The William T. Grant Foundation supports high-quality research that is relevant to policies and practices that affect the lives of young people ages 5 to 25 in the United States. The foundation funds research that increases the understanding of programs, policies, and practices that reduce inequality in youth outcomes, and research that identifies, builds, and tests strategies to improve the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth.
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.
To propose research on reducing inequality, applicants should clearly identify the dimension of inequality (e.g., race, ethnicity, economic standing, and/or immigrant origins), and make a case for its importance. Applicants should specify the youth outcome(s) to be studied (e.g., academic, social, behavioral, and/or economic), and show that the outcomes are currently unequal. Strong proposals will establish a clear link between a particular dimension of inequality and specific youth outcomes. Applicants should also include a compelling case for how the study is relevant to reducing inequality, not just to furthering an understanding of inequality as a problem.
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 most. Studies may address a key dilemma that practitioners or policymakers face in addressing unequal youth outcomes, or challenge assumptions that underlie current approaches. Within this research focus area, we support different types of studies.
We welcome descriptive studies meant to clarify the mechanisms for reducing inequality. We also seek intervention studies that examine attempts to reduce inequality. And we invite studies that improve the measurement of inequality in ways that will enhance the work of researchers, practitioners, or policymakers. For example, we supported measurement research on an observational tool that will help define and identify effective English language arts instruction for English language learners in elementary school.
Improving the Use of Research Evidence
The William T. Grant Foundation has long supported research to improve the lives of young people, but we know that there is considerable distance between the research we support and youth outcomes. The stakes of omitting or misusing research evidence are high, but too often research is absent from deliberations about policies, programs, and practices for youth. And the information needs of decision makers working on behalf of youth too rarely shape research agendas.
For the past six years, the Foundation has taken up these challenges by supporting empirical studies that increase understanding of how research evidence is acquired, understood, and used, as well as the circumstances that shape its use in decision making. But understanding the problem of research use is not enough. As we embark on the next phase of this initiative, we want to support studies of how to improve the use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth.
To that end, we are shifting our focus from studying how and under what conditions research is used to understanding how to create those conditions. This shift is significant in three ways:
- It invites studies that identify or test actionable strategies to improve the use of existing research. This includes descriptive studies that reveal the strategies, mechanisms, or conditions for improving research use. This also includes evaluations of deliberate efforts to increase routine and beneficial uses of research in deliberations and decisions that affect young people.
- It invites teams to identify or test strategies for producing more useful research evidence. This includes examining incentives, structures, and relationships that facilitate the production of research in ways that respond to decision makers’ needs and optimize researchers’, decision makers’, and intermediaries’ joint work to benefit youth.
- It calls for projects that test the assumption that using high quality research in particular ways improves decision making and youth outcomes.