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SERN Sunset Grant Portfolio
As part of our strategic sunset, Student Experience Research Network conducted a final round of grantmaking to support and elevate others well-poised to lead work on the field’s priorities. This portfolio is intended to seed a next generation of research-focused knowledge-building, relationship-building, and action initiated by research, practice, and policy actors in education who are committed to supporting students’ experience of respect as valued people and thinkers in school.
The 12-month projects feature cross-sector and cross-disciplinary partnerships, include earlier stage work that can be refined and built out over time, and reflect a wide range of topics and types of activities that align with priorities for the student experience field identified by members of the SERN community. Grants were awarded across three strands of work: policy-focused research knowledge-building; resource development for policy and practice audiences; and agenda-setting, alignment, and documentation.
ACT HSIs: Advocate, Create, and Transform Hispanic-Serving Institutions to Improve Student Experiences ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Organizational Affiliation(s): University of California, Berkeley
Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are federally designated colleges and universities that enroll at least 25% Hispanic students. Approximately 66% of the 3.5 million U.S. Latine/x college students enroll in HSIs. This project will foster collaborative partnerships, create capacity for HSIs to pursue funding streams beyond those offered by the federal government, and advocate for state and federal support to continue developing educational structures that shape student experiences and promote equitable educational outcomes for Latine/x students. Through collaborative efforts the project will generate resources, tools, and recommendations for leaders, educators, and actors who seek equitable experiences for Latine/x students at HSIs.
A Participatory Approach to Developing a Healing Justice Framework and Assessment Tools for Schools and Youth Programs ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: CO-LEADS: Solicia López, Alexis Hunter Organizational Affiliation(s): University of Colorado
Initiatives aimed at promoting student voice, agency, and belonging in schools, such as restorative justice, ethnic studies, and student leadership, are increasingly bringing healing justice into their work. As exciting as this emphasis is, efforts to enact healing practices raise dilemmas and questions, including how to anchor healing in diverse cultural traditions, how to assess healing experiences, and how to ensure that programming maintains its dual focus on individual well-being and institutional transformation. This participatory project will convene people across silos to identify approaches to healing that center the practices and dreams of marginalized communities.
Agenda-Setting for Systems Transformation: Applying Lessons Learned from the Handbook of Research on Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers in Policy and Practice ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Conra D. Gist CO-LEADS: Travis J. Bristol, Justin Coles, Cherise McBride Organizational Affiliation(s): University of Houston, National Center for Research on Educator Diversity; University of California, Berkeley; University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Our project aims to organize national and state level convenings that will curate agenda-setting frameworks and resources to advance ethnoracial educator diversity in meaningful ways. These convenings are designed to work in solidarity with researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to apply the learnings from the recently published Handbook of Research on Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers. In order to bridge policy and practice divides and engage a diverse community of stakeholders (ie., educators, school leaders, policymakers, students, and parents) across silos, we are creating research-informed learning and action events strategically curated to advance field-level knowledge and practice.
Back to the Future: Recentering Positive Youth Development and Youth Thriving ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Karen Pittman Organizational Affiliation(s): Knowledge to Power Catalysts
The Knowledge to Power (KP) Catalysts team has launched a project to recenter positive youth development, or youth thriving, as the shared goal of schools and communities. In the fall, we will bring together a group of national research, policy, practice, and philanthropic organizations from across education and youth development to a bridging and amplification meeting. Our goal is facilitating the co-design and adoption of an updated, research-informed, community action framework to promote youth success and giving participants clear sightlines into the spheres of others. Our “build upon, not build anew” approach centers research synthesis, relationship building, and relevance testing opportunities.
Building Capacity for Research and Policy on Servingness: A Student-Centered Research Agenda ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Rebecca Covarrubias Organizational Affiliation(s): University of California, Santa Cruz
Hispanic Serving Institutions with high research activity (HSRIs) have the capacity to transform college and career pathways of large numbers of minoritized students and to develop high-impact research on servingness. Conducted at an HSRI, this project gathers a multi-generational community of researchers to build an infrastructure (e.g., gateway course curricula) that engages participatory action research projects where students conduct research on, disseminate findings related to, and suggest actions toward practices of servingness. These findings, coupled with published research, will inform a national online database that can inform research, theory, and institutional policy around servingness, all guided by students themselves.
