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$3.7 Million Grant Funds Research on Teaching

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October 26, 2004

Northwestern University has been awarded a grant of almost $3.7 million to develop a cadre of scholars who will be able to help K-12 teachers discern which education practices work and which do not.

“Educators today often fly by the seat of their pants and adopt new curricula or teaching practices that seem good but are largely unproven. Our Department of Education grant will create a cohort of education researchers who will undertake relevant and reliable research on pressing policy and practice problems in education,” said Professor James Spillane of Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy (SESP). Spillane will direct the program.

The highly competitive grant -- one of only five awarded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) -- will establish an interdisciplinary training program that will support 22 new, three-year fellowships and provide 50 percent funding for a new, tenure-line faculty position. A group of 10 core program faculty will be drawn from psychology, sociology, economics statistics, human development and social policy and learning sciences.

“The Department of Education wants to make sure that educational policies are based on solid, evidence-based research,” said Penelope Peterson, dean of the School of Education and Social Policy. “Educational policy, like other policies, should be made on the basis of rigorous evidence, and we want to produce a cadre of scholars who are qualified to conduct the work. Our children deserve that, and we are excited to be part of this mission.”

The new training program addresses one of the most critical problems in education today - the absence of empirically sound knowledge based on core education issues. It is intended for students who want to pursue a research agenda that will focus on practical questions in U.S. education from an interdisciplinary perspective

The University will support the five-year program of pre-doctoral interdisciplinary research training program with an additional $1.2 million to help pay for the 22 fellows' tuition costs. Four students will enter the five-year program in its first year; six will enter in each of the program's remaining years. The hallmarks of the program are interdisciplinary teaching and mentoring of fellows by core and affiliated faculty engaged in education-focused research.

Training activities will include both required and elective courses in statistics, evaluation, learning and cognition, and policy and implementation. Students will attend biweekly research seminars and fellows' meetings with affiliated faculty.

Although IES originally expected to give up to 15 national training center awards, it chose to limit the awards to Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, Florida State and Vanderbilt universities and the University of Virginia.

SESP Professors James Spillane and Greg Duncan will alternate as project directors. SESP Professor Lindsay Chase-Lansdale will serve as deputy director. Departmental coordinators include Chase-Lansdale and Bruce Sherin from SESP and Thomas Cook from sociology, Christopher Taber from economics and David Uttal from psychology.

"We are very excited about the prospect of working with our Northwestern colleagues in psychology, sociology and economics to improve the quality of training of prospective researchers in the educational sciences," SESP Dean Peterson added.