Feature

Beginning this month, 13 psychologists will be heading back to pre-K-12 schools to conduct and apply education research as fellows for the newly created Postdoctoral Education Research Training Program (PERT), sponsored by APA and the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES). IES awarded APA's Education Directorate a $2 million grant last September to pilot the program.

Program fellows will team up with prominent psychologists in school-based research to examine such issues as quality teaching and learning. Depending on their projects, they'll design experiments, measure program outcomes, collaborate with other disciplines and conduct large-scale applied research, with the ultimate goal of informing policy decisions and building a stronger education research base.

As such, APA and IES hope the fellowship will spur increased numbers of psychologists in education research. The number of new educational psychologists conducting research in 2001 is nearly half the 1989 total, according to APA's Research Office.

But the new program already appears to be generating increased interest: By January, APA collected applications from 63 psychologists. Applicants then linked up with mentors through secure Web access, and mentor/mentee teams submitted joint research training plans. A panel of seven education research psychologists then selected 13 fellows and their mentors based on the quality of their plans.

For example, one fellow, Amy B. Silverman, PhD--a recent clinical psychology graduate of the University of Rhode Island--was looking to acquire specialized school-based research training to complement her child clinical psychology skills.

Specifically, she wanted to evaluate delinquency- and violence-prevention programs, which she's now doing through a partnership with Gary D. Gottfredson, PhD--a professor in the department of counseling and personnel services at the University of Maryland and an expert in educational program evaluation. The two will start their research in Anne Arundel County, Md., elementary schools this fall.

"I hope the mentorship will enable me to develop the technical and practical skills necessary to carry out an independent career in educational school-based research," Silverman says.

Applying the science

In fact, all fellows will work with mentors to translate research into practice, particularly in the areas of reading instruction, classroom behavior, teacher quality and positive psychology curriculum interventions.

For example, David Klahr, PhD, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, will coach fellow Mari Strand Cary, PhD, on building interventions based on his longtime research on teaching the scientific method. He and Cary will apply research-based procedures for teaching scientific methodology to students in some of Pittsburgh's urban schools, and they will explore students' understanding of error and variability and alternative instructional media like portable computer -based presentations.

Through the fellowship, Cary "will develop a set of skills and set of interests that bridge the basic gap between basic laboratory research and real-world educational problems," Klahr says.

APA/IES PERT fellow Fredric J. Schreiber, PhD, will also obtain such training in his work with mentor Susan A. Brady, PhD, a University of Rhode Island psychology professor and senior scientist at New Haven-based Haskins Laboratories, an interdisciplinary research facility for language and literacy.

Brady will guide Schreiber in conducting and designing education research using first-grade teacher professional development workshops that emphasize research-based reading instruction. In these workshops, they will evaluate 115 first-grade teachers' knowledge and practices on student reading achievement.

Building collaborations

The APA/IES PERT fellowship program will also build an interdisciplinary network of education researchers, according to the project's co-directors, Greg White and Rena Subotnik, PhD, from the APA Education Directorate's Center for Psychology in Schools and Education, which houses the APA/IES PERT program.

For instance, Silverman and Gottfredson will evaluate Second Step, a curriculum-based prevention program that aims to build on children's social and emotional competencies through teacher-implemented interventions. They'll test Second Step in 12 Maryland elementary schools--part of a multisite collaboration that includes seven universities testing similar programs nationwide.

Gottfredson says that becoming an APA/IES PERT program mentor allows him to pass on his nearly 30 years of school-based research to a future generation of education researchers.

"We need to train a larger body of people to do field educational research to help us learn what works in education and what doesn't," he says.

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