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Joint research initiative focusing on impact of COVID-19 pandemic on students, schools

The NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) and the NC Collaboratory, a policy research center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are leading a joint $6 million effort to spur research on the impact of COVID-19 on student learning and the evaluation of existing policies and programs aimed at overcoming those challenges.

This month, a funding opportunity was released seeking proposals from academic researchers in institutions of higher learning across the state. Working alone or in collaboration with stakeholder groups, applicants will be able to request a minimum of $150,000 and maximum of $500,000 for up to two years for projects aimed at helping educators and students recover from pandemic-related disruptions.

By forming this partnership, the Collaboratory and NCDPI’s Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration (OLR) intend to address the state’s pandemic-related education needs through collaborative research and evaluation. The goal of this funding opportunity is to generate information that will guide evidence-based decisions to accelerate learning for all students affected by COVID-19 while combating the impact of lost instructional time.

Ultimately, the partners hope the projects will help state and local governments, as well as the education system, address the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic on students across North Carolina, which have critical implications for the state’s future workforce and economy.

Created by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, the OLR provides districts and schools with resources and support to promote resilient recovery from the pandemic across the state. The OLR also seeks to address instructional time lost during the pandemic by developing, implementing, and evaluating state and district-run interventions.

“This joint effort will be instrumental for policymakers as we seek to address the most pressing challenges K-12 students and educators face as a result of the pandemic,” said Superintendent Catherine Truitt. “More importantly, this research provides a unique opportunity for the K-12 system to harness the research power of North Carolina’s great institutions of higher education.”

The Collaboratory was established by the NC General Assembly in 2016 to facilitate the transformation of academic expertise into practical information for use by state and local governments. In November 2021, the General Assembly appropriated $30 million to the Collaboratory for research and other activities that monitor, assess, and address the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19 across the state.

“Utilizing a large portion of our most recent funding to better quantify learning loss and develop mitigation strategies for our state’s K-12 students is of critical importance to us,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, Executive Director of the Collaboratory. “OLR’s guidance on research needs within our educational landscape will help us build a robust, multi-institution research portfolio to expedite post-pandemic learning recovery for our students and their families.”

Based on priorities identified by NCDPI, funding will be distributed by the Collaboratory across different tiers according to the scope of activities proposed by researchers, which may include combining research with active mitigation efforts to tackle ongoing student learning issues.

“Research takes time to perform, but in the meantime the issue will continue to have real-time impacts on students and their communities,” said Warren. “So we wanted to offer additional funding for researchers and their partners to implement programs that could provide more immediate support, rather than waiting for the end results of the research.”

Researchers will also be able to propose projects that evaluate educational recovery initiatives supported by the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER III) Fund, which provided $3.6 billion to North Carolina to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address students’ academic, social, emotional and mental health needs.

A full list of initiatives, as well as important questions that NCDPI is hoping to answer, is available in the funding opportunity instructions.

Staff

EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.