USF granted $1 million to study schools

There’s a mountain of research suggesting better ways for schools to decrease high school dropout rates and produce children better able to comprehend an essay, write a paper, solve an equation and even better handle responsibility.

The problem, according to education officials, is that not enough of it is being used.

Officials with the U.S. Dept. of Education announced Nov. 2 that USF will receive a 5-year grant for just shy of $1 million to create a national education center that will partner with struggling schools to turn some of that theoretical research into practical changes in curriculum.

The Center on State Implementation and Scaling-Up of Evidence-Based Practices (SISEP), a partnership between USF and the Universities of Connecticut and Oregon, will be housed on USF’s Tampa campus. Schools in six states will be chosen to work with researchers at the center to implement new strategies founded on educational research.

“There’s a lot of science there that is not being used in schools and our task is to hook these two together,” said Dean Fixsen, a researcher with the Florida Mental Health Institute who will serve as co-director of the center. “We are really focused here at USF on this missing link between the science and the service, and the missing link is the implementation part.”

An example of an evidence-based program would be drop-out prevention in a state where many students are not graduating.

“We want to keep kids in school and fully exposed to effective curricula and teaching methods,” Fixsen said.

In selecting the states, a process which will likely be finished by March, administrators at the center will consider their need for scientifically based programs and their willingness and readiness to carry out the new programs, said Fixsen.

“States choose which evidence-based practices they want to scale-up in their states,” said Jennifer Doolittle, a project officer with the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

“We don’t want to tell them which evidence-based practices are what they need to scale-up, they’re going to know that as a state.”

It is expected the information gathered by the six states selected will be shared nationwide to help improve education practices overall, Doolittle said.

“They’ll take what they learn and help states who aren’t working actively with them apply it in their states,” she said.

Once the teachers are doing their jobs differently, the schools will need to reorganize in order to support the teachers, then the districts have to change to support the schools, which in turn means the whole state education system needs to adjust policies to achieve the goal, Fixsen said.

“It will be a huge undertaking,” Fixsen said.

Emma Sylvester can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or