Since 2013, research has been a central component of our foundation’s grantmaking, now comprising about 30% of our annual distribution. We fund research not only to uncover innovative solutions that improve the lives of all children, but to also evaluate our programmatic grants to ensure they’re having the best impact possible on the lives of children, families, and teachers.

So far in 2019, Overdeck Family Foundation has funded two new studies and renewed seven grants totaling $2,005,682 in research funding. This post is meant to give you a more thorough understanding of the types of research we fund, what we’ve learned so far this year, and how you can get involved.

Our Research Continuum

Our research funding spans what we call a research continuum, which starts at exploratory phase and extends to scaling and implementing (see figure below). The continuum is based on our own research funding, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) evidence tiers[1], and the common guidelines for education research and development created by the Institute of Education Sciences at the United States Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.[2]

At the Exploratory phase, we fund descriptive and correlational secondary data analysis to test and further develop early-stage hypotheses. Our foundation believes in building and learning from existing evidence, and thus, at this stage we also fund literature, landscape, systematic, and meta-analytic reviews. ESSA evidence standards do not include an exploration phase; however, we encourage potential research grantees to be innovative and demonstrate a rationale for their exploratory research when they think it will strengthen future work. For example, we are currently supporting Clayton Christensen Institute to descriptively capture the landscape of schools which have innovative practices as a key part of their school models.

At the Develop phase, we fund the testing and piloting of innovative and existing programs/concepts. Case studies, measurement, implementation and improvement science, as well as small RCT designs, are all encouraged at this stage. In this phase, research projects should meet ESSA Tier 4 of evidence by demonstrating a rationale through a logic model or theory of action, and seek funding to reach at least ESSA Tier 3, which is a well-implemented correlational study. A recent grantee in this phase is the University of Chicago, where researchers used a small RCT to evaluate the impact of a new math app on parent and child anxiety levels. After developing and testing the concept, we are now funding University of Chicago at the Validate phase to test the app efficacy in low-income populations.

Fifty-six percent of our research grants fall into the Validate phase, which includes supporting program evaluations with both quantitative and qualitative components. To date, we have funded 25 program evaluation studies that are either randomized controlled trials or quasi-experimental evaluations. We are especially interested in integrating cost analysis in program evaluations, and highly encourage our grantees and prospective grantees to pre-register their designs at an open registry such as the Registry of Efficacy and Effectiveness Studies (REES) and based out of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In our last phase, Scale and Implement, we fund research that evaluates the implementation of policies and the use of scaled best practices as they relate to improved student outcomes. We don’t consider our work done simply because a policy change may occur; we recognize the importance of studying that implementation to ensure that it maintains its efficacy at scale. Under this phase, we are currently supporting Waterford UPSTART to continue its efforts to expand to multiple states while researching and sustaining its impact.

So Far in 2019

As stated at the beginning of this post, in 2019, Overdeck Family Foundation has funded two new studies and renewed seven grants totaling $2,005,682 in research funding. Our new grants range from a nationally-represented teacher curriculum survey with RAND Corporation to a small program efficacy study on a math program with Teachers College, Columbia University.

As a foundation, we pride ourselves on Learning Better, Together and Thinking and Acting with Rigor—two of our core values. As such, we are excited to share learnings from our grantees who have completed their research studies this year. These include:

  • New England Basecamp found new insights on personalized learning (PL) in a mixed method study. Findings include the idea that teachers’ PL practices are driven by their beliefs about and relationships with their students; that PL makes a teacher’s work more challenging, especially when technology is involved; and that differences between teacher and student perceptions indicate an opportunity to further empower students as learners.
  • A J-PAL sponsored randomized controlled trial on early childhood literacy development found that the Big Word Club, a classroom-based digital learning program designed to increase the vocabulary of young children, increased students’ knowledge and retention of words included in the program (.25 effect size).
  • A Teach for America (TFA) National alumni impact study conducted in New Orleans used a social network analysis to conclude that TFA alumni are in positions of influence, have deep institutional knowledge, and are committed to creating impact in their current city.

Four of our grantees have updates and interim findings:

  • A New Leaders evaluation found a positive, statistically significant relationship on students’ math and literacy achievement—validating the “New Leader effect” previously reported in a similarly rigorous study.
  • Zearn completed year one of a two-year program evaluation. Early results show that administrators and teachers noted definitive increases in student engagement. They also hold positive perceptions of Zearn, want to continue using it, and recommend it to their peers.
  • Teach for America New York City is evaluating its regional redesign. Interim survey data shows improved hiring processes, recruitment tracking systems, corps member satisfaction rates, lesson plans, coaching, and seminar content.
  • DCPS LEAP’s (LEarning together to Advance our Practice) implementation study has brought a more nuanced understanding of the many ways the LEAP experience can differ across teachers. The researchers are nearly finished building the two-year district-wide database.

We are excited for what’s to come this year as we continue to expand our research grantmaking to new and existing partners.

Want to Apply for Research Funding?

If you would like to submit a research idea that fits within our continuum, click here and select Research Proposal in the dropdown menu. Please use 200 words or less to describe your idea. We are always open to new ideas and welcome your input, but please note that it is rare for unsolicited research ideas to result in funding. If we are interested in learning more about your idea, you will hear from us within 30 days.