Annenberg Institute to provide research-based advice for educators amid COVID-19

Project led by the Annenberg Institute and Results for America will equip educators with research briefs on addressing teaching challenges, from coping with learning loss to protecting the most vulnerable students.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As school districts across the U.S. prepare for a potential return to in-person teaching this fall, a new project led in part by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University is aiming to arm policymakers, educators and parents with research-based solutions to the biggest challenges they may face.  

The EdResearch for Recovery Project, launched on Tuesday, June 30, by the Annenberg Institute and the Washington, D.C.-based Results for America, is publishing a set of research briefs with guidance on how to keep children safe, healthy and involved in the classroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The briefs confront a series of pressing questions and concerns that project leaders crowdsourced from educators and policymakers.

The project is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Nate Schwartz, an associate professor of the practice at the Annenberg Institute and one of the project’s lead coordinators, the partnership has already yielded three briefs advising on how to address learning loss, how to support students with disabilities, and how to provide guidance and support for students moving into post-secondary education.

“This project responds to a direct ask from education decision-makers to better synthesize research in ways that respond to the needs of the moment,” Schwartz said. “Starting with a series of crowd-sourced questions from leaders at the state and district levels, we enlisted some of the nation’s leading researchers to develop rapid-response briefs that clearly lay out the evidence base to guide current decision-making.”

The brief on practices to address learning loss, co-authored by Schwartz, urges school leaders and teachers to prioritize one-on-one tutoring with learning exercises that are directly tied to students’ classroom lessons. It also recommends launching weeklong acceleration academies staffed with highly effective teachers, and advises schools to establish strong systems to monitor for early warning signs that individual students might need extra help catching up. The advice is informed by research on the academic impact of Hurricane Katrina, the positive effects of supportive relationships on student resilience and more.

Schwartz said the brief also warns teachers against compressing lesson plans to fit in more content, citing studies of students in North Carolina and California who fell behind in math when they took accelerated classes that attempted to fit additional requirements into a shorter timeframe.

Schwartz said he and his colleagues were inspired to launch the EdResearch for Recovery Project in March 2020, after they compared notes on individual conversations with educators in their respective communities. Many were searching for guidance grounded in good research.

“We were having conversations with leaders in Providence about how we could be useful to them during this time,” Schwartz said. “They said that in the spring, they were feeling so incredibly reactive in the ways they were getting kids digital access, sending food to children who needed it and designing learning plans. They were facing a host of big decisions in the fall, and they wanted guidance with a strong evidence base.”

The EdResearch for Recovery Project will release two dozen briefs in total on a rolling basis, providing advice on such critical topics as designing effective plans for distance learning, supporting students who are homeless or at risk of dropping out, and offering lesson-plan support for teachers. Each brief will be authored by a small group of researchers from leading institutions across the U.S. and will receive informal peer review from both researchers and practitioners.

Susanna Loeb, an education scholar who directs the Annenberg Institute, will lead efforts to author a brief outlining key considerations for districts that need to decrease spending following COVID-related budget reductions. Heather Hill, a visiting scholar at the Annenberg Institute, will co-author a brief on diagnosing student learning loss to help those who have fallen behind.

“The state and local education policymakers we work with need urgent answers to these questions,” said Sara Kerr, vice president of education policy implementation at Results for America. “The COVID-19 crisis poses immense challenges for our education system, but by providing policymakers, educators, parents and other advocates with the best available evidence — vetted by the nation’s top researchers — we can help them make informed, student-centered decisions.”

The Annenberg Institute and Results for America plan to host a series of public virtual events to bring researchers, policymakers and practitioners together to discuss the briefs in context of pressing challenges facing the education sector. The first event, titled “Examining the Evidence,” takes place July 10.