Inequality by race, ethnicity, economic standing, and immigrant origin status is pervasive in the United States, and, in many ways, has become more extreme in recent decades. This inequality is evident across a range of systems, including the education, child welfare, mental health, and justice systems, and in varied settings, such as neighborhoods, schools, families, and communities. Young people from marginalized backgrounds face increasing barriers to achieve their potential in the academic, social, behavioral, and economic realms. The William T. Grant Foundation contends that the research community can play a critical role in reversing this trend. Toward this end, we support research to identify, build, and test responses to inequality in youth outcomes and opportunities.
To propose research on reducing inequality, applicants should:
- Clearly identify the dimension(s) of inequality to be studied (e.g., race, ethnicity, economic standing, and/or immigrant origins).
- Make a case for the importance of the dimension(s) of inequality.
- Specify the youth outcome(s) to be studied (e.g., academic, social, behavioral, and/or economic).
- Show that the outcomes are currently unequal.
Strong proposals will establish a clear link between a particular dimension of inequality and specific youth outcomes. Too frequently, across different types of research proposals we see, dimensions of inequality are referenced only in passing, and are not thoughtfully conceptualized. Sometimes in quantitative studies, they are used as moderators. Sometimes, qualitative studies do not conceptualize how the findings will inform a response to inequality. Proposals for research on reducing inequality should make a compelling case for why the inequality exists, and why the study’s findings will be crucial to informing a policy, program, or practice to reduce it.
“Programs” are coordinated sets of activities designed to achieve specific aims in youth development.
“Policies” are broader initiatives intended to promote success through the allocation of resources or regulation of activities. Policies may be located at the federal, state, local, or organizational level.
“Practices” consist of the materials and activities through which youth development is enabled (e.g., coaching, mentoring, parenting, peer interactions, teaching). Practices involve direct interaction with youth (though not necessarily in person, as technology affords direct interaction from anywhere).
We welcome different strategies to reduce inequality. For instance, inequality may be reduced by implementing a program, policy, or practice that helps disadvantaged students more than others, or by applying a universally beneficial approach in a compensatory way so that it especially benefits the youth who need it the most. Responses to inequality may also be informed by studies that offer critical insights on a key dilemma that practitioners or policymakers face in addressing unequal youth outcomes, or challenge assumptions that underlie current approaches. In all cases, the applicant must be specific about the dimension of inequality that is the focus of the study.
For instance, one policy for improving the academic outcomes of adolescents who come from homes where a language other than English is spoken and are classified as English learners is to reclassify them when they have the English skills to join mainstream classrooms. But we know little about whether reclassification helps English learners succeed academically, or at what stage of their language development it is best to reclassify these students.
Through one study that we are funding, Laura Hill and her colleagues are analyzing quantitative data to examine the causal impact of reclassification policies on English learner outcomes in Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified School Districts. The team will also conduct interviews to understand how policies and practices designed to reduce unequal outcomes were developed and how they actually work. Hill and colleagues will analyze how district leaders choose test score thresholds for reclassification, and will identify the challenges that central office administrators and school leaders and staff encounter in reclassifying students according to policy. Finally, they will investigate how leaders, counselors, and teachers support recently-arrived English learners, as well as those students who have been classified as such for six or more years, in courses specifically designed for them. The goal is to understand the conditions that promote favorable outcomes for English learners.