Only UVA Faculty Win IES Grant Awards in Both PreK and Higher Education

The Institute of Education Sciences recently announced it was funding projects in two targeted areas of research: pre-Kindergarten and higher education. The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is the only institution with faculty members winning grant awards in both.

Studying PreK in the Nation’s 11th Largest School District

Bob Pianta, dean of the Curry School, has been investigating the quality and impact of early childhood education for decades.

“We now see an increased focus on and funding for early childhood education nationwide,” Pianta said. “But at the same time, there is increased accountability to ensure funding goes to programs that work for an increasingly diverse student population and that have effects that extend into the elementary grades and beyond.  We know that preschool makes a substantial positive difference in children’s learning, but in too many instances those benefits seem to fade. This study is designed to identify the conditions that make those benefits last.”

With the $5 million of funding from IES, Pianta and his team will conduct a school division-wide study of the policies and practices that support learning in PK-3 classes. Their research will take place in the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) division, the 11th largest in the U.S. with more than 2,000 pre-kindergarten students enrolled.

The research team will pay particularly close attention to instructional experiences and other resources for learning present in Pre-K and elementary classrooms to the large group of low-income, immigrant, and dual language learners in the FCPS division.

Much of this work will be done through extensive observations in all public pre-Kindergarten classrooms in the division and approximately 500 classrooms each year from kindergarten through 3rd grade.

“Our goal is to understand what happens in pre-kindergarten and elementary classes that leads to sustained academic and social success, particularly for learners from diverse backgrounds,” Pianta said. “To do that, we need to watch and see the classroom resources present for children and how these students do in first, second and third grades.”

Pianta’s large-scale project with Fairfax County Public Schools will begin this fall and continue through 2021.  This project will be one of the largest and most comprehensive multi-year assessments of classroom environments and their effects on children’s learning.

Can Texting Improve College Graduation Rates?

To date, Ben Castleman’s research has focused on how the use of low-cost, highly personalized text messages improves the rate of high school graduates enrolling in college. 

With nearly $4 million of funding from the Institute of Education Science, Castleman, an assistant professor at the Curry School of Education, and partners at Stanford University, Harvard University, and Persistence Plus, will be studying how mobile technology can also be used to improve college completion rates at open-enrollment institutions.

“We see in recent research that many college students who withdraw from their institution complete most of the credits they need to graduate before dropping out,” Castleman said.

Partnering with postsecondary systems and universities in New York, Texas, Virginia, Ohio and Washington, Castleman and his team will target currently-enrolled students at broad access two- and four-year institutions who have completed at least half of the credits typically required for graduation and who exhibit risk factors for not graduating on time.

Students will receive personalized text messages containing information, nudges, and guidance about concrete steps they can take to earn their degrees. In some partner sites, students will also have access to dedicated advisors who will provide further customized support.

“Based on positive impacts from prior texting messaging trials, I am optimistic that intervening via mobile outreach during this critical juncture in students’ college trajectories can lead to meaningful improvements in degree completion at broad access institutions across the US,” Castleman said.

The project is set to begin this fall and continue through 2020.

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    Robert C. Pianta Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education, Founding Director, Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning
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    Benjamin L. Castleman Newton and Rita Meyers Associate Professor in the Economics of Education, Director, Nudge4 Solutions Lab