We hope you enjoyed yesterday’s network lead spotlight! Today, we would like to introduce Dr. Susan Therriault, director, K–12 Systemic Improvement Portfolio at the American Institute for Research. Dr. Therriault’s network, the PreK-12 Research on Education Strategies to Advance Recovery and Turnaround (RESTART) Network, aims to coordinate activities across research teams and provides national leadership on learning acceleration and recovery from pandemic-induced learning loss, sharing findings from the network with education agencies across the United States. Happy reading!
NCER: What are the mission and goals of the PreK–12 RESTART (Research on Education Strategies to Advance Recovery and Turnaround) Network?
Dr. Therriault: The PreK–12 RESTART Network is an opportunity to develop a coherent and connected research community that speaks directly to the needs of policymakers, leaders, and practitioners. The network focuses on identifying and disseminating evidence-based strategies aligned with the needs of policymakers, leaders, and educators who are serving and supporting accelerated student recovery efforts. This requires the network to identify critical needs of the field and support the research community in developing coherent and coordinated research strategies that build evidence for practices that ensure student recovery—especially among students who have disproportionately struggled in the pandemic context. The PreK–12 RESTART Network will achieve this by need sensing, synthesizing evidence, and building a community that makes meaningful connections between the research community and policymakers, leaders, and educators.
NCER: Why is the PreK–12 RESTART Network important to you?
Dr. Therriault: The PreK–12 RESTART Network is important to me because, as a researcher, I have watched how the pandemic and subsequent aftershocks of the pandemic have created disruptions to our lives and our public pre-K to 12 education system. The pandemic created fragmentation and division as communities responded and supported individuals in a context marked by social distance and separation. While there are many common challenges across communities, limited social connection affected our ability to share evidence-based solutions and to equitably address the needs of all members of our communities, especially those communities most adversely impacted by COVID-19, including Black and Latinx communities and those marked by poverty and housing and food insecurity.
NCER: How do you think the PreK–12 RESTART Network will impact the pre-K to 12 community?
Dr. Therriault: The PreK–12 RESTART Network is an opportunity to develop a coherent and connected research community that speaks directly to the needs of policymakers, leaders, and practitioners. The key differentiator of the network is that it is purposefully designed to assess needs and engage the research community in providing insight and building evidence for solutions to address those needs.
The network has an important role to play in drawing researchers together to develop measurement solutions and build consensus for approaches to conducting and making meaning of research so that it informs the field. These solutions will be shared with the field to create a more coherent research agenda informed by needs.
The network will ensure that policymakers, leaders, and educators are able to easily access network evidence syntheses and research-team findings through multiple communication formats. Information will be shared through actionable guidance and recommendations purposefully designed for these audiences. A combination of strategies will ensure accessibility. These include digital tools and dashboards that school leaders can easily use to adapt to their circumstances and access to evidence-based strategies by offering recorded webinars, tutorials, videos, and other learning formats.
NCER: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about recovery in pre-K to 12 education?
Dr. Therriault: The magnitude of the challenge of pandemic recovery in the pre-K to 12 education system is vast and will require new ways of approaching education and support for students. In turn, with the investment of American Rescue Plan funds in schools, this will likely lead to evidence-based innovation and deeper understanding of how to design an education system, district, and school to meet student needs.
The needs of students are varied and highly connected to the experience during the pandemic and after the pandemic; thus, family and community factors are highly relevant and critical to understanding student needs and strategies to address these needs. Recently released NAEP scores provide evidence of the variation and suggest more-significant losses in mathematics and English language arts for students living in low-income households compared to their peers who are not. Further, students living in low-income households were more likely to report not having a place to do work or access to a computer or adequate uninterrupted time compared to their peers. These are critical factors in a remote and even a hybrid learning environment. These differences in experience exacerbate differences in outcomes during the pandemic.
NCER: What are some of the biggest challenges to recovery in pre-K to 12 education?
Dr. Therriault: The amount of need among students and their families and the fatigued pre-K to 12 education system workforce are the biggest challenges to recovery. Adding to this challenge is the focus on expanding learning time through summer school or longer school days in an effort to accelerate learning. This requires teachers and leaders at a time when, like many of us, they are experiencing burnout.
Finally, we know that most students suffered learning loss and more during the pandemic. Supporting students emotionally as well as academically is necessary for recovery. While many schools have provided emotional support to students prior to the pandemic, the current need is far greater than schools have experienced. This will require extensive outreach to community support and services and additional interventions.
NCER: What are some effective ways to translate education research into practice so that your work will have a direct impact on states, districts, and schools?
Dr. Therriault: There are several ways we plan to support the translation of research to practice through the PreK–12 RESTART Network. These include:
- Understanding and sharing needs of the field.
- Conducting needs assessments of the field to examine the evolving needs and share these with the research community.
- Identifying, sharing, and amplifying evidence-based strategies that respond to the needs of the field.
- Exploring existing and emerging research to identify evidence-based strategies and interventions that align evidence syntheses with the needs of the field.
- Providing actionable guidance and recommendations that can be easily implemented across different schools and are customized based on need.
- Creating digital tools that school leaders and educators can use to adapt to their circumstance.
- Building a coherent and coordinated research community focused on pandemic recovery research.
- Connecting and building consensus among researchers through convenings and solutions working groups that address challenges to conducting research in the pandemic context.
- Empowering research teams to build studies that align with needs in the field through meaningful connections with policymakers, leaders, educators, and other members of the research community.
- Supporting engagement and preparation of early-career researchers through trainings and networking opportunities.
NCER: What are some barriers to the uptake of the research outcomes by these organizations?
Dr. Therriault: One of the critical barriers to uptake is timing. States, districts, and schools cannot wait for findings and results—they must act to support the students they have in their classrooms right now. The syntheses and reviews of prior research will help point educators in the direction of interventions and other supports that have a strong evidence base. The researchers participating in the RESTART Network will be supported in rapidly sharing and disseminating findings over the course of their studies to inform decision-making about how best to help students’ academic recovery.
Thank you for reading our conversation with Dr. Susan Therriault! We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know NCER’s network leads throughout our grantee spotlight series. Let us know your thoughts on the series on Twitter at @IESResearch.