EF+Math Program releases new Insights Report

Oakland, CA: The Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF) today announced that Auditi Chakravarty will assume the role of CEO, starting on April 3, 2023. Chakravarty succeeds founding CEO Stacey Childress, who steered the successful transition from a demonstration program at NewSchools Venture Fund in 2019 to a standalone nonprofit research and development (R&D) organization launched in July 2021.

Chakravarty joins AERDF in the midst of rising national momentum for greater adoption of education R&D as our education systems seek to make gains following the Covid-19 pandemic.  A recent $40M allocation to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and a proposal of $45M in new funds to IES contained within President Biden’s FY2024 budget are signs of increasing attention on this emerging field. Speaking to Chakravarty as a leader for this time, AERDF Board Co-chair and Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton said “Auditi’s deep expertise in leading ambitious education innovation will add an important perspective to the national discussion on how to utilize advanced education R&D, as other sectors have, to imagine and build expeditiously toward optimal learning experiences for our students.”

“Auditi’s leadership in the education innovation field will be pivotal in elevating our ‘inclusive R&D’ model as an engine of innovation serving our priority students,” says Dr. Melina Uncapher, chief of research and development at AERDF and founder of its demonstration program EF+Math.

As a former educator and leader who fiercely embraces academic potential in students of all identities and abilities, Chakravarty has built successful products and services that have reached classrooms across the country. From her time as a high-school English teacher to most recently as Senior Vice President of Learning and Assessment at College Board, Chakravarty knows the impact well-designed instruction and assessment can have in the classroom and on students’ lives.

She has built and launched instructional programs in senior roles at Kaplan and subsequently within College Board’s AP, Springboard, and Pre-AP programs, where her focus was driving AP access and readiness. She holds a BA in English and a master’s degree in education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

As AERDF approaches two years since its launch, Chakravarty is excited by what she sees as the organization’s unique strength – breaking down the silos between the research, education and product development sectors to identify and collectively build toward teaching and learning solutions that improve student well-being and academic outcomes. Chakravarty shared “as legions of advocates work together to shape the future of education R&D, I am excited about a role for AERDF to orchestrate stronger collaboration, efficiency and momentum, driven in part by ongoing learning within our Inclusive R&D programs.” 

Chakravarty knows that education R&D, at its core, is about identifying rigorous research-based levers that show us what works for our nation’s students and from that learning, building new products and programs that meet the needs of students and educators. “Auditi has deep experience with and respect for the role of a robust research agenda within an iterative, inclusively-led and rapid cycle R&D environment like we have at AERDF,” said AERDF Board Co-chair and President of the Spencer Foundation Dr. Na’ilah Nasir. “I’m confident her leadership will help serve as a bridge for the too-often siloed communities of researchers, PreK-12 practitioners and product and program developers.” 

Chakravarty is eager to step up at this moment of opportunity. Her first priorities are a listening orientation within the AERDF community, focused learning on the biggest opportunities and challenges within AERDF and across the sector, and continuing the commitment to create learning environments for all children to thrive, particularly Black and Latino students and students of all races experiencing poverty, who have been historically and systematically excluded from equal opportunity in education. 

“Recruiting a long-term CEO has always been the plan, following what was a successful incubation and launch under the NewSchools umbrella,” said Founding CEO Stacey Childress, who transitioned out of AERDF in December. “I’m thrilled for what Auditi’s leadership means for the organization’s next chapter and I look forward to supporting a smooth transition.”

Chakravarty will join the AERDF team on April 3 and soon begin dialogue with organizational allies and sector leaders whose experience and perspectives are critical to AERDF’s success in the ecosystem. Join AERDF’s Community Garden to stay informed of the organization’s ongoing work and to engage with topics of interest. 

About the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF): AERDF is a national nonprofit R&D organization launched in 2021 that builds ambitious, inclusive three to five year programs with education practitioners, researchers and developers, aimed at tackling major and persistent teaching and learning challenges that disproportionately affect Black and Latino students and students of all races experiencing poverty in grades Pre-K-12. Each program builds on existing community-driven evidence and expertise as well as learning science to translate fundamental insights into usable knowledge, useful practices, equitable approaches and transformative tools for education practitioners and students. EF+Math was launched successfully by Dr. Melina Uncapher in 2019, and served as a demonstration program that tested the core theory of action that helped launch AERDF, which has since produced two additional programs in 2021 – Assessment for Good and Reading Reimagined. Additional programs are also under consideration, for this year and beyond.

Educators and school districts are our critical partners in AERDF’s Inclusive R&D process.  We’d love to co-design the future of learning with you.

In these cold winter months, many of us know the dreadful surprise encounter with a dead car battery. Once we’ve found our cables and a good samaritan to help, the standard guidance is to step on the pedal and keep the engine in use long enough to recharge the battery. In this advice, there’s a takeaway for the emerging education research and development (R&D) sector: seize the moment and energize the movement. 

