Analyzing the Impact of COVID Recovery Funds in Education

As Massachusetts students, teachers, administrators, and families navigate yet another year filled with uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government is making an unprecedented $2.9 billion investment in the recovery and redesign of our schools. Community stakeholders across the Commonwealth want to know how these funds are being spent, and educators and district leaders want to ensure they are used to support sustainable improvement efforts. If spending is aligned with evidence-based strategies to drive equitable access and opportunity for all students, this one-time federal investment has the potential to dramatically accelerate learning, catalyze innovation, and support students' holistic growth and development. But how will we know whether it makes an impact? 

The Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, the CERES Institute for Children & Youth at Boston University Wheelock College, and Education Resource Strategies (ERS) have teamed up to launch the EdImpact Research Consortium, a new initiative designed to support evidence-based spending, analyze the impact of COVID recovery funds, and provide a platform for the field to learn from one another. 

Oftentimes, research organizations operate in silos, conducting analyses and producing resources that potentially duplicate each other’s efforts. Through this partnership, the Consortium will offer a one-stop shop of supports for educators, administrators, policymakers, and community stakeholders. As the Consortium grows we hope to build our partnerships and bring the wealth of the field into the conversation. 

EdImpact will support districts in five broad areas meant to accelerate equity-focused recovery and redesign. Described by ERS as Power Strategies, all five areas are based on strong evidence for how schools and districts improve:

     1. Empowering, Adaptable Instruction 
     2. Time & Attention 
     3. The Teaching Job 
     4. Relationships & Social-Emotional Support 
     5. Family & Community Partnerships

Within these areas, our efforts will include research on the most pressing issues of the day, a data dashboard to demystify COVID recovery fund expenditures, guidance on district implementation of evidence-based strategies, and events for stakeholders across the Commonwealth to understand the impact of COVID recovery funds. Eventually, we plan to evaluate the impact of federal funding and recovery strategies. 

How does EdImpact work? 
The Consortium is focused on a six-part strategy to support the field in maximizing the impact of COVID recovery funds and measuring the effects of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) investments in Massachusetts. Our goal is to provide timely analysis on how funds are being allocated, evidence-based recommendations for how these funds can be invested, guidance on school-based implementation, and, eventually, rigorous and independent evaluations of the impact of recovery efforts on student learning and outcomes. EdImpact’s key components are described below: 

EdImpact will create a Data Dashboard that will track how ESSER funds are being spent across Massachusetts districts. The Dashboard will provide both community-level and statewide information on how districts are allocating their funds across the 5 Power Strategies as well as other foundational investments such as instructional salaries, technology, health and safety, contracted professional development, and other key areas. 

In addition to a Data Dashboard, the Consortium desires to bring the field together and highlight great work from a robust community of experts through the creation of a Resource Toolbox to collect and share high-quality tools and templates. As a part of this toolbox we plan to release a series of Research Briefs focused on how districts can maximize the impact of ESSER funds to accelerate learning, catalyze innovation, and support students' holistic development. Recognizing that research briefs alone are not enough to spark change, we will partner directly with a subset of districts to create an incubator, through Implementation Support, for new and successful strategies that improve teaching and learning and can inform the larger field.

Finally, the Consortium will share findings from our ESSER analysis in a series of Convenings. This will include an event series led by the consortium, as well as information about ESSER-related events led by other organizations. The goal of the convening series is to share effective strategies and implementation guidance widely across districts. 

Once ESSER investments have been made and recovery strategies are well underway, the Consortium will begin formal research partnerships with districts on an Evaluation of Impact. Recognizing that not all ESSER-funded strategies will be sustained long-term, the goal of this work is to identify the highest-leverage innovations to be scaled and sustained in future years. We plan to publish a series of briefs on investments that proved particularly impactful, with the goal of providing guidance on long-term success.

What Happens Next? 
The EdImpact team has started to analyze an initial sub-sample of ESSER plans from 20 Massachusetts districts to understand the top areas of expenditure. This sample primarily includes Gateway Cities, along with a random sample of suburban districts with large ESSER allotments. The analysis is designed to examine how districts are investing ESSER resources and to what extent these investments are aligned with evidence of effective practice. We will also be releasing a series of research briefs in Spring 2022 discussing key issues districts and schools are currently facing, and how they are addressing them. The first brief will focus on districts’ investments in mental health, and the second will focus on K-5 math acceleration. In addition to these briefs, EdImpact will soon release our Resource Toolbox, which will direct school and district leaders to high-quality, evidence-based practice guides produced by external organizations.  

EdImpact Partner Organizations
EdImpact is a collaboration between the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, the CERES Institute for Children & Youth at Boston University Wheelock College, and Education Resource Strategies (ERS). As the Consortium grows, we plan to add additional partners to this effort.