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Cheri Fancsali, Executive Director, Talks Future for Research Alliance


Cheri Fancsali took over as executive director of NYU Steinhardt's Research Alliance for New York City Schools in Fall 2023 after James Kemple’s 15-year tenure at the helm. 

Here, Fancsali discusses current priorities for the Research Alliance, as well as what’s on the horizon for the future.

What are the Research Alliance’s main focus areas?

We have two big strategic priorities that build on 15 years of Jim’s [James Kemple's] and the Research Alliance’s work:

  1. Advancing equity has always been a fundamental part of the Research Alliance's mission. Today, we have many reasons why we have committed to more consciously infusing equity and racial justice into every phase of our work.

  2. We are improving the use of evidence in decision-making. Historically, a gap has existed between research and practice. Today, the field is more focused on not only producing high-quality evidence, but also creating formats and distribution channels and, critically, building relationships that help ensure the evidence is used by people making policy and practice decisions. This is not a new area for the Research Alliance, but we’re now investing in more cross-cutting strategies to deliberately expand the network of communities and voices that inform and are informed by our work.

As one example of how we are advancing these priorities, in December, the Research Alliance collaborated with Steinhardt’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools (Metro Center) and NYU’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research to host an equity roundtable. We invited an interdisciplinary group of experts in the field to talk about addressing the needs of and building on assets for newcomers to New York City; this was a great opportunity to get people from different sectors in the same room – educators, nonprofits who provide direct services to these families, policymakers, academics, and more – to have meaningful conversations about these issues. These conversations have, in turn, helped to shape our research agenda, leading to new partnerships and study ideas.

Dr. Fancsali poses on a city street.

Our commitment to equity-focused, rigorous, and actionable research makes us well positioned to continue generating evidence that informs positive change for NYC schools and students in the years ahead.

Cheri Fancsali, Executive Director, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools

What are some of the Research Alliance’s current projects?

We are wrapping up work on two major multi-year projects that have shed light on key education initiatives in NYC: our evaluation of the Computer Science For All (CS4All) initiative, and our study of the City’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Through these projects, we’ve assessed the school experiences and outcomes of hundreds of thousands of NYC students, and generated more than 60 presentations and publications (including our recent essay, “Moving the Needle on Equity in Computer Science Education,” published by the Urban Institute). Findings from these studies have informed district decisions and strategies and spurred the development of new initiatives and robust lines of related research. 

We are also excited about an ongoing project that is developing instruments to measure culturally responsive-sustaining education practices and approaches in computer science. For this work, we have created a working group of parents, students, and educators to understand 1) if we are pursuing the right research questions that are of value to the community; 2) if we are using the right methodology to answer those questions; and 3) if we are interpreting and disseminating our data and findings appropriately.

Other current projects are exploring disparities in the effects of COVID-19 for high school students; identifying strategies to help school staff better serve students in temporary housing; and analyzing the landscape of school support organizations in New York City.

What kind of funding has the Research Alliance received recently?

The Research Alliance was recently awarded one of NYU’s inaugural Discovery Research Fund for Human Health grants, which foster interdisciplinary research and innovations that show great promise in improving human health. I am the co-principal investigator along with principal investigator Sireen Irsheid, assistant professor at NYU Silver School of Social Work. Our project will strive to illuminate the structural, educational, and mental health factors driving high school non-completion to guide targeted interventions that address systemic inequities and promote healthy development.

The Research Alliance was also awarded a Vision Grant from the Spencer Foundation. This grant will support interdisciplinary and transformative education systems work that engages meaningfully with policymakers, educators, families, and communities to drive equitable, systemic change. We’re working with McSilver, Metro Center, and NY City Council Member Nantasha Williams on a trauma-informed, community-research collaborative to improve youth outcomes in elementary schools.

Both of these new projects are examples of how we’re increasingly focused on cross-sector work that can help illuminate the forces – both in and outside of school – that affect students’ educational experiences and outcomes. We believe this broader perspective is crucial for understanding the root causes of inequality and developing policy and practice solutions that meaningfully move the needle toward a more just and equitable society.

Overall, this is an exciting time for the Research Alliance as it builds on its strong track record. Our commitment to equity-focused, rigorous, and actionable research makes us well positioned to continue generating evidence that informs positive change for NYC schools and students in the years ahead.

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Urban Institute Essay: Moving the Needle on Equity in Computer Science Education

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This summer, Dr. James Kemple will step down from his role as the Executive Director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, after 15 years in the position.

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The Research Alliance for New York City Schools

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools conducts rigorous studies on topics that matter to the city’s public schools. We strive to advance equity and excellence in education by providing nonpartisan evidence about policies and practices that promote students' development and academic success.

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