The major omnibus appropriations bill President Biden signed in December 2022 granted the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) $40M in new funding for research and development, part of which is intended to “support a new funding opportunity for quick-turnaround, high-reward scalable solutions.” This injection of funding has jump started our collective momentum to achieve a sustainable advanced education R&D capacity within the federal government. We must do all we can to keep the effort running.

In our work at the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF), a national nonprofit R&D organization launched in 2021, we are centering education practitioners as co-leaders within our multi-year Inclusive R&D programs – EF+Math, Assessment for Good, and Reading Reimagined. Our aim is to ensure more teaching and learning solutions developed today are created with the critical voices of real students, teachers, and administrators, to better connect these products and programs to real classrooms, and draw from the 140 years of science that reveal how students learn.

We celebrate this new funding as a win for the field of education R&D and a promising catalyst to begin making up for years of underinvestment by the federal government. Historically it has represented less than half a percent of total K-12 federal education spending, compared with other sectors that invest a significantly higher proportion of overall sector spending (e.g., 11% in healthcare and 15.5% in pharma and biotech). 

Here are three recommendations to make this momentum a true acceleration on the long journey for education R&D:

  • Position K-12 practitioners as lead advisors in the plans established to make use of these funds and as research partners in any R&D pilot. Educators are closest to the wonderful brilliance within our students and know what kinds of classroom and system-informed challenges that future solutions must solve. They should be partnered with both researchers and product / program developers – their presence at the beginning raises the odds of the early emergence of implementable solutions.
  • Appreciate the time required for impactful advanced R&D. School systems need to become comfortable with nimble evidence-based approaches to meet their full potential. Ideally “nimble” means some of those approaches must deliver complete results next month as well as through the upcoming school year and even longitudinal effects 5+ years from now. Unlocking the real power of R&D requires us to make space to do the inclusive work that entails setting hypotheses, building our research, and working collaboratively within iterative accelerated development cycles, to see what works and apply that new knowledge toward new and revised prototypes. 
  • Make infrastructure an investment priority. At AERDF, we believe that all information worth collecting is worth protecting and respecting. This form of ethical education R&D requires new ways of safeguarding student information; we need end-to-end pipelines that enable the critical information needed to engage in R&D to be both actionable and private. Here are a few additional areas worthy of exploration within a modernized infrastructure: 
    • Shared measures for a variety of dimensions of progress, academic and non-academic, along with where they have been shown to be valid and reliable.
    • Easy-to-navigate catalogs of interventions that are matched with which contexts they have been shown to work, so that the next school and the next can more quickly find relevant solutions.
    • Professional development to ensure that as we find new, promising interventions, we apply the same kind of care around motivation and learning development for the adults who are changing course to better guide students.  

The growing energy in our emerging field comes after more than a dozen years of efforts by leaders like Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton and many involved in the Alliance for Learning Innovation (ALI) coalition, as well as IES and legions of other changemakers. Their dedication to developing a national arm of the federal government capable of creating breakthrough solutions to pervasive K-12 teaching and learning challenges has brought us to this moment. IES Director Dr. Mark Schneider has outlined the R&D breakthroughs he believes the field is poised to see this year. 

Education R&D, at its core, is about identifying rigorous research-based levers that show us what works for our nation’s students and very importantly, building new products and programs from that learning. These products must be affordable and customizable for the unique needs of local school communities.

There’s a need for all efforts in education R&D, including ours, to address a longstanding challenge: the length of time for new learning methods to reach the classroom – as long as a student’s entire K-12 timeline! Even the best and most efficient pipelines from research to practice are often a linear (‘waterfall’) model that includes disconnected cycles of research -> development of products/programs -> practice. This can take many years and loses a significant amount of wisdom by keeping the process siloed at each stage.

There are several other steps education advocates and cross-sector coalition groups can take today to make this early jump start for education R&D a long-term win and keep the battery from draining. Many of them can be found in the federal policy recommendations set by ALI. At AERDF, we look forward to publicly sharing what we’re learning within our Inclusive R&D programs to demonstrate the powerful impact of this discipline.

Rather than speculate on what this moment could mean for our sector, let’s break down our siloes, come together and press the gas pedal to make it a watershed moment for our nation.

As research and development (R&D) in other sectors has produced improvements in our daily lives, most notably the development of COVID vaccines, an increasingly frequent question has been raised: what are we doing to develop similar capabilities within our Pre-K12 education system to ensure each student is on a path to fulfilling their greatest potential? We are still coming into our own as an education R&D field. One of the ways we can strengthen cohesion is by having greater visibility into what’s happening in the field.

