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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Academics & Research

UH professor awarded $10 million to create a research center for English learners


With the $10 million rewarded, Francis plans to establish a national research and development center to assist English learners. | Courtesy of David Francis

With the $10 million rewarded, Francis plans to establish a national research and development center to assist English learners. | Courtesy of David Francis

After two decades of continuous study, University psychology professor and director of the UH Times David Francis is “humbled” to have been awarded $10 million to establish a national research and development center for English learners. 

The research center will be a 5-year long project for Francis, funded by a grant donated by the Institute of Education Sciences, set to begin Sept. 1 at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics. 

“We’re all both excited and humbled. It is a great opportunity, but also a tremendous responsibility,” Francis said. “We have proposed a significant and substantial body of research that will require everyone’s absolute best efforts for at least the next five years to accomplish.” 

The center’s areas of focus include policies related to the way school systems serve English learners and how to improve instruction in social studies and science classes in grades six and nine. 

“The long term goal of this project is to improve academic outcomes for students who speak a language other than English at home and who are learning English primarily at school,” said UH research assistant professor Jeremy Miciak.

“When we evaluate outcomes for this group of students, we see clearly that schools are not doing a good enough job teaching them, particularly in core academic content areas like science and social studies,” Miciak continued.

Currently, Francis and his team are in the process of setting up the award as well as receiving contracts for the collaborating institutions and investigators.  They are also submitting an Institutional Review Board application for approval.

The first year of this project will begin with development and archival analysis of extant data as well as pilot testing schools and teachers. Studying the instruction portion of the research, along with testing a small group of schools will begin in 2021. 

“It is also quite possible that our intervention implementation will be interrupted sometime over the next one to two years. As a team we are thinking through these possibilities and trying to make contingency plans,” Miciak said. 

Francis said that he anticipates that COVID-19 could impact the development work due to school possibly working remotely in the near future, although he holds out hope to be beyond the coronavirus by 2021.  

The team consists of the founding executive director of the Strategic Education Research Partnership Coleen Carlson from the University of Houston as well as members from the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard Graduate School of Education and New York University.

This is not the only project Francis and his team have pertaining to this subject and they expect more studies to arise in the near future. 

“We have several other projects that are ongoing and planning to submit this coming year,” Francis said. “I suspect that other projects will get spun off of this and other questions we need to ask and want to ask.” 

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