Centering Civil Rights Protections to Support Equitable Student Experiences: An Agenda-setting and Research Prioritization Proposal to Advance Equity-focused Student Experiences in the United States ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Maithreyi Gopalan CO-LEAD: Erica Frankenberg Organizational Affiliation(s): The Pennsylvania State University
While scholars and practitioners have made important calls to center civil rights protections within the federal education policy agenda, a unifying research agenda, which is rigorous, policy-relevant, and can guide the field about how civil rights protections shape student experiences, is lacking. The project team will develop an agenda to inform research, policy, and practice, which centers civil rights policies and enforcement, and how they shape equitable student experiences, through three interrelated aims: conference for interdisciplinary agenda setting; harmonization and dissemination of shared data from the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR); and analysis of historic civil rights data.
Conceptualizing and Cultivating the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Research Colectiva ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Marcela G. Cuellar CO-LEADS: Rebecca Covarrubias, Gina A. Garcia Organizational Affiliation(s): University of California, Davis; University of California, Santa Cruz; University of Pittsburgh
Transforming Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) requires a thoughtful, purposeful agenda that centers Latinx/e student experiences. This project aims to establish the HSI Research Colectiva, a network of scholars who will bridge research on student experiences at HSIs to inform policy decisions and improvements in practice. With a focus on California for this year, the project will convene individuals and organizations, disseminate HSI research centered on student experiences, and cultivate a collaborative agenda. In doing so, the HSI Research Colectiva aims to serve as a critical resource in bridging the gap between equity-oriented research and decision-making in federal, state, and institutional policy.
Connecting Assessments and Best Practices for Improving Student Experiences ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Nancy Duchesneau Organizational Affiliation(s): The Education Trust
The COVID pandemic has renewed attention on the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students. To truly meet students’ holistic needs, educators and policymakers must be able to understand the experiences and well-being of their students and then connect these needs to concrete actions. This project aims to create an equity-focused and comprehensive guide that state and district leaders can use to understand what existing measures of students’ experiences can or should be used for, select assessments based on their needs, and understand the next steps beyond the results to improve the experiences of all students.
Designed for Equity: A New Inclusive Model for Institutional Transformation Centering the Student Experience and Post-Secondary Outcomes ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Mary C. Murphy CO-LEAD: Sara Woodruff Organizational Affiliation(s): Equity Accelerator, National Center for Civic Innovation
The Equity Accelerator will organize and host a convening of researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders who shape students’ experience in higher education—including college advisors, financial aid practitioners, faculty, and student affairs professionals—to support the development of a holistic, multi-disciplinary model that integrates innovative, evidence-based approaches to cultivating equitable student experience, improving academic outcomes, and conceptualizing the role of institutions and practitioners to achieve more equitable higher education outcomes. The Equity Accelerator will organize the convening outputs and present a new framework for institutional transformation that charts a fresh direction for the future of education scholarship and praxis.
Effects of HBCUs on Academic Outcomes Using Quasi-Experimental Design ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEADS: Dominique Baker, Thomas Dee Organizational Affiliation(s): Southern Methodist University, Stanford University
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have long played a vitally important role in broadening postsecondary access and learning opportunities for Black students. However, these institutions have done so while struggling with resource disparities and a long history of chronic underinvestment. Recently, many HBCUs have benefited from exceptionally large investments from both philanthropic and federal sources. We propose to document these investments and, in quasi-experimental designs, to study their impact on several student and institution-focused outcomes. This evidence will provide policy-relevant insights into the effects of such investments on unique institutions that are emphatically relevant to promoting educational equity.
Examining Anti-Racist Restorative Justice as a Site of Black Education Transformation: A Possibilities Project Case Study ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Chezare Warren CO-LEAD: Carla Wellborn Organizational Affiliation(s): Vanderbilt University
Education researchers compellingly demonstrate the numerous ways schooling in the U.S. has been an excruciatingly painful experience for Black youth. National calls to reduce disproportionality in Black students’ exclusionary discipline signal heightened public awareness of the ways anti-Black racist school structures, such as school discipline, undermine Black children’s educational wellbeing. This study examines Black student outcomes following adoption of an antiracist restorative justice approach to school discipline. This phenomenological multi-site case study catalogues what happens following one high-profile charter network’s change in disciplinary practice and the consequence this change has on educators’ orientation to school discipline with Black students.
Institutional Opportunities to Belong: A Playbook for Putting Middle Schoolers' Policy Insights into Motion ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: DeLeon Gray CO-LEAD: Shiyan Jiang Organizational Affiliation(s): North Carolina State University
This initiative will support students in advocating for changes in their school district via school belonging action projects in urban, predominantly Black and Latino/a public schools. Students engage with decision-makers to improve school policies. We will do this by (1) supporting students in creating models of developmentally appropriate and culturally affirming learning spaces that can address the belonging needs of students at their school; and (2) positioning students as experts on school belonging as they engage with decision-makers around policies that can better serve their desires to feel accepted, respected, included, and supported.
