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Better Evidence for Better Schools

Insights from the First 10 Years of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools

Chelsea Farley (2019)

In 2008, a diverse group of New York City leaders—including representatives from the NYC Department of Education, the teacher and administrator unions, the philanthropic and business communities, and New York University—came together to establish the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Since that time, the Research Alliance has worked closely with policymakers, educators, and other stakeholders to identify pressing research questions and carry out rigorous studies on a wide range of topics that that matter to the City’s public schools.

Better Evidence for Better Schools: Insights from the First 10 Years of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools reflects on what the Research Alliance has learned to date. The brief addresses three central questions:

  1. What have we learned about system-wide progress and challenges? This section of the brief highlights system-wide improvements, including substantial increases in graduation and college enrollment rates, as well as persistent inequality in student opportunities and outcomes. It also describes a heavy concentration of vulnerable students in particular neighborhoods and schools.
  2. What have we learned about district policies to promote more effective schools? This section reviews evidence on NYC’s sweeping high school reform efforts, which included closing many large low-performing high schools, opening new smaller schools, and extending high school choice to all students throughout the district. Other studies described in this section highlight the importance of an explicit theory of action for district programs and initiatives.
  3. What have we learned about efforts to support strong teaching and learning? This section offers a number of key lessons, including “measure what matters” (e.g., school leadership, collaboration, safety, and the creation of a warm, supportive learning environment), “monitor student progress early and often” (in terms of both academic indicators and social and emotional learning), and “build educator capacity to use data effectively.”

The brief also outlines several priorities for future research, including studies of the location and sources of educational inequality, studies examining the implementation and impact of specific strategies to promote more equitable outcomes, and research designed to directly and continuously inform practitioners who are implementing and striving to improve programs.