Bezos Family Foundation, Doris Duke Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and William T. Grant Foundation Award Grants to Four Partnerships Addressing Social Issues
The William T. Grant Foundation, Spencer Foundation, Doris Duke Foundation, and the Bezos Family Foundation are delighted to announce the winners of the 2023 Institutional Challenge Grant competition. The Institutional Challenge Grant encourages university-based research institutes, schools, and centers to grow existing research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations in order to reduce inequality in youth outcomes. Equally important, grantee institutions must shift their policies and incentives to value collaborative work and enhance the capacity of the partner organization to use evidence from research in its decision-making.
The newest grants, amounting to nearly $2.6 million, have been awarded to the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Illinois Chicago, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Virginia. These institutions will work in partnership with local nonprofits or public agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of a trauma-informed restorative justice program in diverting youth, particularly Black and Latinx youth, from the juvenile justice system; examine the potential of a principal preparation program to reduce racialized student achievement disparities; reduce barriers to college and career readiness for youth of color and youth from low-income backgrounds; and leverage research to reduce disparities in early post-secondary course participation for Black and Hispanic youth, English learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.
Adam Gamoran, president of the William T. Grant Foundation, stated: “As we emerge from the pandemic, we should not be surprised to have learned that youth of color and low-income youth have been particularly hard hit. These grants will address challenges in the education and justice systems, where we witness many inequities. That is why we are particularly delighted that the Bezos Family Foundation joins the Spencer Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation this year to support this important work, enabling us, for the first time, to award four grants.”
Institutional Challenge Grantees conduct rigorous research on strategies to reduce inequalities in youth outcomes, take steps to enhance an institutional infrastructure for supporting and rewarding community-engaged research, and strengthen the capacity of partner agencies to use research in their practice.
The program’s twelve previously funded partnerships are demonstrating success in all three areas. After one partnership identified gaps in the placement of Black and Latinx youth in city summer internship positions, for example, they piloted a new job matching process, which preliminary findings suggest reduced racial inequalities in job placement. Other projects have demonstrated the potential for significant institutional change, including new university leadership positions focused on encouraging and supporting community engaged research and new criteria for evaluating faculty that conduct community engaged research. Finally, to achieve the goal of strengthening the capacity to use research evidence, one partnership placed an evaluation officer within a department of education to provide technical assistance and support the use of research evidence; the research partner’s evaluation of a principal leadership training program was used by the department to inform the redesign of Principal and Teacher Professional Standards.
Sam Gill, president and CEO of Doris Duke Foundation, commented: “Engaging communities in research that affects their lives enhances the quality of the insights and the application. We applaud these grantees for changing the paradigm of academic research in ways that will increase knowledge and contribute positively to our society and communities.”
Jody Rosentswieg, Director of Strategic Initiatives, said, “The goals of the Institutional Challenge Grant align well with Bezos Family Foundation’s work to advance the science of learning. By partnering with organizations who want to build their capacity to better understand, conduct, and use research, we can improve the opportunities for young people to realize their potential. We’re equally excited that the Institutional Challenge Grant aims for changes to expand support for the next generation of professionals who are passionate about socially-impactful research.”
Na’ilah Suad Nasir, president of the Spencer Foundation stated: “We are pleased to continue our support of the Institutional Challenge Grant program. We applaud its important mission of championing research-practice partnerships among public agencies, community-based organizations, other non-profits, and researchers, all of whom are committed to reducing youth inequalities and working toward institutional change. This is the critical work of our time.”
This year’s Institutional Challenge Grants:
Bridging Institutions to Close Youth Opportunity Gaps
Ben Allen, University of Virginia; Daphne Keiser, Albemarle County Public School
Co-funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Bezos Family Foundation.
This grant will strengthen an emerging partnership between the University of Virginia and Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS). Working through the university’s Center for the Redress of Inequity through Community-Engaged Scholarship (the Equity Center), this project will reduce barriers to college and career readiness for youth of color and youth from low-income backgrounds from the local community surrounding the university.
Embodying a commitment to community-engaged research, the University of Virginia is matching this grant to The Equity Center in order to double the impact of the award. In turn, the Equity Center will lead various efforts to elevate and promote its mission to build and sustain research practice-partnerships within the greater Charlottesville region to address racial and economic inequities. In addition, the team will work with the Provost’s Office and the university’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to outline and distribute best practices for supporting community-engaged research across university departments, as well as identify benchmarks for success.
Disrupting Inequalities Along the Path to College and Career: A Partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools and Vanderbilt University
Sean Corcoran, Vanderbilt University, Matthew Nelson, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
Co-funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Bezos Family Foundation.
This grant will strengthen the Nashville Partnership for Educational Equity Research (PEER), a partnership between Vanderbilt University and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, in understanding and addressing disparities in early postsecondary opportunities. PEER will leverage research to improve college and career readiness and reduce disparities in early post-secondary course participation for Black and Hispanic youth, English learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.
While Vanderbilt had been committed to partnership work prior to this grant, they will leverage the award to capitalize on their early investments. Vanderbilt will review and expand tenure and promotion guidelines to reflect the value of partnership research, develop and maintain a repository of exemplars of partnership research to increase its visibility, deepen faculty learning about partnership work and spark collaborative efforts, and create new course offerings on community engaged research.
Shelby Cosner, University of Illinois, Chicago; Devin McFarland Swartley, Chicago Board of Education; and Allison Tingwall, Chicago Public Schools
Co-funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Bezos Family Foundation.
This grant will strengthen an existing partnership between the Center for Urban Education Leadership at the University of Illinois Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools. The project, C2-PP, will examine the potential of a principal preparation program to reduce racialized student achievement disparities, which persist despite overall gains in the district. The partners will enhance an existing principal preparation program to strengthen the racially-focused, equity-oriented leadership practices of school leaders to create organizational conditions that support racially equitable learning environments for students. The research meets a need identified by Chicago Public Schools’ leadership to address racial inequalities in academic outcomes by strengthening school leadership.
Institutional change is already underway at the College of Education at the University of Illinois Chicago. The College has established a leadership team of faculty and staff to identify strategies to bridge collaboration and communication across department siloes about community engaged research. In addition, the College will advance policies and practices that support and recognize community-engaged research, such as tenure and promotion policies and processes and professional development opportunities.
Restoring Justice and Reimaging Research: Building Community to Disrupt the Cycle of Violence and Enhance Research-Practice Partnerships
Becky Pettit, University of Texas at Austin; Courtney Robinson, The Excellence and Advancement Foundation
Co-funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, and the Bezos Family Foundation.
This grant will support a partnership between the University of Texas at Austin, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the Excellence and Advancement Foundation, the Amala Foundation, and Youth Rise Texas to divert young people from the criminal justice system and promote healing for young people and their families through restorative justice practices.
The locus of institutional change at the University of Texas at Austin will be the newly launched Initiative for Law, Societies, and Justice. The University will leverage the Institutional Challenge Grant to elevate the work of the initiative, which is tasked with advancing community-engaged research in ways that are reflected in university hiring and tenure and promotion decisions across colleges, schools, and units, as well as evaluating and refreshing memoranda of understanding with institutional partners working in violence prevention or harm reduction. The university’s recent strategic plan emphasizes place-based research in the local community, and university leaders see this partnership as a model for the others to emulate. Overall, the team hopes to establish mechanisms to facilitate and sustain research-practice partnerships, advance shared learning through community convenings, and further develop university policies and practices that place value on collaborative research with community partners.