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UW–Madison Tops in Education Research Spending

December 17, 2007

UW–Madison spent $30 million of externally generated funds on education research in fiscal 2006, more than any other U.S. university, according to the latest figures released by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Most of the education research at UW–Madison resides in the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), one of the nation’s oldest and largest university-based research centers.

About two-thirds of WCER’s funding comes from federal sources, with the rest from state, local, and private sources.  Nearly all of the funding — except for 1 percent that comes from the state general fund — is generated through competitive proposals.

WCER Director Adam Gamoran says it comes as no surprise that the NSF finds UW–Madison first in this area.

“One of the secrets of our success is that much of our research is interdisciplinary, bringing together researchers from all across campus to focus on education,” explains Gamoran, a professor of sociology and educational policy studies. “While disciplines provide ideas and methods that advance our work, we must cross disciplinary boundaries to remain at the forefront of research on education.” 

Many projects housed at WCER also involve researchers at other institutions and partnerships with several school districts and state agencies — including the Madison Metropolitan School District, Milwaukee Public Schools, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The NSF also lists UW–Madison as first, with $73 million, among all universities in total non-science and engineering research expenditures — a category that includes education, humanities ($19 million), and business and management ($18 million).

Overall, the NSF ranks UW–Madison second, behind Johns Hopkins University, in total expenditures on externally funded research, with $905 million in 2006.  The $1.5 billion spent by John Hopkins includes $706 million for the Applied Physics Laboratory, which focuses on defense and military related research, much of it classified.

Salaries for more than half of UW–Madison’s 16,255 employees come from sources other than state tax dollars or student tuition, primarily the result of research funding, according to Martin Cadwallader, dean of the Graduate School.

The NSF is an independent U.S. agency that serves as the major source of federal funding for basic research and education in such fields as non-medical science and engineering, mathematics, computer science and the social sciences.

Other universities that rank among the highest in education research expenditures include University of Texas-Austin, $23 million; Michigan State, $19 million; Florida State University, $19 million; George Washington University, $19 million; University of Michigan, $18 million; University of California, Santa Cruz, $18 million; University of California, Los Angeles, $16 million; Brown University, $14 million; and University of Pennsylvania, $11 million.

Established in 1964, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research currently employs about 280 faculty, staff, and graduate students and houses more than 50 research projects, spanning the full scope of education, from the effects of infant child care and after-school programs to undergraduate curriculum reform.

“One of our newest projects is also one of our largest,” Gamoran says.

The World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) Consortium draws on state fees and federal grants to develop and implement assessments of competence for English language learners, as required under the No Child Left Behind law.

“The WIDA assessment is the most widely used tool for this purpose across the nation, and it is highly valued for its standards-based approach to English language teaching and learning,” Gamoran says.

He also points to WCER’s traditional strength in mathematics and science.

“We operate one of the nation’s largest and most successful Math and Science Partnerships, a collaboration of universities and school districts called System-Wide Change for All Learners and Educators (SCALE), and one of only two federal Centers for Learning and Teaching at the higher education level, called the Center on the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL),” he says.

The NSF initially funded both projects for five years. CIRTL has just received a funding commitment for three more years, and the directors of SCALE have submitted another five-year proposal, “so I’m sure our leadership in this area will continue,” Gamoran says.

“Educational technology is another exciting new area of work for WCER, with several projects under way and more on the horizon,” he says.
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