research on how programs and services are coordinated within and across the multiple, complex systems of special education. A focus on systems is particularly warranted given the current realities of the education climate, including ongoing staffing shortages, chronic absenteeism, fiscal uncertainties, and school systems that are still recovering from the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you will see in our forthcoming RFA, we are casting a wide net in how we are encouraging the field to think about systems research.  This is truly a case where we need research across the board—from high-quality descriptive research documenting what special education systems look like in schools today, to research exploring how systems-level factors shape and are shaped by classroom practices and programs, to studies developing and testing systems-level interventions to measure development and validation given the relatively limited existing assessment work at the systems level. We are excited to see how the field embraces this focus.

Looking Forward

NCSER plays a singular role in the education research landscape, dedicated to building rigorous evidence about how to best meet the needs of students with and at risk of disabilities and to support the educators who serve them. I can appreciate that our focusing of the FY25 competition may cause some special education researchers to pursue funding with others this year, including private foundations or different federal partners. But throughout the year ahead—and as they have done since our inception—NCSER staff will continue to support our mission: training the next generation of researchers, building the research base on high-quality special education policies, programs, and practices, and finding more equitable and effective ways of mobilizing our research into practice.

IES is Investing in Research on Innovative Financial Aid Programs in Five States

State financial aid programs have the potential to substantially augment the support that students receive from the federal Pell Grant. Federal programs, most notably the Federal Pell Grant program, have historically played the lead role of providing a solid foundation of financial support to students, with states playing the supporting role of providing additional aid to students who meet specific eligibility requirements. In recent years, states have moved to innovate their financial aid programs in ways that have the potential to increase total aid packages, meet a wider range of needs, and serve a broader population of students. The effects of these recent innovations are mostly unknown yet of great interest to state legislators and policymakers. To address this issue, IES is funding a set of five research projects that assess the scope and effects of innovative financial aid programs in California, Connecticut, Michigan, Tennessee, and Washington state. This blog describes how the five projects are contributing to the evidence base.

State financial aid program eligibility rules differ in ways that can substantially alter total aid awards, the scope of the population that can be served, and the ways in which students can use aid funds to meet their various needs while enrolled in college. For example, one key policy attribute that affects the total aid award is whether awards are calculated independently of the Pell Grant­–as “first-dollar” awards that add to the Pell award if state eligibility requirements are met– or as “last-dollar” awards that supplement Pell awards conditional upon eligibility and appropriate-use requirements. Policies including an eligibility requirement for recent high school graduation within the state tend to limit aid access for older and returning students. In addition, financial need requirements can limit or broaden the pool of eligible recipients, depending on family income thresholds. Policies that require completion of the federal FAFSA Form without offering an alternative state application tend to close off access to aid for undocumented immigrants. Merit and high school GPA requirements can close off aid access to students who are otherwise ready for college. Moreover, appropriate-use requirements in some states limit aid usage to tuition and registration expenses while other states allow aid usage for living expenses such as housing and transportation.

Given these variations in program eligibility rules, state officials want to know if their aid programs are reaching targeted student groups, meeting their needs in ways that allow them to focus on their studies, and making a difference in their academic and subsequent labor market outcomes. In an effort to support decision making, IES is funding five projects that are each working closely with state officials to understand the features of their programs and conducting research to assess which students are accessing the programs, the extent of support provided by the programs, and their effects on enrollment in and progression through college. Below is the list of the IES-funded projects.

We are excited to fund these projects and look forward to the findings they will be sharing, starting in fall 2024.


This blog was written by James Benson (James.Benson@ed.gov), program officer in the Policy and Systems team at NCER.

Leveraging Multiple Funding Sources to Train Special Education Researchers: Part 2

This blog is part of a series that highlights the experiences of graduate students in special education research who receive funding through the Department of Education. In the initial blog, two doctoral students shared their experiences with training opportunities made possible through OSEP and NCSER funding. For this second blog, we interviewed two additional scholars and included varying OSEP training mechanisms funded under the Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results Program, including the Preparation of Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services Leadership Personnel grant program (ALN 84.325D) and the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention funded under the Doctoral Training Consortia Associated With High-Intensity Needs grant program (ALN 84.325). We asked them to discuss their experiences as OSEP Scholars, their work on NCSER-funded research grants, and how both opportunities prepare them to conduct research in special education.