This year, AERDF teamed up with a group of PreK-12 field leaders as advisors and The Starfish Institute to launch a participatory mapping process to develop a free, publicly accessible tool that will make it easier to find collaborators, avoid duplicative efforts, and bridge gaps across the field. But just like the field, it is still emerging.

We continue our call to education practitioners, researchers, tech developers, and other changemakers immersed in education R&D to add their work to the ever growing map! If you are seeking to understand what works for groups of students and under what conditions, and working to build scalable solutions propelled by that learning – we want to hear from you!

Insights for the Education R&D Field

Embarking on this project included a discovery phase (consisting of interviews, a listening session, and a literature scan), launch of a survey inviting respondents to add themselves to the map, virtual convenings with our Ecosystem Mapping Council, creation of a draft map, and some sense-making and adjustments, all to get us to the map available today. Below are a few insights we want to share with the field:

  1. Involving educators, K-12 schools, and other practitioners will accelerate our progress, address a mismatch between research and classroom needs, and build trust. There are in many cases a disconnect between the problems researchers are trying to solve and the challenges facing students and teachers in classrooms. Not only is the research being conducted often not relevant, but findings are also not reaching schools in the time or format needed. Several map collaborators made an argument for bolstering ”demand” as a way to course correct incentives. Demand from teachers, caregivers, schools, and leaders at all levels for R&D that is relevant, timely, actionable, and context-specific is an important lever for shifting how the ecosystem operates. In future iterations of the ecosystem map, we want to expand the number of education practitioners who participate and see themselves as part of this community.

    “There is a moment, speaking from personal experience, when you realize that all of these things – the whole R&D world – is something that you knew nothing about. That feeling may be the apex of distrust. Realizing that all of these things have been happening for so long and you didn’t know and you weren’t involved.” –Mapping collaborator

  2. We are at a unique moment of opportunity to develop a more cohesive ecosystem for the field of education R&D at a time of greater investments proposed and pushes for new innovations fueled by rigorous evidence and educator perspectives. The momentum for greater federal investment in education R&D (currently ~0.5% of total K-12 dollars) builds from efforts dating back more than ten years to scale advanced R&D as a way to set and reach “moonshot” ambitions. Historic federal investments are being made in our education systems looking to rebound from a COVID-19 pandemic that further widened existing opportunity and expectation gaps that disproportionately impact Black and Latino students, and students of all races experiencing poverty. Our education systems would be served well by accelerating the powerful capabilities of R&D in education as an engine of innovation to pursue our biggest ambitions while staying committed to equity and justice.
  3. Rather than a singular “quarterback” organization, the education R&D field needs a whole squad of organizations each with different expertise and responsibility moving in the same direction to address fragmentation in the field. Researchers, developers, and educators each operate in their own silos and lack a common language. In particular, we heard about the mismatch between who has data and who is best-positioned and trained to assess those data, which often results in inadequate tools or research lacking sufficient data sets. Another is the disagreement around what counts as “evidence-based” and the lack of consensus about outcomes for education R&D. The field would benefit from organizations that can facilitate peer org learning and matchmaking (a need expressed through the mapping process), resource-sharing, shared taxonomy, among other needs. Additionally, boundary agents or “people who help converge or unite divergent thinking and language of those on both sides of a boundary” would support breaking down silos and facilitating communication across different parts of the ecosystem.

This education R&D map gives us insight into where the field is working but also is a useful convening tool. The map shows us areas of overlap or “clusters” that we might not have been aware of and can be used to find and bring together potential collaborators. For example, if you are hosting a convening on Design Methods then you likely know the players in that space who should attend. Looking at the “Research, Design Methods, Data and Analytics” cluster, however, you may discover additional players who you would not have thought to invite who are working on Research and/or Data and Analytics and who would make valuable contributions to the convening.

What’s Next and How You Can Get Involved 

We believe deeply in the power of collaboration and community to share and draw out new ideas. Here are some ways you can join us.

  1. Explore the map + share your insights! If you’re eager to dig into more of our approach, have ideas to share, or are even working on another mapping of the education R&D ecosystem, we’d love to hear from you!
  2. Get on the map! To co-create our future even more robust iterations of the ecosystem map, we want to invite everyone working within education R&D to complete the survey. AERDF plans to analyze new responses and release an updated map in the future.

About AERDF: 

Launched in 2021, AERDF is a national nonprofit research and development organization that builds ambitious, inclusive programs aimed at tackling persistent teaching and learning challenges that disproportionately affect Black and Latino students and students of all races experiencing poverty in grades Pre-K-12. AERDF currently runs three programs: EF+Math, Assessment for Good and Reading Reimagined. Each program builds on existing community-driven evidence and learning science to translate fundamental insights into more useful practices, equitable approaches and tools for educators and students.