Superintendents and school leaders navigated hundreds of impossible decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. They needed quick, accurate, and trusted information about their students’ academic well-being, but districts weren’t positioned to start new partnerships or data sharing agreements during these tumultuous months. Their research staff were frequently managing public health logistics and staffing data, too. As a long-standing research-practice partnership (RPP) with metro-Atlanta school districts, the Georgia Policy Labs’ Metro Atlanta Policy Lab for Education (MAPLE) was perfectly positioned to fill this gap.
Early and throughout the pandemic, MAPLE used its RPP and integrated data system to provide district leaders with insights on student academic progress. Within weeks of receiving student-level formative assessment results from its partners, MAPLE provided information on achievement trends and comparisons to pre-pandemic levels for numerous categories of students and grade levels. In the pandemic’s wake, MAPLE continues to work alongside our partners on what works, for whom, and why. Our RPP partners have shown boldness and a commitment to evidence-based decision-making by using our research to design their recovery programs and implement recovery strategies to accelerate student learning. They play a critical role in ensuring the RPP is effective by sharing policy and implementation information to guide analysis of recovery strategies. They’re also willing to adjust their approach to collect data for new interventions, which gives us the ability to evaluate these interventions.
So, why put together this RPP? It’s because of stories like this, ones that show what happens when organizations create partnerships built on trust and a shared commitment to using data to improve lives. Read on to learn how we have set up our model to respond to unexpected changes and opportunities for policy change and for specific examples of how we’re having an impact.
A Model Built for Sustained Impact
The Georgia Policy Labs intentionally built its model to enable research that involves all our partners. We want to answer questions and address challenges that no one organization could answer or solve on its own. We do this using a state-of-the-art secure data infrastructure. This infrastructure includes millions of individual-level, research-ready records from all five of our metro-Atlanta school district partners that we can use to evaluate policies and programs, especially when policy windows open unexpectedly. This work is not possible without our dedicated partners, our enthusiastic team of faculty and staff, and our devoted team of graduate students, whom we’re training as the next generation of engaged policy researchers. Our model has enabled us to both conduct long-term research projects and provide rapid-response results to our partners. We know this model is working, and we have seen our impact through several instances of improved policies and programs:
- Over 70,000 students are receiving evidence-based interventions because of our rapid-response research on the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Our analysis of a school district partner’s literacy program informed its multi-million-dollar decision to discontinue the program after we found it to be ineffective.
- The state added 625 subsidized child care slots to the state budget for parents who are working or in job training after we analyzed the unmet need.
- We helped distribute $1.3 billion to families experiencing food insecurity when we integrated data from multiple agencies.
- Our analysis of access to high school-based career and technical education at the local the level drove changes in program offerings.
This impact is possible because of the trust we have built with our partners. They know our evaluations are rigorous and independent, and they know that we don’t take sides in policy debates—except an unapologetic commitment to providing reliable information on how current policies are working and evidence-based strategies to help those who are experiencing systemic vulnerabilities. We have also built our model to increase our partners’ research ability in other ways.
Throughout the years, we have worked closely with our partners to connect them to the resources and people at our home in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and at Georgia State University. This commitment has included funding researchers to work on location with our partners, providing on-call thought partnership, funding graduate students to work with their research teams, and providing free professional development workshops each summer.
Moving Forward Together
MAPLE is actively working on research to understand the factors that affected student success in remote learning and evaluating a host of recovery strategies that school districts have implemented. This work will be critical in determining which programs districts should continue funding and guide their decision-making when federal American Rescue Plan funds end.
Developing an RPP like GPL and MAPLE that can have long-term impact and address challenges affecting school districts, state agencies and non-profits alike is no small undertaking. It requires an unwavering commitment by everyone involved to improving outcomes through data and partnerships. At GPL, we ground this work in the following principles:
- a culture of “no surprises” and transparency,
- a belief in shared power and expertise across the RPP,
- a steadfast hope that this work is improving lives, and
- an understanding that we cannot do it alone.
It’s an honor for us to do this work alongside our partners each day.
Tyler Rogers is the associate director of the Georgia Policy Labs, where he leads the organization’s communications and messaging strategy, plans and designs its events and workshops, supports its fundraising efforts, onboards new team members, and manages its daily operations. Before joining GPL, he was a research associate in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies’ Center for State and Local Finance, the project manager for the school’s Digital Landscape Initiative task force, and the administrative director of the Public Management Institute at Georgia State University as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Before joining Georgia State, he was a high school teacher in metro Atlanta. He is an alumnus of Georgia State, having earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Andrew Young School. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in educational policy studies with a concentration in higher education at the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State.