Nathan Speer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Headshot of Nathan Speer

I have had a great experience as an OSEP Scholar! From the beginning, I was excited about the opportunity to pursue a PhD in special education intervention design, an area I have always been interested in as a professional educator. The funding and support I receive is comprehensive and practical. The OSEP-funded Research Interventions in Special Education (RISE) project funds my tuition, pays a non-work stipend, provides support for expenses associated with completing my degree program (including books, supplies, travel for required meetings or conferences), and helps with research by providing technology, software, and dissertation support.

I have been working on the IES-funded WORDS (Workshop on Reading Development Strategies) for Pandemic Recovery in Nebraska project for approximately a year. The research focuses on investigating the efficacy of professional development intended to aid teachers in implementing a tier 2 reading intervention for students in kindergarten through third grade who are at risk for reading disabilities. For the project, my roles are primarily conducting data analysis and coding. These two experiences have worked well in tandem. I have been able to attend several conferences and trainings thanks to the RISE grant that have positively impacted my work on WORDS, and my work with WORDS has provided me with an opportunity to participate in serious research as a PhD student.

Both experiences are helping me work towards a leadership role in academia and research in special education! WORDS provides me with experience participating in impactful research and RISE provides countless opportunities to learn and grow as an educator and build a professional network both on campus and in my field of interest. In the future, I hope to work in academia, preferably as a professor of practice working with undergraduate and graduate educators in special education. More specifically, I would like to focus my research and instruction on behavior (for example, applied behavior analysis, functional analysis, and behavior intervention planning).

Blair Payne, University of Texas, Austin

Headshot of Blair Payne

The National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention-2 (NCLII-2) training grant prepares special education leaders to have expertise in supporting students with complex and comorbid learning disabilities and behavior disorders. As a cohort of scholars, we meet two to three times a year for small conferences, which are centered around topics such as preparing for the job market, supporting education policy, or conducting and disseminating research. NCLII-2 provides scholars with tuition to one of the universities in the consortium, travel funds, and funding for our dissertation or a small research project. During our meetings, we can meet faculty and students from other universities to create mentorship or collaboration opportunities. 

Over the past 4 years, I've had the privilege of working on three IES-funded research studies. The project on which I have worked the longest is Developing an Instructional Leader Adaptive Intervention Model (AIM) for Supporting Teachers as They Integrate Evidence-Based Adolescent Literacy Practices School-Wide (Project AIM). Project AIM is a partnership with Dr. Jade Wexler at University of Maryland and Dr. Elizabeth Swanson at University of Texas, Austin. As the Texas project coordinator, I have supported material creation, educator training, test administration, recruitment, data preparation, and dissemination. Since the grant is a development grant, it has been a remarkable experience to learn the boots-on-the-ground requirements of working in schools.

My work as an OSEP Scholar has provided me with the background knowledge that I need to conduct research. Through my work on IES grants, I can use this background knowledge to support project implementation. Both funding sources work together, hand-in-hand, and I am incredibly grateful that I have been able to learn so much from both experiences.

My future goal is to work at a research university as a faculty member. Through my IES work, I am getting direct experience on how to implement school-level research. I hope to one day support schools through this research, and when I do, I'll be able to lean on my experiences from various IES projects to support this endeavor. My experience as an OSEP Scholar supports this goal by building foundational knowledge of special education research, which is instrumental to take into a faculty position in which I may wear many hats for a department. The NCLII-2 grant has helped to ensure that the graduates of the training grant are prepared to enter the field of special education with up-to-date knowledge from the field. As future faculty, we will enter the field ready to prepare the next generation of teachers and providers and build their capacity to serve and support children with disabilities and their families.

While OSEP and NCSER are separate funding mechanisms, they can be leveraged to work synergistically by providing student scholars a comprehensive research experience that includes training in research methodologies and opportunities to apply this knowledge within current research projects. Thank you to Nathan and Blair for sharing their experiences as OSEP Scholars working with research supported by NCSER. NCSER looks forward to seeing the future impact you will have in your field!

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at NCSER and doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University. Shanna is also an OSEP Scholar through RISE.