Research to Practice and Policy Collaborations: Leveraging Evidence in Pursuit of Equity in Education ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Francesca López CO-LEADS: Ross Wiener, Lorén Cox Organizational Affiliation(s): The Pennsylvania State University, Aspen Institute
Coordinated attacks on equitable education approaches have fueled polarization and prompted self-censorship among educators. This situation underscores the need for a coordinated program of advocacy that elucidates the role of student belonging in improving all students’ educational experiences for policy and practice actors. To that end, this project will draw on empirical research that cuts across disciplinary, epistemological, theoretical, and methodological perspectives to develop resources that provide the most robust and up-to-date evidence which too often is inaccessible to policy and practice actors. Resources will be shared by leveraging Pennsylvania State University’s and Aspen Institute Education & Society Program’s networks.
Resources for Educators Engaged in Continuous Improvement to Create Equitable Learning Experiences ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Sarah Gripshover CO-LEAD: Dave Paunesku Organizational Affiliation(s): PERTS (Project for Education Research That Scales)
Research shows that students learn more effectively and more equitably when they experience certain conditions in class—for example, when schoolwork feels relevant and when classroom relationships feel safe and supportive. The Elevate Network is a national group of educators who are working together to apply this research in order to help all students thrive. Our project will leverage insights from the Elevate Network to develop practical, evidence-based, field-tested resources that equip educators to create equitable student experiences that accelerate learning. They will include: (1) Case Studies developed by and for educators; and (2) brief, practitioner-facing Field Guides.
School Disciplinary and Mental Health Practices and Suicide: Informing Equitable School-Based Upstream Strategies for Preventing Black Youth Suicide ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Constance A. Lindsay Organizational Affiliation(s): The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Because Black youth are dying by suicide at an alarming rate, this study addresses the interplay of how two dimensions of inequality impact suicide: (1) school-based mental health services and referrals; and (2) aggressive school disciplinary practices. Improved understanding of how these two dimensions influence suicide will inform upstream approaches to suicide prevention delivered in school settings and contribute to a sizeable gap in the literature in support of preventing Black youth from dying of suicide. We will collect a disparate set of data sets and interview school-based professionals and administrators to understand their roles and understandings of these processes.
Supporting Educators to Hold High Instructional Expectations ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Bailey Cato Czupryk CO-LEAD: Jason Okonofua Organizational Affiliation(s): TNTP; University of California, Berkeley
Leveraging the psychological mechanisms that Dr. Jason Okonofua uncovered in his Empathic Instruction program, TNTP and Dr. Jason Okonofua hope to work together to design a science-based and scalable intervention that will support educators to hold high instructional expectations for all students – especially students who are behind coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and students from other stigmatized groups. This intervention, once tested in the field and proven effective, has the potential to support educators nationally to hold high expectations for students’ engagement with rigorous grade-level academic content. Together, we are seeking funding to develop this intervention and develop a research plan to study it.
Systems and Structures for Community School Implementation ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Heather Hough Organizational Affiliation(s): Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)
In the aftermath of the pandemic, California state leaders have made an unprecedented state investment in community schools, which present an opportunity to center students’ academic, health, and social-emotional needs and focus on building trusting relationships between educators, students, and families. The successful implementation of this policy will require substantial shifts in statewide policies, structures, and culture. To this end, PACE will bring together researchers, policymakers, practitioners, students, and families to build new understandings about the systems that are needed to support the transformation of traditional schools into community schools and to begin to chart the path forward.
Translating Research on Inclusive Family Engagement into Actionable Tools and Resources to Impact Educator Practice ExpandCollapse PROJECT LEAD: Cassandra Herring CO-LEAD: Patricia Alvarez McHatton Organizational Affiliation(s): Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchEd)
Family Engagement is foundational for student achievement, particularly for minoritized and multilingual families. However, most educators lack the understanding and training to effectively engage families. The Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED) seeks to convene a cross-section of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and technical assistance providers to: (1) mine the expertise of educators in minority-serving institutions and predominantly non-white districts; (2) catalogue evidence-based inclusive family engagement practices; and (3) create and disseminate an actionable and effective implementation toolkit, consisting of resources to support educators in improving student learning and advancing educational equity by partnering with nondominant families.