RESTART Network Study Teams Share Progress and Key Learnings

Kate Canniff
6 min read
people in a meeting

Members of the RESTART Network’s Core Research teams gathered during the 2024 RESTART Network Forum to share progress and key learnings from their studies with members of other research teams and representatives from the Institute of Education Sciences and Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Representatives from each of the five teams, hailing from states across the country, presented emerging trends of student experiences and outcomes during COVID-19 pandemic. As teams shared their preliminary findings, presentations and discussions among briefing attendees revealed common priorities and challenges arising in their work. 

Multiple teams outlined their approaches to partnering with schools and districts, foregrounding the importance of building relationships with school and district partners. Researchers and district representatives from the Metro Atlanta Recovery and Acceleration study have successfully maintained a continuous dialogue with school leaders, which has built a sense of shared buy-in and led to high survey response rates from school principals. Another key success came from the California Expanded Learning Opportunities team, who have traveled across the state of California to meet in-person with district leaders about how they have used ESSER funds to support education recovery. The team has solidified informal partnerships with nine diverse districts across the state, supporting their efforts to understand and inform districts’ budget needs. “Schools are at that juncture where they need to make these key decisions,” one RESTART Network team member commented during a facilitated discussion with the team.

A presentation from researchers studying the Illinois Learning Renewal - Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs led briefing attendees into a discussion of how political polarization and sensitivities impact the research field. The team has collected survey data on student well-being and conducted interviews to understand the impact of SEL programming. In conversation with other researchers, team members discussed how they must be responsive to local contexts and consider communities’ values as they work to build partnerships that are fruitful for both the researchers and the districts. 

Another key learning for many of the teams in the room was the importance of flexibility in program implementation to meet the needs of both students and teachers. The Chicago Skyline Early Literacy team described the free, digital, high-quality curricular materials they developed and made available to teachers. As they rolled out the materials, the Skyline team listened to key teacher feedback that requested increased flexibility so teachers could tailor the materials for their individual classes. The Metro Atlanta team also noted that they have found flexibility among summer learning programs so that districts could address the learning needs of their unique student populations. The teams have carefully collected data on how distinct school structures and staff needs influence programs’ effective implementation and longevity. The nuances of different school contexts are not getting lost in the data set, instead they have been key to identifying patterns of implementation. 

The evolving conditions in schools and districts during and post-pandemic have also impacted the process of data collection, according to multiple research teams who have had to innovate and rely on strong partnerships with schools to gather the data they need. Researchers from the North Carolina School Extension Programs team summarized their recent findings on student participation and academic impacts of the state’s summer learning and bridge programs. In dialogue with briefing attendees, the researchers discussed how they were also able to marry longitudinal data available in North Carolina with their data sources. The team members emphasized that at the center of their work is the goal to capture “what a program looks like on the ground.”

 Just as the pandemic continues to shape the school environment for students and staff, it has also altered how researchers are collecting data, interacting with school leaders, and developing tools and interventions. Throughout the presentations and discussions, Core Research team members connected over common approaches and challenges arising in their research—illuminating the importance for researchers to collaborate across projects to problem-solve. 

Visit the research study pages to see recent publications or sign up for the RESTART newsletter to stay in the know when teams share more developments and findings.