Volume 28 | 2005 | Number 2
Seeking Funding for Behavioral Research in Special
Nancy A. Neef, Ph.D., The Ohio State
Maria Malott asked me to contribute an article describing (1)
what applying for research grants from the Office of Special
Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS), specifically the
Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), entails, and (2)
advice for other behavioral researchers seeking funding, based on
my own history of grant support from OSERS. I was happy to oblige,
as the answer to the first issue could be summarized in one word
("nothing"), and a response to the second issue might, as a result,
be irrelevant. As of December 3, OSEP is no longer responsible for
awarding research grants. Under the newly enacted Individuals with
Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 the Research and
Innovation discretionary projects for infants and children with
disabilities has been moved to a soon-to-be-formed National Center
for Special Education Research within the Institute of Education
Sciences (IES).2 Nevertheless, as Maria asked for
a 1,000-word article, I have 999 more words to add.
Applying for Research Grants from IES
IES is now the main research arm of the U.S.
Department of Education. Its goal is the "transformation of
education into an evidence-based field in which decision makers
routinely seek out the best available research and data before
adopting programs or practices that will affect significant numbers
of students." In support of its mission, it "conducts and supports
scientifically valid research activities, including basic research
and applied research…; disseminates widely the findings and results
of scientifically valid research in education; promotes the use,
development, and application of knowledge gained from
scientifically valid research in education;…[and] promotes the use
and application of research and development to improve practice in
IES (along with other offices in the Department of Education )
is " . . . moving toward a performance-oriented application process
that focuses on selecting applications that are structured to meet
performance measures and to yield data that will demonstrate
achievement of program outcomes" (the performance measures and
indicators for each grant program are specified in the application
notice and program, which can be found on the Web site: www.ed.gov/fund/grant/apply/grantapps/index.html.
On the one hand, we can appreciate these as positive
developments consistent with applied behavior analysis. In fact, we
might be heartened to think that policy is catching up with what
applied behavior analysts (including those whose work was funded by
OSERS/OSEP) have been advocating and doing for decades. As such, it
is easy to recognize in IES' stated mission the opportunities for
funding behavioral research, as well as for promoting dissemination
and adoption that will further our discipline.
On the other hand, it appears that IES has adopted a traditional
and narrow standard for scientifically-based research. Guidelines
for the 2004 Field Initiated Research program stated that because
"evaluations focus on identifying the causal effects of education
interventions, studies in which the target of the intervention
(e.g., schools, teachers, or students) is randomly assigned to
treatment and control conditions are strongly preferred."
Similarly, in a seminar on "The Meaning of Scientifically Based
Research and its Status Across Various Disciplines" (February 6,
2002) Valerie Reyna (OERI) described randomized clinical trials as
"the only design that allows you…to make causal inferences.
Everything else is subject to a whole bunch of other possible
interpretations." It is curious that this focus on between-group
designs would emanate from the No Child Left Behind Act (which
suggests concern at the level of the individual).
Advice for Behavioral Researchers
The attractiveness of potential funding can
be seductive. There are risks, however, associated with having
one's research agenda (or methodology) controlled largely by
funding priorities (although funding priorities are designed to do
just that). Grant writing and research both require large
commitments of time and effort. Courting funds (planning and
preparing a grant application) may be less arduous and more likely
to be successful if it serves rather than detracts from an existing
research agenda. Furthermore, if one is ambivalent about the
research itself, the long-term obligations of being wedded to a
grant can seem like a sentence. Finally, funding priorities and
emphases can change, whereas successful programs of research are
generally long term. It is preferable, therefore, to seek support
that matches one's research interests and expertise rather than to
alter research interests to conform to a priority.
It remains to be seen what direction the National Center for
Special Education Research within IES will take. When this
information becomes available, it will be posted on the Web site
(see address given above). In addition, behavior analysts can help
to shape funding priorities. Before the Department of Education
publishes a priority, it is published as a Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking in the Federal Register and on its Web site, and the
public is invited to comment. Comments are considered in drafting
the final regulations for a priority.
Behavior analysts seeking support for research in special
education need not limit their search to research. For example,
much of my earlier research on instructional procedures for
training respite care providers occurred in the context of an
OSERS/OSEP grant in personnel preparation, and I conducted other
research in autism in the context of a model demonstration grant.
OSEP's outreach grants are another possibility.
The application package for these competitions outlines
information that should be addressed in each section (e.g.,
importance, technical soundness, adequacy of resources, and
qualifications of personnel), the criteria by which applications
will be evaluated, the distribution of points across the various
components, and other helpful information (e.g., page limitations,
budget caps, deadlines). It can be regarded as an instruction
manual of sorts. Additional guidance in preparing grant
applications can be found at: http://www.ed.gov/fund/grant/about/grantmaking/index.html
It can be helpful to see examples of funded applications, and
these can be obtained upon written request under the Freedom of
Information Act for the cost of copying. The process can take
several weeks, however, so it is advisable to make the request in
anticipation of submitting an application.
1Thanks to Patricia Gonzalez at OSEP for
contributing helpful information for this article.
2 In addition, research grant opportunities
will continue through another OSERS office: The National Institute
on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).