IES Offers Resources and Research Opportunities for Correctional Education Researchers

Meredith Larson, Emily Doolittle, and Jackie Buckley
Institute of Education Sciences,U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is committed to improving educational outcomes for all students. These outcomes encompass more than the traditional academic outcomes of reading, writing, and math, and ED recognizes that student populations consist of more than just those students enrolled in traditional K-12 schools. For example, ED works to create safe education environments, reduce dropout rates, and improve student behavior to support learning. In an effort to reach all students, ED reaches out to students (juvenile and adult) within the correctional system and those at risk of entering it. As it works toward these goals, ED learns from and informs researchers working in other fields that may initially be thought of as outside" the education system, such as corrections and justice, and offers opportunities for research funding.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the independent research arm of ED, conducts and supports rigorous education research to provide evidence that can be used to inform education practice and policy. IES' mission is to identify what works, what does not work, and why, to improve education outcomes for all students, particularly those at risk of poor outcomes. As part of these efforts, IES supports research and collects data relevant to justice and corrections, and offers resources and opportunities for those interested in education research that intersects with justice and corrections. Here, we provide a brief overview of the four centers within IES, followed by a discussion of funding opportunities offered through IES' two grant-awarding research centers.

IES Centers
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing education-related data. Researchers interested in correctional education and justice system outcomes are probably familiar with the data that NCES collects on crime, violence, and safety in U.S. elementary and secondary schools. The annual report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, a joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and NCES, examines crime in and around school campuses ( To learn more about the IES statistics center, visit the NCES Web site at

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) conducts unbiased, large-scale evaluations of federally funded education programs and practices and provides research-based assistance to educators, policymakers, and other education stakeholders. NCEE's What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is intended to be a central and trusted source of scientific evidence for what works in education. Through the WWC (, educators can find information they need to make evidence-based decisions. The WWC Practice Guides are geared toward educators, administrators, and policymakers (, and a recent guide, Dropout Prevention ( Guide.aspx?sid=9), provides recommendations that focus on reducing high school dropout rates. To learn more about the IES evaluation and technical assistance center, visit the NCEE Web site at

The National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) support research on education outcomes for students across the developmental spectrum ranging from infants and toddlers with or at risk for disabilities (NCSER only), to students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 (NCER and NCSER), to adults with basic education needs (NCER only), and to those transitioning to postsecondary education (NCER and NCSER) or employment and independent living (NCSER only). Projects supported through our discretionary grant programs include research on education within the correctional system, as well as research intended to create safer school environments, support students' reentry into the K-12 system, or support access to postsecondary education. All research funded by NCER and NCSER must focus on student education outcomes, but the range of these outcomes is broad and additional outcomes (e.g., recidivism) may be included.

Justice-Related Research Projects
Both NCER and NCSER fund education research projects that address issues relevant to the justice system. These projects focus on how to provide education services within the correctional system or how to create an education environment that will help keep students out of the correctional system. For example, with NCER funding, Emily Tanner-Smith from Vanderbilt University is exploring the ways that visible security measures are used in schools, and how these measures relate to middle- and high-school students' perceived school safety as well as their academic and behavioral outcomes. She is analyzing data collected by two large NCES surveys, the School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey and the School Survey on Crime & Safety (SSOCS). In another NCER-supported project, Steve Steurer at the Correctional Education Association is examining the effect of College of the Air curricula delivered via the Corrections Learning Network on postsecondary outcomes for adults in correctional institutions. A series of NCSER-funded projects are examining the best ways to support improved outcomes for students with disabilities within the juvenile justice system. For example, David Houchins at Georgia State University is developing a literacy program, Deanne Unruh at the University of Oregon is adapting an existing employment-related social skills curriculum, and Jeffrey Sprague at the University of Oregon is adapting and further developing a facility-wide positive behavior support program implemented in juvenile justice settings.

Funding Opportunities
Researchers who are interested in conducting education research that intersects with questions relevant to the justice and correctional systems, such as the projects mentioned above, are encouraged to consider applying for an NCER or NCSER education research grant. Visit the funding section of the IES Web site before applying ( for competitions, important deadline dates, and resources for researchers.

The majority of the research projects are funded through two standing research programs-the Education Research Grants Program (CDFA 84.305A) and the Special Education Research Grants Program (CFDA 84.324A). Through each program, IES supports research on focused topic areas to address specific research goals. The topics cover a wide range of content (e.g., reading, math), populations (e.g., English learners, students with emotional and behavioral disorders), and domains (e.g., cognitive science, education technology). Topics areas that may be of interest to justice- or corrections-relevant researchers include NCER's "Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning" and "Postsecondary and Adult Education" and NCSER's "Social and Behavioral Outcomes to Support Learning" and "Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities." This list is not comprehensive, and we encourage potential applicants to explore other topic areas that may be relevant to specific research questions.

Research projects must also be submitted for consideration under one of five research goals, for which we have different expectations in terms of products and appropriate research methods and designs (e.g., secondary data analysis, randomized controlled trials). The Exploration goal supports hypothesis-generating research to identify potential targets of interventions (e.g., curricula, education programs and policies) to improve student education outcomes. The Development and Innovation goal supports the development and initial piloting of new education interventions to improve student education outcomes. The Efficacy and Replication goal and the Effectiveness goal support tests of the impact of interventions on student education outcomes under ideal conditions (Efficacy) and under conditions of routine implementation (Effectiveness). The Measurement goal supports the development and validation of assessments for use in education settings or by education researchers. IES program officers can offer advice on choosing the appropriate research topic and goal to apply under and more substantive advice on a research idea and project narrative. For help with finding the right research competition for your work, contact Dr. Emily Doolittle ( or Dr. Meredith Larson ( with questions about NCER and Dr. Jackie Buckley ( with questions about NCSER.

Moving Ahead
Improving the outcomes of America's students and ensuring the safety of its communities require collaboration across fields. By working with those interested in outcomes relevant to education and the justice and corrections systems, IES strives to increase the quantity and quality of evidence available to support informed decisions about education policy and practice for all students.