Since it was established in 1971, the Spencer Foundation has sought to support high-quality, innovative research with the potential to improve education. In pursuing that goal, we have always had broad ideas about the questions such research might ask, the methods it might use, and the ways in which we might support it.
A broad approach to supporting education research reflects our awareness that the educational enterprise itself is complex; it depends on students’ cognitive development, cultural values, and social backgrounds, teachers’ practices, knowledge, and attitudes, institutional structures, educational politics, markets for educated workers, and more. On one hand, this means that, in order to realize our goal of advancing understanding that leads to educational improvement, we must be open to a wide variety of research. On the other hand, because education is a complex process, we seek proposals that can help to describe and explain that complexity in meaningful ways that can lead to improvement.
We therefore expect proposals not only to describe strong research designs and rigorous analytic methods, but also to give a clear and compelling account of how the research proposed may be significant for educational policy and practice and, by providing a conceptual framework and discussing related research, to show how it will contribute to understanding in ways that go beyond the study at hand. In our two largest programs—the Lyle Spencer Research Awards and the Small Research Grants programs—applicants are invited to explain the contribution of any study that might fit within the Foundation’s broadly defined mission. In recent years, we have also created a number of initiatives, tied to areas where we believe there is a critical need for research that might not be carried out without focused attention from funders. While proposals to these initiatives still need to make clear arguments for the conceptual significance of the proposed work, our review of such proposals is also informed by our pre-existing understanding of the particular need for research in these areas, which is often articulated in requests for proposals. Currently, these initiatives are represented by support for proposals in three initiatives: the New Civics, Philosophy in Educational Policy and Practice, and Data Use and Educational Improvement.
In addition to these research funding programs, the Foundation oversees several programs to strengthen the research capacity of individual education researchers and of Researcher-Practitioner teams. The Dissertation and Postdoctoral Fellowship Programs and the Midcareer Grant Program provide funding for scholars at various points in their careers. The Midcareer Grant Program targets scholars who are seven to twenty years post doctorate. The Research-Practice Partnership Grant Program provides funding for established researcher-practitioner teams who are conducting thorough and in-depth descriptive research and collaboratively developing long-term research agendas.
We are very proud of the Spencer Foundation’s tradition of supporting ground-breaking, influential educational research. While the ways in which we have provided that support have changed over the years, and will continue to do so just as educational practice itself will continue to change, we hope and believe that our current approach will encourage researchers to come to us with proposals that will continue the Spencer tradition. We look forward to hearing about your research ideas.