May 12, 2021

May 2021 Research Rundown

By Krista Kaput

Welcome to EdAllies’ May 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:

  • Variation in learning models for urban vs. rural districts during COVID-19, 
  • Long-term effects of universal preschool in Boston, and 
  • Impact of teacher implicit bias on student outcomes and discipline. 
1. Urban and Rural Districts Showed a Strong Divide During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

RAND Corporation, May 2021

A survey of 434 district leaders from 48 states and DC—weighted to be nationally representative—found stark differences between the percentage of urban, rural, and suburban districts that were offering in-person learning as of February 2021. Overall, just 17% of urban districts were offering full in-person instruction, compared to 42% of rural and 27% of suburban districts. This aligns with rural district leaders’ perception that their teachers and families had greater support for in-person learning. 

The survey also found that there were substantial changes to district schedules:

  • 29% shortened the school day, 
  • 18% decreased the number of days in the academic year,
  • 17% decreased instructional minutes, and 
  • 14% cut some non-core classes (ex. Arts and gym) to focus on core classes (math and reading). 

The survey also found that districts, where a majority of students were of color, were more likely to cut instructional minutes and offer remote instruction than districts where a majority of the students were white—ultimately translating to less instructional time over the course of the academic year. With that said, the survey also found that 56% of districts added social-emotional programming and 57% offered one-on-one tutoring or small group instruction to address learning loss.  


These trends match what we have heard anecdotally about education models in Minnesota over the past year—adding a layer of insight into the impact on instructional time. For the 2021 school year, it will be important to ensure we are setting students up for success with strong learning models that build on lessons learned in the past year, while also making up for gaps that have been exacerbated. There are active debates around what this should look like, including how to spend federal American Rescue Plan dollars, and how to continue offering reasonable flexibility given the unknowns of the pandemic in the coming year.

The House and Senate education omnibus bills both contain provisions that would allow districts to continue with distance learning for at least the 2021-22 academic year, without seeking approval as an official online learning provider. The Senate provision would allow districts to continue with a distance learning option for the foreseeable future, while the House provision contains more guardrails and puts a deadline for the end of the 2022 academic year. As the House and Senate work on compromising and deciding on final language, it’s important that we raise the bar for distance learning. The makeshift models over the past 15 months have had mixed results, and it’s critical that we move forward with a more intentional, robust approach that puts student needs at the center. 
Read the full results

2. The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston

National Bureau of Economic Research, May 2021

Researchers estimated the long-term impact of preschool enrollment on a range of outcomes, comparing students who received seats in a lottery system to those who did not. The researchers found that preschool enrollment correlated with increased high school graduation, SAT test-taking, and on-time college enrollment. Those who attended preschool also saw a reduction in several disciplinary measures, including the total number of suspensions, truancy, and juvenile incarceration. 

When broken down, their analysis found that the effects were larger for boys than for girls, but did not vary significantly based on students’ race and family income levels. The authors conclude by noting that their analysis shows the potential for universal access to preschool to improve education attainment for all students. 


Our youngest learners deserve to have high-quality early learning options that prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. Over the past decade, Minnesota has slowly begun to invest in both access and quality, but there is a long way to go to ensure that families have the support they need. There are proposals on the table to increase state funding for early learning scholarships, direct more federal funding to early learning scholarships, measure needs and outcomes through a kindergarten readiness assessment, and conduct an evaluation to support continuous improvement of the state’s Parent Aware quality rating system. All of these are important pieces of the puzzle in expanding access to preschool programming that we know can have long-term benefits for Minnesota students.
Read the analysis

3. Bias in the Air: A Nationwide Exploration of Teachers’ Implicit Racial Attitudes Aggregate Bias, and Student Outcomes

Educational Researcher, July 2020

In one of the first studies to try and quantitatively examine the relationship between bias and student outcomes, researchers used nationwide data and found that teachers’ implicit white/Black biases—as measured by the implicit bias association test—vary by the gender and race of the teacher. More specifically, teachers of color have lower levels of pro-white/anti-Black bias than white teachers, with Black teachers having the lowest levels of anti-black bias. A positive finding was that teachers with lower anti-Black bias are more likely to work in counties with more black students. However, in counties where teachers have more pro-white/anti-Black bias there were larger achievement gaps and suspension rates between Black and white students. While researchers noted that stronger causal evidence is needed before drawing firm conclusions, they also provided some recommendations around district hiring practices that aim to increase the racial diversity of teachers and school leaders as well as providing support to white teachers so they can identify their biases and improve their practice. 


All teachers bring implicit biases into the classroom, but the impact can be mitigated when educators work to identify, unpack, and address them. When that doesn’t happen, it can drive discipline disparities and has an impact on student achievement and engagement. In a state where 95% of the teaching workforce is white, this puts students of color—particularly Black students—at a disadvantage. The Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) is currently working on updating the Standards of Effective Practice—the common set of knowledge and skills all teacher candidates learn in prep—and has included standards that would ensure teacher candidates are learning about reflecting on their own practices and then changing practice accordingly. 

While this work happens, we must also be working to racially diversify the teacher workforce. Both the House and Senate education omnibus bills have the same language on a number of provisions—Grow Your Own Programs and Come Teach in Minnesota grants—that are aimed at increasing teachers of color, but with negotiations ongoing, it is unclear what might advance into law.
Explore the study

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