Grants and awards roll in for College of Education researchers

A globe in a classroom

The snap judgments people make in their everyday lives can have harmful effects — particularly in the classroom where educators must make lightning-fast disciplinary decisions.

Those actions, UO education researchers say, are often made based on unconscious racial and ethnic biases. As a result, students of different backgrounds can receive disproportionate levels of discipline.

“Explicit bias involves consciously treating groups differently based on the way they look, but implicit bias is different in that it’s unconscious or automatic — we’ve got to make so many decisions in our daily lives that some of it gets put on autopilot,” said Kent McIntosh, a professor in the UO Department of Special Education and Clinical Sciences who studies positive behavior support and evidence-based interventions in schools.

McIntosh and his colleagues recently received a three-year, $1.4 million grant to work on ways of preventing implicit bias. It’s one of several large grants recently awarded to researchers in the UO’s College of Education, which has continued to draw significant funding in spite of a challenging federal research environment.

In recent months, the college has received awards from the U.S. Department of Education totaling more than $6 million, and millions of dollars in additional funding from other federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Other recent grants have focused on tablet-based teaching technology, team problem solving, training future Oregon science teachers, exploring early math processes and other subjects.

“If there’s a common thread to these recent grants, it’s the fact that researchers in the College of Education are addressing critical social and educational challenges with an eye toward better outcomes for students and their families,” said Leslie Leve, the college’s associate dean for research and faculty development. “This research and the accompanying evidence-based programs continue to advance the performance and progress of educational and community systems, ensuring that they provide support and services that work for all.”

Researchers such as McIntosh have long studied so-called “implicit biases” in education, but until recently little research has been focused on prevention. McIntosh and a team that includes Erik Girvan, a professor in the UO School of Law who studies how stereotypes and other biases affect decision making, are carrying out an ambitious study on preventions funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The researchers want to develop and pilot test a teacher professional development intervention to reduce the effects of implicit bias in school discipline decision-making.

“I don’t think that teachers and administrators mean for there to be different educational or discipline outcomes for students from different backgrounds, but there is a lot of data showing really large and persistent disparities,” Girvan said. “This project is on the front end of efforts to reduce discriminatory behavior from implicit bias in the education context.”

Other recent Department of Education grants include:

  • A four-year, $3.3 million award to Mari Cary and Ben Clarke in the Center on Teaching & Learning for the “Evaluation of the KinderTek iPad Math Program.” Researchers will study the effectiveness of a tablet-based math program for kindergarten students.
  • A four-year, $1.4 million grant to Erin Chaparro and the Educational and Community Supports program for “TIPS Ed Tech: Developing Professional Development and Online Applications to Support Team-Initiated Problem Solving (TIPS) within Multi-Tiered Support Systems.” The project will develop online training materials and tools that will allow school teams to effectively use academic and behavioral data for decision-making.

The College of Education also secured major awards from the National Science Foundation, including:

  • A five-year, $2.5 million grant to Ben Clarke, Hank Fien and Lina Shaley in the Center on Teaching & Learning to examine “Mapping Non-Response to Math Interventions.” The project will explore critical early math processes by examining behavioral and neural indicators of first grade students.
  • A five-year, $1.2 million grant to Juliet Baxter and Dean Livelybrooks in the Oregon Education Science Laboratory to look at “Experiencing Science Practices Through Research to Inspire Teaching (ESPRIT).” The collaborative project, which will partner with local school districts, aims to train 20 high-achieving students with science, technology, engineering and math majors to be science teachers in high-need schools.

David Conover, the UO’s vice president for research and innovation, credited College of Education researchers with remaining active in their pursuit of sponsored funding during a time when federal funding for education research faces an uncertain future. The Trump administration has slightly increased funding for the Institute of Education Sciences — the Education Department's research arm — but has outlined $9 billion in proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Education budget.

“The recent accomplishments of our faculty members in the College of Education serve as a source of inspiration,” Conover said. “Despite facing an uncertain funding environment in Washington, D.C., our researchers are continuing to secure new awards and contracts that put us on the front lines of education policy and practice.

“We thank the Oregon Congressional delegation for continuing to support the life-changing research that meets the needs of children and families nationwide.”