EF+Math Program releases new Insights Report

“We want innovation to happen at the edge of what’s possible…we’re aiming for not just statistically significant, but transformative outcomes.” Compelling words from our CEO Auditi Chakravarty in the EdWeek Market Brief article that includes our tri-sector R&D approach and focus on co-designing leading edge teaching and learning solutions with educators, researchers, and developers.

Read on to learn how several other education CEOs weigh in and describe their organizations’ internal and external sources of inspiration.

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Contact Information:
Advanced Education Research
and Development Fund (AERDF)
Marvin Smith

Release Date:
March 30, 2023


Oakland, CA: The Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF) today announced the release of an insights report from its demonstration program, EF+Math, which suggests early signs of promise to improve mathematics learning for its priority populations, Black and Latinx students, and students of all races experiencing poverty. The insights are released as school systems across the country are seeking evidence and equity-driven pathways to support all students in reaching their full potential, especially on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Launched in 2019, EF+Math aims to help every student to know their innate abilities, know how to use them to take control of their own learning, and be given every opportunity to learn rigorous mathematics. EF+Math’s portfolio of ten R&D teams were brought together through the program’s Inclusive Research and Development (R&D) model, which places an intentional focus on equity throughout the process and centers educators and students as crucial partners from the start, working alongside researchers and developers throughout cycles of design and research.  EF+Math points to partnership from its district partners, education leadership council (ELC) and R&D teams as essential to the program’s maturation.

Portfolio teams are currently in the third year of a five year Inclusive R&D cycle to design, build, pilot, and evaluate mathematics learning approaches and new research tools for students in grades 3-8. In EF+Math’s process, students are advancing their conceptual understanding and multi-step problem solving skills, building their identities as mathematical thinkers, and strengthening their executive function (EF) skills. EF skills are core capacities that allow individuals to manage their attention, thoughts, emotions, and behavior. 

“We’re seeing evidence that suggests our model is leading to promising, implementable math approaches and new research tools that can improve math learning and EF skills. Early findings suggest the approaches our teams have developed are also supporting students in developing their identity as individuals who are capable of learning and making sense of mathematics, as well as their sense of belonging in math classrooms,” said Aubrey Francisco, EF+Math’s Executive Director. “While we are still early in our journey, I’m proud of the progress our community has made in both creating prototypes that can have that impact on students and shift influential individuals and organizations’ behaviors and actions to be more asset-based and equity-centered.” 

“The initial vision for EF+Math began with a compelling research base rooted in learning science. The research reveals that the development of EF skills could be a promising core lever that can benefit students from lower income households more than those from higher income households. In other words, it could be an untapped approach to amplify the math brilliance in students who have been least served by the system,” said Dr. Melina Uncapher, founder of EF+Math and AERDF’s Chief of Research and Development. “What was most novel in this Inclusive R&D model we were pioneering was applying rapid cycle R&D in co-leadership with the research, education and developer sectors, which have traditionally operated in silos – all to produce new solutions that could make a difference in the lives of students.”

EF+Math’s progress contributes to the development of an AERDF organization that is now a place to prototype promising research-based innovations to identify the few that will transform PreK-12. EF+Math was launched just six months into a global pandemic, which heightened a need for the program to build a foundation of deep trust, respect and support given the trauma many members within its 200+community were experiencing. 

“EF+Math’s approach is helping to bridge the learning gap that has long existed. Reading EF+Math’s Insights Report further demonstrates how this innovative approach is aiding in shifting mathematical thinking from traditional to a 21st century style learning,” said Pedro Rodriguez, a middle school math teacher with the New York City Department of Education and a member of EF+Math’s Educator Leadership Council. “EF+Math has helped to cement my own core beliefs on students’ education. Through council and co-design meetings, I now feel better prepared to champion these conversations to local leaders in NYC, especially in the Harlem and Washington Heights area.”

Luis Torres, a lead math teacher from Santa Ana, California added, “EF+Math is a truly holistic and inclusive approach that positions educators and students at the center of the design process. We are taking everything into consideration to ensure all students are able to have positive mathematical identities and design equitable and rigorous math tasks to support our most vulnerable students. It has helped students with their math identity and removes additional barriers. We implement adaptable executive function skills and strategies that meet the needs of my diverse students.”


EF+Math Report Insights

After many iterations of R&D in co-leadership with educators and students, EF+Math project teams have developed novel mathematics learning approaches and begun testing their scientific hypotheses about the relationship between EF and mathematics through pilot studies in classrooms across the country. Below are insights from the work as a whole portfolio based on teams’ early results. See the full report here.

  1. EF+Math approaches show promise for improving student learning.
  2. When educators and students are involved at every stage of the R&D process, learning approaches are more relevant to the classroom. 
  3. Student mathematics learning outcomes are improved when executive function skills are strengthened alongside positive student beliefs. 
  4. Effectively building students’ executive function skills during mathematics learning requires new instructional strategies, tools, and assessments. 
  5. New student-centered tools and assessments emerge when diverse teams focus on designing for equity.
  6. Centering equity from the beginning leads to mindset shifts and a culture of equity and inclusion throughout the process. 

These insights are intended to inspire researchers, educators and developers in their own work and to consider joining EF+Math as partners in its next phase of work or as part of a larger community shifting to Inclusive R&D processes.

EF+Math will share information about a webinar it plans to host soon that will  engage education researchers, math educators, product developers and others interested in learning more about the report’s findings and their application for classrooms today. Sign up here to stay informed of EF+Math updates and updates about initiatives across AERDF.


