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New Philanthropic Initiative to Finance Studies of Youth Inequality

The newish leader of the William T. Grant Foundation has announced a very new initiative that could pour up to $11 million per year into the study of inequality among youth.

 Adam Gamoran, a onetime University of Wisconsin sociologist who took the reins of the foundation in September, is spearheading the effort to examine programs, policies, and practices designed to reduce inequality among young people between the ages of 5 and 25. Researchers will be interested to know that May 6th is the deadline for the first round of initial proposals. But if you can't meet that deadline, you will almost certainly have additional chances. Gamoran expects the initiative to last five to 10 years.

Youth inequality is nothing new, so I asked Gamoran why the foundation had decided to tackle this subject at this point in time. He explained that it was because inequality and barriers to social mobility were on the rise at a time when the nation's population was growing ever more diverse and immigration reform had the potential to "bring 11 million people out of the shadows." Gamoran then offered examples of some of the types of studies that would be of interest to the foundation:

  • Development of outcome measures: As a researcher, I was beyond grateful when someone told me about the foundation's (free!) Optimal Design software, which helps you design certain types of studies by estimating, among other things, how big a sample size you might need. Gamoran says the foundation would be interested in supporting the creation of additional tools and outcomes that pertained specifically to measurements of youth inequality.
  • Program impact: What are some ways that the Common Core curriculum standards, federal No Child Left Behind accountability waivers, and other programs and policies impact the level of youth inequality? Gamoran was especially excited by the idea that the waivers had permitted states to create "50 different accountability systems," the comparison of which might allow for "a kind of a natural experiment" on the ways in which testing and standards influenced inequalities. "One of the most salient dimensions of inequality among young people in our country is inequality by state," he said.
  • Inequality and Experience: Qualitative researchers, breathe a sigh of relief: The foundation is also interested in funding your studies of individual experiences and interpretations of inequality. (Certainly, this topic could also be the subject of quantitative studies while the previous two examples could include qualitative or mixed-methods research.)

With the new focus on inequality comes the retirement of the foundation's ten-year emphasis on studies of everyday youth social settings, although there is still an interest in social-settings studies that examine inequalities. An additional change is that, when it comes to all of the foundation's programs, the definition of youth has gotten younger, expanding downward by three years to children as young as 5. 

"The thinking here is that we really need to capture the whole formal schooling period," Gamoran said. "There's a lot going on prior to the onset of formal schooling but we have limited resources. There are other avenues for funding prior to age 5." 

Like most foundations that fund educational research, William T. Grant is interested in supporting studies that lead to real-world outcomes. As such, the foundation is continuing an initiative that funds studies of research use.

"It's unlikely that any single research study will find an answer that reduces the effects of inequality on young people's outcomes," Gamoran said.

Instead, he hopes that the foundation can help build a body of knowledge that influences and informs policymakers and practitioners from years to come.

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