July 22, 2021

July 2021 Research Rundown

By Krista Kaput

Welcome to EdAllies’ July Research Rundown: Our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation. This month, we are sharing studies on:

  • The impact of universal school meals on school climate, 
  • How learning acceleration can help address inequities, and 
  • Parent stances on returning to in-person schooling. 
1. The Effect of Universal Free Meals on Student Perceptions of School Climate: Evidence from New York City

Annenberg Institute at Brown University, June 2021

Universal Free Meals (UFM) is a program that provides school meals to all students, regardless of household income. Over the last decade, more schools have adopted it. To gauge whether UFM changes student participation in school lunch and student perceptions of their school climate, researchers used student survey and school meal participation data from the New York City Department of Education. A key finding was that participation increased for students who were already eligible for free meals. This change in student behavior supports the theory that UFM may alleviate stigma concerns for students. 

The researchers also found that UFM positively affected student perceptions of school climate, regardless of socioeconomic status or prior participation. Students reported lower rates of bullying and fighting. Of note, students who had a history of participating in the school meals program reported that they felt safer in school. 


All students deserve to have a school meal without punishment or shame, and recently Minnesota has taken several steps to ensure this is a reality. During the 2021 legislative session, after years of advocacy through the Healthy Hunger-Free Schools campaign, a bipartisan lunch shaming ban was passed. Schools are now prohibited from denying school meals to students that have an outstanding balance. Schools are also banned from engaging in other types of lunch shaming like barring students from graduation ceremonies, extracurricular activities, and field trips. 

While this is an important first step, the research findings indicate that increasing access could also play a role in reducing stigma. Advocates are also calling on policymakers to expand access to the federal Community Eligibility Provision program as a first step toward Minnesota providing universal access to school meals. At the same time, other states are going even further: This summer, California and Maine became the first two states in the country to establish permanent free meal programs for all students, serving as a model for the rest of the country. 
Read the Full Study

2. Accelerate, Don’t Remediate: New Evidence from Elementary Math Classrooms 

TNTP and Zearn, May 2021

Analyzing data from over 100,000 classrooms and over 2 million students who used Zearn’s K-5 online math platform during the 2020-21 school year, researchers found that students in high poverty schools were nearly twice as likely to be remediated—that is, taught content and standards designed for earlier grades—as students in low-poverty schools. They also found that in schools with mostly students of color, nearly 1 in 6 students were remediated, even if they had already mastered grade-level content. 

However, the researchers found that when educators implemented learning acceleration and exposed all students to grade-level materials, students of color and those from low-income families benefited the most. More specifically, they found that classes that experienced learning acceleration in schools with mostly students of color saw a much smaller increase in students who struggled with grade-level content compared to students in remediated classrooms, and they also found that students completed 49% more grade-level lessons. The findings were similar for schools with large populations of low-income students. 

The report ends with a series of recommendations—access to high-quality instructional materials, monitoring student progress, engaging with families—to help schools with designing and implementing learning acceleration for fall 2021. 


Study after study indicates that lost learning—particularly for students of color and low-income students—due to COVID-19 school closures is something we cannot ignore. As required by the American Rescue Plan (ARP), districts must use at least 20% of their funds to address learning loss. Furthermore, the Minnesota Department of Education recently announced that they will allocate half of their ARP dollars ($66 million) directly to public schools through a formula for learning recovery. As schools continue to decide how they are going to use these funds, it’s critical that they implement learning acceleration strategies and engage with families. 
Explore the Report

3. Will Students Come Back? School Hesitancy Among Parents and Their Preferences for COVID-19 Safety Practices in Schools

RAND Corporation, June 2021

This May, the RAND Corporation fielded a survey of over 2000 parents with school-aged children to gauge:

  • Parents’ willingness to send their children back to in-person schooling in the fall, 
  • The reasons why parents want to send their children back to school, 
  • Parental support for certain health and safety practices at school, and 
  • Whether parents planned to get their children vaccinated. 

Overall, 84% of parents surveyed indicated that they planned to send their children back to school. However, there were stark differences by race. While 90% of white and 84% of Asian parents indicated they planned to send their children back to school, this percentage dropped to 72% for Black and 73% for Latino parents. There was also a difference based on geography, with 91% of rural parents indicating they planned to send their children back, 84% of suburban parents, and 79% of urban parents. 

When asked about the reason why parents had decided to send their children back to in-person schooling, more than two-thirds of parents indicated that it’s because their children do better in school and because their children want to go back. However, only 56% of Black and 54% of Asian parents indicated that their children wanted to go back, as compared to 74% of white parents. 

With regard to school safety and health protocols, 71% of parents were concerned about classroom ventilation and 66% of parents wanted a mask requirement. However, there were stark differences between white families and families of color. Only 63% of white families indicated that classroom ventilation was essential to feel safe sending their children in-person, as compared to 78% of Black, 82% of Latino, and 89% of Asian families. Similarly, 86% of Black, 78% of Latino, and 89% of Asian families wanted a mask mandate to feel safe, compared to 53% of white families. 


In conjunction with districts engaging with families to plan for how they are going to address learning loss, they must also ensure family members feel comfortable with safety measures in place for in-person learning. After over a year of distance learning for many families, and in some cases illness and death in families and communities, frequent communication and two-way communication about COVID-19 is essential to supporting families, and to student safety. This is particularly critical for districts that serve large populations of students of color, as their parents are more hesitant to send them back to in-person learning. And if families are choosing to keep their children in distance learning, it’s imperative that districts ensure that they offer high-quality options that provide a rigorous and engaging learning environment. 
Explore the Results

MDE Decides How They Will Spend ARP Money

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