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The Wisconsin Center for Education Research is one of the oldest, largest, and most productive university-based education research centers in the world. Under the direction of Robert Mathieu, WCER provides a dynamic environment where some of the country's leading scholars conduct basic and applied education research. The WCER portfolio includes research centers and projects that investigate a variety of topics in education.
A place for research
WCER is home to some 425 faculty, staff, and graduate students who are engaged in more than 100 research projects spanning the full range of education research – including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), English language learning and assessment, social studies and literacy, the learning sciences, education policy, school finance and human resource management, teacher professional development, and value-added modeling.
Established in 1964 as a part of the UW-Madison School of Education, WCER currently has annual extramural funding of approximately $40 million. Projects based at WCER derive their funding from a wide range of sources. At the federal level, projects receive support from the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Educational Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, and the Offices of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and several other agencies. Many private foundations also support ongoing research here at WCER – including the Archibald Bush Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation of New York, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Spencer Foundation. A growing segment of WCER project funds also come from revenue-producing activities such as the work of the WIDA Consortium which provides language proficiency standards and assessments to 31 U.S. states.
Throughout its history, WCER has maintained a commitment to improving American education by studying varied learning environments and interventions and their effects on students. Of primary concern to this mission has been the question of how educational processes and social policy can best meet the needs of students from different cultural and educational backgrounds. WCER researchers have continually asked how educational "best practices" can be made more efficient, better supported, more strategic, and thus easier to implement.
Training tomorrow's researchers
WCER’s Interdisciplinary Training Program in the Education Sciences is preparing a new generation of outstanding education science scholars to provide solid evidence of “what works” in education. A select group of doctoral students in sociology, economics, psychology, political science, or social welfare are learning how to design, carry out, and analyze specialized research in education issues. The Postdoctoral Training Program in Mathematical Thinking, Learning, and Instruction is a recently funded project that will support postdoctoral training in this critical area. Across its many research projects, WCER employs more than 100 graduate students who learn research techniques from leading investigators. Graduate students gain valuable experience in research and writing through this active participation in project work.
Collaborating across disciplines
In addition to the training programs offered here, WCER combines the talents of mid-career and senior scholars from many disciplines to focus on the problems of learning, teaching, assessment, and policymaking in today's education systems. Researchers come from most areas of specialization within the UW–Madison School of Education, as well as from a wide range of disciplines across the university – including biology, plant pathology, sociology, law, mathematics, engineering, economics, astronomy, and social work. WCER projects also include collaborators from higher education around the U.S. and the world.
Using technology to facilitate research
Many WCER projects study the application of technology to education and use innovative technology as a central part of their research. For example, one project uses campus supercomputing resources to increase the number of iterations of its co-design process for its statistical analysis and reporting work. Several projects leverage a centrally managed student-level data warehouse for the support of large scale analysis. Researchers increasingly rely on video and electronic media to gather and store data on classroom activities and dialogue, student work, test scores, and observational notes. One WCER project pioneers new ways to notate and analyze elements of video data. Several projects are pursuing the integration of location-aware handheld technologies into day-to-day teaching and learning.
A commitment to improving outcomes for diverse learners
WCER research seeks to improve educational outcomes for all of the nation's increasingly diverse students–those from low-income families, minority groups, and students with disabilities.
WCER is home to WIDA, a consortium of 31 states dedicated to the design and implementation of high standards and equitable educational opportunities for English language learners. This work is complimented by district-level work done by the WCER-based Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). This is a national coalition of multiracial, suburban-urban school districts that have come together to study achievement gaps in their districts. Work at the school and family level is well represented by an ongoing evaluation of Families and Schools Together (FAST). This project's widely replicated intervention brings together low-income students, their families, and school personnel for weekly gatherings. Here they participate in activities that enhance family functioning and cohesion, improve children's behavior and achievement, reduce social isolation, and increase parental involvement with their children's schools.
The UW–Madison School of Education and WCER foster a scholarship of diversity on campus by sponsoring a Visiting Minority Scholars Lecture Series. Over the past decade and a half, nearly 80 scholars from universities around the country have visited WCER to speak on a range of education topics and to consult with individuals and campus groups.
A history of bringing research to practice
A great challenge to an education research organization is to substantially influence practice. WCER develops education products and services that are research-based, putting the research into the hands of practitioners in usable ways. Second, many WCER researchers work in school districts and classrooms and collaborative with practitioners. This ensures that the research focuses on important problems of practice. Third, WCER engages in aggressive dissemination–not just to other researchers, but to policymakers and practitioners, as well.
An exciting future
WCER has an important role to play in the future of American education. Collaborating with hundreds of other researchers and educators, WCER researchers study the problems of today and create evidence-based solutions for tomorrow. The future of education starts with sound research and development. From learning and teaching in mathematics and science to educational policy and accountability, education is being shaped, in part, by research at WCER.