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July 10, 2024

Naseem Rodríguez earns $3.5 million Spencer Foundation Research Grant to transform education

Noreen Naseem Rodríguez
Noreen Naseem Rodríguez

Michigan State University Assistant Professor Noreen Naseem Rodríguez will lead the first-ever Transformative Research Grant from the Spencer Foundation.

The grant funds a multidisciplinary team study to conduct a large-scale study on community-driven initiatives to teach Asian American Studies in K-12 classrooms.

Their study across five states will explore how communities advocate for curricular policies mandating the teaching of Asian American studies and how these policies get implemented in schools and impact student learning. Ultimately, the project aims to develop supports for families and communities to successfully advocate for curricular changes and for policymakers, systems leaders, and educators to successfully implement ethnic studies courses in ways that increase learning and civic engagement.

The study takes place in the context of national politicized attacks on inclusive education, such as book bans and laws prohibiting authentic and truthful history. Against this backdrop, communities, parents, and young people have worked together to advocate for inclusive schools and curricula, and across the country, these efforts have resulted in key policy and curricular changes, including several states mandating the teaching of ethnic and Asian American studies. This provides a rich opportunity to study, at scale, how community-driven initiatives create curricular policy change and the conditions under which implementation results in the kinds of teaching and learning envisioned by communities. The variation in states’ policy approaches and the range in geographic and political context provides natural variation to also understand the multiple factors that influence policy change through community advocacy, implementation, and teaching and learning.

“Despite substantial evidence that well-designed ethnic studies courses can have a positive, lasting impact on students’ life trajectories, we still lack an understanding of how community and legislative efforts to include ethnic studies in the curriculum get translated into classrooms, particularly in different political contexts,” said principal investigator Noreen Naseem Rodríguez, an assistant professor of Elementary Education and Educational Justice in the College of Education at Michigan State University. “Our project proposes to provide teachers, policymakers, and communities with the knowledge, resources, and tools to implement ethnic studies curricula that transform learning at scale and allow students to dream and act for a better future.”

The project is a comparative case study of five states, using multiple methods and a longitudinal design. In each of five states where community movements have led to curricular changes, the team will use social network analysis, interviews, and observations to understand how communities successfully advocated for Asian American studies courses and how states implemented the teaching of Asian American and Ethnic studies in K-12 classrooms. The team will also develop new measures to assess the nature of the learning that takes place in Asian American studies classrooms, capturing student learning and civic engagement.The project will not stop, however, with documentation. Key to the success and long-term impact of their project will be ongoing collaboration with community partners, to build a set of resources, professional development opportunities, and tools to support communities in their advocacy work, policymakers in creating effective policy and implementation strategies, and educators in the teaching of Asian American studies.

These partners include:

  • AAPI New Jersey, a nonprofit organization supporting New Jersey educators by developing K-12 Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) curriculum and offering professional development to teachers across the state.
  • Asian Texans for Justice, a nonprofit organization supporting civic engagement and policy advocacy on behalf of Texas’ AAPI communities.
  • The E Pluribus Unum Project, a nonprofit group that led the statewide advocacy for AAPI histories to become a legislated mandate.
  • Foundations & Futures Asian American Pacific Islander Multimedia Textbook at Asian American Studies Center, University of California Los Angeles, a textbook project that is the first comprehensive digital textbook of its kind focused on AAPI content for high school and college students.

“This study will help us create the best resources possible to accomplish the many aims of ethnic studies pedagogy,” said Karen Umemoto, the Helen and Morgan Chu Chair and Director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA. “This not only includes an understanding of American history through the lenses of our diverse experiences, but it will provide the knowledge and abilities empowering students to work collaboratively across differences to create a more just, inclusive, democratic and equitable society.”

Spencer’s Transformative Research Grant funds innovative, methodologically diverse, interdisciplinary, collaborative research on education with the goal of transforming education systems for equity. TRGs focus on projects of up to five years in duration that identify a clear challenge, problem or opportunity of equity in education and will have transformative, system-level impacts. Only teams that have received a Spencer Vision Grant, which supports the collaborative planning of large-scale research projects, can apply for a TRG.

The awarded team includes scholars with diverse methodological and disciplinary expertise, including ethnic studies, curriculum studies, K-12 policy, learning sciences, case study analysis, survey methodology, and network analysis.  The team consists of Rodríguez and Co-PIs Sohyun An, at Kennesaw State University; Esther Kim, at College of William and Mary; Soo-yong Byun at The Pennsylvania State University; Michael Brown, at University of Michigan; and Jennifer Higgs at University of California, Davis.

This story originally appeared on the College of Education's website.

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