Na'ilah Suad Nasir collaborating at the National Academy of Education

President's Blog: New Directions at Spencer

Posted on 04.01.2019
Na'ilah Suad Nasir

April 2019


Dear Spencer Community,

We have been hard at work at Spencer to adapt our programs and processes to reflect what we learned from our field engagement last year. After many focus groups, campus visits, listening sessions, and one-on-one conversations, we are pleased to share with you our plans moving forward regarding how we will support the work that you do, and the work that you want to do, both individually and collectively. We very much feel like this has been an effort in adding to and tweaking the already strong set of programs and funding opportunities that we offer, and in articulating our goals and priorities.


What’s staying the same

            We remain committed to supporting high-quality, rigorous research on education, and to do so in a way that lets the field lead. We will continue to fund across the entire field of education, and to count on scholars to bring us innovative, exciting research ideas. We will also continue our commitment to our work in journalism, supporting education journalists in utilizing high-quality sources of evidence in their reporting, and scholars in communicating their work to wider audiences, including policy-makers and practitioners.


What’s new for 2019

            For 2019, we are working to be intentional about our goals and core commitments, we are adding new grant-making programs, we are providing new opportunities for the field to take up key, high-leverage issues in education, and we are structuring our work in new ways.


Clarity of our goals and commitments. We have worked to be clear and intentional about our goals and about the characteristics of the research that we fund.


Our goals:

  • Invest in education research that is transformative, methodologically rigorous, and helps create a better society.
  • Support high-quality education research training.
  • Broaden the diversity of scholars and scholarship in education research.
  • Strengthen the impact of education research for improving educational practice.
  • Make education research more accessible to public audiences.

Toward these ends, we fund research that is:


Rigorous. Intellectually ambitious, innovative, and methodologically sound.

Relevant. Touching on the most pressing questions and opportunities in education.

Equitable. Representing a diversity of scholars and scholarship contributing to learning environments grounded
in justice. 

Transformative. Reaching beyond academic audiences and leading to lasting improvement in education and learning.

Collaborative. Engaging expertise
and perspectives across disciplinary boundaries, institutions, practitioners, families and communities.


New Research Grants. With these core commitments in mind, we are pleased to introduce a number of new initiatives and grant-making programs. As we continue existing fellowships, small research grants, and Lyle Spencer Grant programs, we also are adding new and refreshed funding opportunities to our portfolio for the coming year.


Research Grants in Education

In addition to our small research grants in education program, which makes awards up to $50,000, we will introduce a large grant program.   This Program will make awards between $125,000-$500,000 for field-initiated projects that aim to address the most pressing questions and compelling opportunities in education that may also have a lasting impact on policy-making, practice, or educational discourse.

Research Practice Partnerships

We are also relaunching our Research Practice Partnerships Program, with grants up to $400,000 to support partnerships between researchers and a broad array of practitioners, including school districts, state or county education organizations, universities, informal educators and community-based organizations, for the purpose of knowledge-generation and education improvement. We have broadened our definition of partnerships with the relaunched program and are funding partnerships at various stages.

In addition to these opportunities, we are also introducing the Spencer Mentor Award, which honors scholars who have made significant contributions through their mentoring and research training of others.

New Opportunities to focus on key areas of interest. We heard from the field that scholars want time to collaborate on critical, timely topics. Over the next several years, we plan to meet this need through new initiatives, which are purposeful, time-limited commitments to an educational issue around which Spencer will provide support to foster collaboration and impact. In the 2019-2020 academic year, we will be conducting exploratory work on each of four potential initiatives: Cultivating Equitable Educational Spaces, Developing High-Quality Educators and Leaders, Innovative Research Methods, and Exploring Human Learning and Thriving. Initiatives will help scholars develop conceptual clarity and point to promising directions for research to help address key educational challenges, and will engage scholars together with networks of practitioners, policy-makers, and journalists. 


New ways of structuring our work. We are committed to ensuring our own systems and processes advance equity and educational improvement. We will provide more feedback to grantees, in order to build the field’s capacity to write competitive grant proposals, as well as expand our pool of reviewers and provide those reviewers with more feedback and support to provide effective reviews. We will also make engagement with the field a more regular part of our practice. These interactions are an opportunity to stay up to date on the key issues and trends in the field and to ensure that we are responsive to pressing needs. And finally, we will invest more resources into communicating the work of the field and building scholars’ capacity to communicate their own work. 


We are very excited about the upcoming work and new opportunities this year at Spencer, and we remain grateful to be a part of the wonderful community of scholars of education around the world. In addition, we are continuing to work on thinking through and piloting ways to support scholars in doing collaborative, thinking work together across methodological and disciplinary lines. We invite you to learn more about this new work on our brand new website, at, and by attending our information sessions at the upcoming meeting of the American Educational Research Association.



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