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Reflecting on 2020 at the Research Alliance


This has been a year like no other for schools and communities in New York City and across the country. Amid the most devastating pandemic in recent history, our nation also struggled to heal wounds from a painful and oppressive legacy of racism. At the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, as in many organizations, these events motivated us to reflect more deeply on our mission, our capacities, and our role in advancing a more just society. We committed to necessary changes that would bring a more explicit racial justice lens to our work, and redoubled our efforts to develop new research that will promote better, more equitable educational experiences and outcomes for NYC students. As we conclude the year, we are especially reflecting on:

Chairs in an Empty Classroom

Even in the midst of a challenging year, the Research Alliance has continued to produce publications to inform policymakers, school and district leaders, and other education stakeholders. We engaged in numerous virtual conversations and panels aimed at sharing evidence to support more effective and equitable school policies and practices. And we worked with students, educators, parents, nonprofit service providers, journalists, and scholars around the city and the nation to continue to learn more about student needs and how these needs could be better met. As we end this year, we are monumentally grateful to all of them for making time to share their experiences and perspectives with us in the interest of building knowledge that will ultimately inform a stronger education system.

How Research Alliance Findings Have Informed Partners and the Public


We published a variety of reports, briefs, and Spotlight posts in 2020. Highlights include:

We also contributed to the National Academies of Sciences’ Monitoring Equity report and the Building Education Equity Indicator Systems guidebook.

Media Coverage of Our Work

Research Alliance findings and experts were featured in a broad range of reporting on education issues, including:

Changes We Made at the Research Alliance This Year

In 2020, we found ourselves changing the way we work—both as a direct response to COVID-19, and in an effort to make the pursuit of racial justice and equity more explicit in our research. These changes included:

  • Transitioning to a remote work environment, and quickly adjusting project timelines and activities, in the wake of school closures;
  • Adopting strategies for remote data collection with minimal burden on students, teachers and other school staff;
  • Leveraging previously scheduled surveys to gather information about the rollout of remote instruction;
  • Helping partners respond to the COVID crisis, by collecting information about student needs, as well as available resources;
  • Conducting rapid evidence scans to inform school and district responses to the virus;
  • Planning and participating in virtual meetings, conferences, and forums to share pertinent findings and lessons;
  • Making changes to the Research Alliances’ guiding principles to better reflect our commitments to racial justice and equity;
  • Renewing our focus on creating a diverse, inclusive team, and elevating the voices of Black scholars and other scholars of color;
  • Reviewing relevant literature to inform district and schools leaders’ thinking about racial justice in education, and to determine where we can make the most meaningful contributions with our own research; and
  • Developing new strategies to monitor educational equity—particularly in terms of the resources and opportunities available to students—with the goal of identifying leverage points that can help improve equity in NYC schools.
Student with Teacher

What’s Next? Maximizing the Timeliness, Utility, and Impact of Our Work 

COVID-19 laid bare a number of important realities, including deep inequities in education, healthcare, housing, and the labor market. It reminded us how rapidly the policy context can change, and how vital up-to-date information is for making smart decisions. Of course, the pandemic also underscored the incredible hard work that educators put in every day, as well as the wide-ranging, often urgent needs that schools address for students and families.

As we reflect on these insights, we find ourselves thinking hard about the Research Alliance’s work and potential for impact. How do we ensure that the questions we’re asking really matter for policy and practice? How should we understand the broader systems, structures, and resources—beyond school walls—that affect students’ educational trajectories? How do we expand the universe of people and institutions that shape our learning agenda? How do we provide more opportunities for diverse stakeholders, including teachers, parents, and students, to engage with and help make sense of our findings? How can we gather and analyze data in ways that are minimally intrusive for research participants—and that produce evidence quickly enough to inform decisions in real time? How do we ensure that our work produces actionable insights that educators, district leaders and policymakers can use to serve students and communities more effectively?    

Looking ahead to 2021, we will continue to grapple with these questions, as we develop new projects, and as we continue ongoing studies of topics ranging from Computer Science, and Career Technical Education, to supports for homeless students and social and emotional learning.

In the meantime, please know that we are grateful for your readership and continued support of the Research Alliance. We welcome your feedback and suggestions for new areas of work. And we wish you and your family a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season.