Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


Volume 28 | 2005 | Number 2


Seeking Funding for Behavioral Research in Special Education

Nancy A. Neef, Ph.D., The Ohio State University


Maria Malott asked me to contribute an article describing (1) what applying for research grants from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS), specifically the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), entails, and (2) advice for other behavioral researchers seeking funding, based on my own history of grant support from OSERS. I was happy to oblige, as the answer to the first issue could be summarized in one word ("nothing"), and a response to the second issue might, as a result, be irrelevant. As of December 3, OSEP is no longer responsible for awarding research grants. Under the newly enacted Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 the Research and Innovation discretionary projects for infants and children with disabilities has been moved to a soon-to-be-formed National Center for Special Education Research within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).2 Nevertheless, as Maria asked for a 1,000-word article, I have 999 more words to add.


Applying for Research Grants from IES

IES is now the main research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Its goal is the "transformation of education into an evidence-based field in which decision makers routinely seek out the best available research and data before adopting programs or practices that will affect significant numbers of students." In support of its mission, it "conducts and supports scientifically valid research activities, including basic research and applied research…; disseminates widely the findings and results of scientifically valid research in education; promotes the use, development, and application of knowledge gained from scientifically valid research in education;…[and] promotes the use and application of research and development to improve practice in the classroom."


IES (along with other offices in the Department of Education ) is " . . . moving toward a performance-oriented application process that focuses on selecting applications that are structured to meet performance measures and to yield data that will demonstrate achievement of program outcomes" (the performance measures and indicators for each grant program are specified in the application notice and program, which can be found on the Web site:


On the one hand, we can appreciate these as positive developments consistent with applied behavior analysis. In fact, we might be heartened to think that policy is catching up with what applied behavior analysts (including those whose work was funded by OSERS/OSEP) have been advocating and doing for decades. As such, it is easy to recognize in IES' stated mission the opportunities for funding behavioral research, as well as for promoting dissemination and adoption that will further our discipline.


On the other hand, it appears that IES has adopted a traditional and narrow standard for scientifically-based research. Guidelines for the 2004 Field Initiated Research program stated that because "evaluations focus on identifying the causal effects of education interventions, studies in which the target of the intervention (e.g., schools, teachers, or students) is randomly assigned to treatment and control conditions are strongly preferred." Similarly, in a seminar on "The Meaning of Scientifically Based Research and its Status Across Various Disciplines" (February 6, 2002) Valerie Reyna (OERI) described randomized clinical trials as "the only design that allows you…to make causal inferences. Everything else is subject to a whole bunch of other possible interpretations." It is curious that this focus on between-group designs would emanate from the No Child Left Behind Act (which suggests concern at the level of the individual).


Advice for Behavioral Researchers

The attractiveness of potential funding can be seductive. There are risks, however, associated with having one's research agenda (or methodology) controlled largely by funding priorities (although funding priorities are designed to do just that). Grant writing and research both require large commitments of time and effort. Courting funds (planning and preparing a grant application) may be less arduous and more likely to be successful if it serves rather than detracts from an existing research agenda. Furthermore, if one is ambivalent about the research itself, the long-term obligations of being wedded to a grant can seem like a sentence. Finally, funding priorities and emphases can change, whereas successful programs of research are generally long term. It is preferable, therefore, to seek support that matches one's research interests and expertise rather than to alter research interests to conform to a priority.


It remains to be seen what direction the National Center for Special Education Research within IES will take. When this information becomes available, it will be posted on the Web site (see address given above). In addition, behavior analysts can help to shape funding priorities. Before the Department of Education publishes a priority, it is published as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register and on its Web site, and the public is invited to comment. Comments are considered in drafting the final regulations for a priority.


Behavior analysts seeking support for research in special education need not limit their search to research. For example, much of my earlier research on instructional procedures for training respite care providers occurred in the context of an OSERS/OSEP grant in personnel preparation, and I conducted other research in autism in the context of a model demonstration grant. OSEP's outreach grants are another possibility.


The application package for these competitions outlines information that should be addressed in each section (e.g., importance, technical soundness, adequacy of resources, and qualifications of personnel), the criteria by which applications will be evaluated, the distribution of points across the various components, and other helpful information (e.g., page limitations, budget caps, deadlines). It can be regarded as an instruction manual of sorts. Additional guidance in preparing grant applications can be found at:


It can be helpful to see examples of funded applications, and these can be obtained upon written request under the Freedom of Information Act for the cost of copying. The process can take several weeks, however, so it is advisable to make the request in anticipation of submitting an application.


1Thanks to Patricia Gonzalez at OSEP for contributing helpful information for this article.


2 In addition, research grant opportunities will continue through another OSERS office: The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).




Modifed by Eddie Soh