Research News

U.S. Department of Education grant aids work in special education

Special Education Peabody Vanderbilt IRIS Center
(Joe Howell)

A five-year, $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs will continue funding of the IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. The IRIS Center develops coursework and teacher training materials to help students with disabilities achieve their academic potential.

Naomi Tyler, associate professor of the practice of special education and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center member, says the IRIS Center bridges the research-to-practice gap through a free, interactive website that translates research about the education of students with disabilities into practice.

“There is a lot of excellent research that has validated many instructional practices, techniques and interventions, but teachers are exceptionally busy and are having more and more responsibilities placed on them, which makes it harder for them to keep up with the latest research findings,” Tyler said. “We are able to work with the top researchers in the country – many of whom are here at Peabody – to translate their research into engaging, interactive, online modules that teachers can access for free, at any time, to learn about the most effective practices to use with their students. Moreover, many of these instructional and behavioral practices and interventions are effective with all students, not just those with disabilities.”

Founded in 2001, the IRIS Center’s key areas of focus include:

  • Serving as a national resource for teaching and learning tools, coursework and training materials to build the capacity of educators so that they may use evidence-based instructional and intervention practices in addressing the needs of children with disabilities, birth through age 21;
  • Developing evidence-based instructional modules for use by university professors in delivering coursework to address the needs of children with disabilities, birth through age 21;
  • Developing evidence-based instructional modules in delivering professional development training for early learning and special education providers; and
  • Using technology to effectively develop and deliver evidence-based practices.

Last year alone, 1.4 million people used the IRIS Center website to improve their knowledge and skills. Tyler says she hopes to be reaching 5 million people per year by the end of this new grant cycle, which will be accomplished in part through a partnership with Claremont Graduate University, whose team, led by IRIS co-director Deb Smith, is subcontracted by Vanderbilt to handle the training and dissemination components.