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Analysis of the National Science Foundation’s Discovery Research K–12 on Mathematics and Science Education for English Learners


by Linda Caswell, Alina Martinez, Okhee Lee, Barbara Brauner Berns & Hilary Rhodes — 2016

Background/Context: Educational and societal phenomena can converge to draw attention to a new focus, such as English Learners (ELs) and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and then trigger new research interests. A funding program can play a critical role in shaping these new research interests by prioritizing specific research topics and designs or by requiring particular specializations of researchers.

Purpose of the Study: The study examined whether funding provided through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Discovery Research K-12 (DR K-12) program has made a unique contribution to the research in the fields of science and mathematics education for ELs.

Research Design: This study compared the portfolio of DR K–12 projects focusing on EL science and mathematics education to the literature of non DR K-12 projects in terms of research topics, design, methods, scale, samples, and outcomes. The study also examined the disciplinary expertise of the DR K-12 investigators.

Data Collection and Analysis: The primary method used in this study was content analyses of the portfolio of DR K-12 projects and the literature of non DR K-12 projects in the fields of EL science and mathematics education. To develop comprehensive lists of the literature in these fields, two separate literature searches were conducted. Finally, content analyses of the curricula vitae of the DR K–12 projects’ PIs and co-PIs were undertaken.

Results: The DR K–12 EL projects in both science and mathematics education have made contributions to their respective fields in three areas in particular: (1) their use of mixed methods and experimental designs; (2) their emphasis on instruction and teacher preparation; and (3) their focus on middle school students. In addition, DR K-12 investigators are making connections across the mathematics/science content and EL/English Language Arts (ELA) areas and are incorporating expertise from both areas, often through the addition of advisory group members.

Conclusions: The results from this comparative study suggest that funding programs can shape research agendas by providing deliberate and targeted funding for priority areas. Federal government agencies should continue providing this funding to support much-needed research that is a necessary step to improving the quality of science and mathematics education for ELs.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 5, 2016, p. 1-48
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19368, Date Accessed: 7/22/2017 12:35:48 AM

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About the Author
  • Linda Caswell
    Abt Associates
    E-mail Author
    LINDA CASWELL is a Senior Associate in the Social and Economic Policy Division at Abt Associates. Her research interests include literacy and bilingualism, teacher preparation and research methods. She is currently leading a national study for the U.S. Department of Education that examines the relationship between teacher preparation experiences and teacher effectiveness with a focus on English learners.
  • Alina Martinez
    Abt Associates
    E-mail Author
    ALINA MARTINEZ is a Principal Associate in the Social and Economic Policy Division at Abt Associates. Her research includes investigations of strategies to promote participation and success in STEM fields, as well as strategies to increase college access and retention. Currently, she is directing national evaluations for the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.
  • Okhee Lee
    New York University
    OKHEE LEE is a professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. Her research areas include science education, language and culture, and teacher education. A recent publication is: Lee, O., Quinn, H., & Valdés, G. (2013). Science and language for English language learners in relation to Next Generation Science Standards and with implications for Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics. Educational Researcher, 42(4), 223-233.
  • Barbara Brauner Berns
    Education Development Center
    E-mail Author
    BARBARA BRAUNER BERNS is a Senior Project Director at Education Development Center, Inc. Her work focuses on science education with an emphasis on capacity building, curriculum implementation, and educational policy. As the Principal Investigator of CADRE, the NSF-supported resource network for DRK-12, she co-authored A Targeted Study of Gaming and Simulation Projects in DRK-12 (Uma Natarajan, Amy Busey, Barbara Brauner Berns, March, 2014). She has also co-edited with Judith Opert Sandler, Making Science Curriculum Matter: Wisdom for the Reform Road Ahead. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.
  • Hilary Rhodes
    The Wallace Foundation
    E-mail Author
    HILARY RHODES is a Senior Research and Evaluation Officer at The Wallace Foundation where she leads efforts to fill key knowledge gaps and generate evidence of what works related to learning and enrichment opportunities for disadvantaged children and youth. Currently, she is managing grants that focus on noncognitive factors, scaling-up social innovations, data use by afterschool systems, and collective impact in education.
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