About EF+Math and the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF)

EF+Math is an advanced Inclusive R&D program that supports teams of educators, researchers, and developers to co-create rigorous math learning approaches that improve learning outcomes and affirm the brilliance of Black and Latinx students and students experiencing poverty. EF+Math was launched in 2019, and serves as a demonstration program for 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. AERDF produced two additional programs in 2021 – Assessment for Good and Reading Reimagined. Additional programs are also under consideration, for this year and beyond.

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.

Often, when older elementary school students can’t read, it’s because they’re having trouble with a foundational skill, said Brandy Nelson, the academic director for the Reading Reimagined program at the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund.

“What is probably happening is the student has a decoding challenge,” she said.

Read on to learn what school systems need to do to support older students who have reading difficulties.

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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.

Why the structure of our board of directors matters – and how it will help us grow

After several months of board development, AERDF is excited to announce five new members who bring rich and diverse professional and personal experiences to our Board of Directors: 

Since last fall, we have been working to broaden the expertise and perspectives on our board. As an organization focused on Inclusive Research and Development (R&D) in education, it is important that both our board structure and the process of identifying new members reflect our values. Last fall, we asked the field to recommend outstanding leaders  we should consider as board candidates. And the response was overwhelming – overall, we vetted nearly 50 amazing leaders and elected five new members to the board between January and June 2022, three of whom were sourced through the open recommendation process.

These new board members join original directors Jim Shelton, Dr. Lisette Nieves, Dr. Bror Saxberg and Stacey Childress in ensuring the strategic direction of AERDF stays true to its promise: nurturing breakthroughs in learning and well-being for Black and Latino students and students of all races experiencing poverty. We do this through Inclusive R&D programs that bring together diverse teams of educators, researchers, and developers to co-create practical solutions to real-world problems.

Together, our board brings decades of experience in teaching and teacher preparation, school and system leadership, education research and learning science, federal and state policy, and innovation in curriculum and instructional tools. They bring curiosity, expertise and their lived experience to bear on solving long standing systemic inequities that impact our priority students. We are confident our board will help supercharge our impact as we move into the future. 

In addition to adding new members, the board underwent another important change this summer. From our founding until June of this year, representatives from our three anchor donors served as directors. As part of our board development, they followed through on an earlier commitment to shift out of their seats as voting members and into observer roles. This shift achieves two related aims: decentering donor voice in AERDF’s governance and direction, and at the same time elevating the wisdom and expertise of a group of leaders from the field who reflect the identities and experiences of our priority students.

“With this new group of members in place, our board of directors is well positioned to provide us with critical advice and support in our next phase of development. Our first three R&D programs are off to a terrific start in their focus areas — math, reading, and assessment — and we are working hard to build a durable organization that can support them as well as future programs. We are grateful for each board member’s commitment to AERDF’s mission and for the trust our anchor donors are demonstrating by reducing their role in our governance,” said Stacey Childress, CEO of AERDF. 

AERDF’s board has a number of key priorities this year, which include recruiting a new CEO, greenlighting the organization’s next Inclusive R&D program, and strengthening AERDF’s public profile. As always, they will also continue to advise senior leadership on long-term strategy and ensure that we have the talent, resources, and relationships to execute on our mission. 

Thank you to everyone who submitted a recommendation for our new board members! We look forward to continuing to share our progress with you. 

Calling all Prek-12 Changemakers! Take a survey and join us in co-creating a map of the education R&D ecosystem in the United States that will outline who is working in the ecosystem, where they are working, and what they are working on. Information collected through this survey will be used to generate the map and deepen our shared understanding of the ecosystem.

Share Your Voice

Each month we’ll share the latest stories, news, and highlights from AERDF. In this special Women’s History Month edition, we highlight the bold and powerful AERDF women leading the charge in the predominantly male-dominated field of R&D. Enjoy!
Read the newsletter here.

We are excited to release our first newsletter of the year and share with you the latest stories, news, and highlights from AERDF. Our three program teams have hit the ground running in 2022 as they continue to pursue breakthrough outcomes in student learning, well-being, and opportunity
Read the newsletter here.

Five education teams have been selected to conduct research and development (R&D) on how assessment can be done differently to create affirming learning environments and improve learning opportunities for Black and Latinx learners.

These R&D projects are the first set of investments by Assessment for Good (AFG), which launched in 2021 under the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund with the goal of shifting the ways that Black and Latinx students ages 8-13 are assessed and served at a critical stage in their education. The funding awards range between $100,000 and $300,000 per project.

“We’re excited to take the next step in our journey to transform assessment,” said Dr. Temple Lovelace, AFG program director. “These projects will illuminate the promise of culturally affirming assessment tools that help identify students’ strengths, rather than their deficits, and enable educators and caregivers to make better decisions that lead to positive learning outcomes. We are proud to fund diverse teams with deep expertise in research and development and a strong commitment to co-create solutions with school communities.”

The teams announced today will create and pilot new assessment tools and frameworks that give educators and caregivers a better understanding of students’ strengths and how learning environments support specific aspects of their emotional and identity development. These insights can be leveraged to improve instructional practices and cultivate more affirming spaces that foster student wellbeing and learning.

The teams were selected through two initiatives, a request for proposals and the launch of AFG’s in-house research initiative. The cohort includes teams led by researchers of color who are dedicated to improving outcomes for Black and Latinx learners. Each team will work closely with school leaders, educators, caregivers, and learners to derive insights about the design, implementation, and effectiveness of each tool.

The teams will come together regularly to share updates on their progress and participate in collective learning activities with AFG program staff and each other. As their work moves forward, AFG will share what teams are learning about inclusive R&D.