July 9, 2020

English learners, students whose primary language is one other than English, represent one of the fastest-growing student populations in the United States. These students contribute an abundance of cultural and linguistic knowledge to schools. However, national data consistently show that these students underperform relative to their monolingual peers. There is, therefore, a pressing need to identify evidence-based practices to improve educational policies and instructional practices for English learners.

With a $10 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, a team led by David Francis of the University of Houston that includes MCPER researchers will meet this challenge by establishing a national research and development center dedicated to improving educational outcomes for English learners in the secondary grades.

Francis, the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair of Psychology at the University of Houston, will serve as the director of the new research center. The MCPER team will include Sharon Vaughn, who will serve as the associate director, and Leticia Martinez and Phil Capin, who will serve as co-principal investigators. The investigative team will include other prominent researchers, including Diane August and Joel Gómez (Center for Applied Linguistics), Catherine Snow (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Michael J. Kieffer and Lorena Llosa (New York University), Suzanne Donovan (Strategic Education Research Partnership), and Jeremy Miciak and Coleen Carlson (University of Houston).

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to explore and better understand the specific needs of English learners and the most effective ways to enhance their academic outcomes,” Vaughn said. “I am thankful to have the opportunity to collaborate with this impressive team and eager to get started.” 

Federally funded research and development centers have a mission to produce and disseminate rigorous evidence and products that provide practical solutions to important educational challenges. The new educational research center will examine policies and system-level practices that influence English learners; develop and test content area literacy approaches for improving social studies and science knowledge among English learners; and develop a robust dissemination network to ensure that findings reach school teachers, administrators, and policymakers nationwide.

Specifically, the MCPER team will lead the development and testing of social studies practices for English learners in grades 6 and 9. Through a series of randomized control trials over the next 5 years, the center will test the effectiveness of these instructional approaches in Texas and New York.