AIR 2021: A Year of Growth and Commitment Amid Challenges
A Message from Our CEO
2021 has been a year of challenges, growth, and commitment for the American Institutes for Research (AIR). It has also been a time for celebration.
We are ending this year by celebrating a milestone. AIR was founded 75 years ago—in December 1946—by John C. Flanagan, who launched this institution with the purpose of helping people use evidence to improve lives. While AIR has grown and changed over the years, the commitment to generating and using evidence is still at the core of our mission.
In service of that mission, this year our experts continued to work with government agencies, organizations, and communities across the nation and around the world to conduct research, evaluate policies and programs, and provide technical assistance to put evidence into action. We did so during a global pandemic and amid a racial reckoning that calls for all of us to reflect on how we do business; how we hire, support, and train our staff; and, how we invest our resources. In the fall, we were proud to launch the AIR Equity Initiative, a five-year, $100+ million investment in the generation and use of evidence to address the most urgent challenge facing our nation: systemic inequity.
We invite you to learn more about our mission-focused work by scrolling through this “year-in-review” report and by exploring our website. We look forward to the opportunities that lay ahead to make a difference in 2022, and beyond.
David Myers, President and CEO
Advancing Evidence, Improving Lives
Celebrating 75 Years
For more than 75 years, AIR has been using evidence to chart the path forward. Watch this video to learn more about our history, our mission, and the people who made AIR the company it is today—and will be tomorrow.
Our Landmark Investment in Equity
We committed more than $100M to the AIR Equity Initiative, an investment over five years to boost opportunities by compiling and acting upon research to confront the underlying causes of inequity.
Commitment to Diversity
“When people think about diversity, they often think about race and ethnicity, but it’s about much more than that. Diversity is about ensuring that the voices of many different groups are present at the table, which makes our thinking that much richer. Inclusion goes hand in hand with diversity because it creates the space and the opportunities for those diverse voices to be heard”
- Karen Francis, Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer
One AIR: Our Bold New Brand
With the need for evidence-based solutions growing, AIR has added the expertise and experience of three organizations—IMPAQ, Maher & Maher, and Kimetrica—to deepen and expand our research, evaluation, and technical assistance work in the areas of education, health, workforce, international development, and human services. This year, we also launched a new brand that honors our history and reflects our commitment to building bridges between knowledge and action.
AIR in the News
Our experts and rigorous research findings have been featured in some of the nation’s largest news outlets, earning more than 11,000+ media mentions.
Why Digitally Connected Real-World Environments Are The Key To Accessibility
October 7, 2021
American Institutes for Research Launches $100 Million Research Effort
Philanthropy News Digest
September 28, 2021
4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
August 26, 2021
We Had A Year To Experiment With Online Learning. What Did We Learn?
The Seattle Times
May 31, 2021
Amid Covid Deaths, Schools Aren't Prepared to Support Students Through Grief and Trauma
January 30, 2021
Our reach extends across the nation and around the globe, with work in 88 countries.
A Year of Engagement, By the Numbers
This year, our staff highlights include:
- 8 employee resource groups hosted 13 events
- 2 AIR fellows, Doug and Lynn Fuchs, received prestigious research awards
- 125 AIR authors were cited in research journals, periodical articles, and academic citations
- 378 staff have a doctoral-level degree
- 5 awards were granted to AIR as a top place to work for diversity and workplace culture
Our Approach to Giving
With a focus on equity and inclusion, AIR and our staff contribute time, talent, and funds to dozens of charitable organizations. This year, we contributed more than $265,000 to charities making a positive impact in communities where AIR staff live and work.
Research, Evaluation, and Technical Assistance
At AIR, evidence informs everything we do—from planning a project to evaluating its results. Below are highlights from 2021, reflecting our ongoing commitment to generating and applying rigorous evidence in the fields of education, health, human services, international, and workforce.
We’re not looking at it as learning loss, but academic recovery because we believe that our students are growing, they are learning, they are moving forward. It’s just not being accomplished in the way that we’ve done it in the past, which doesn’t make it wrong; it just makes it different.
Superintendent Jon Bartelt
Bloomingdale School District 13, Illinois
As school district leaders plan for the future of education, they must consider both how the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped the field, as well as how it may continue to influence where and how students learn. Since March 2020, AIR has conducted two surveys of district leaders—comprising more than 1,000 participants—as well as 20 interviews. This broad swath of information allowed us to find patterns and identify best practices on educational challenges that persist across the country, including digital learning, the consequences of lost instruction time, and how best to engage students and provide social and emotional supports.
Study: More Severe Suspensions Have Greater Negative Effects on Academic Outcomes, Attendance, and Future Behavior
AIR researchers analyzed 10 years of data from New York City to determine the effects of different types of disciplinary measures in schools. Proponents of exclusionary discipline practices—such as suspension—theorize that they deter misbehavior both from that student and their peers, and that removing the student from the classroom improves school climate and learning experience of others. AIR’s findings did not support this theory; in fact, the more severe the exclusionary discipline, the greater its negative effects were on a student’s future academic performance, attendance, and behavior.
School districts and state agencies that provide educational and social services are increasingly stretched for resources. AIR’s Standards for the Economic Evaluation of Educational and Social Programs, developed by the Cost Analysis Standards Project, aims to help decisionmakers optimize limited resources to improve outcomes. The standards are now cited by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) as a resource in its Standards for Excellence in Education Research. In this Q&A, AIR Principal Research Economist Jesse Levin and Researcher Amanda Danks discuss why the standards were developed, how they can be used, and why they are particularly relevant now.
The many systems—education, health, and employment—that are meant to support an individual’s well-being often don’t work together. Aligning Systems for Health, an initiative supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, aims to address these disconnects. In this Q&A, AIR Senior Researchers Tandrea Hillard-Boone and Karen Frazier explain the theory and practice of shared measurement, which works to create positive, meaningful change by engaging communities in data measurement.
Research-Based Resources to Help People with Chronic Pain and Health Care Providers Navigate Pain Management and Opioid Use
The opioid epidemic continues to be a major health crisis in the United States. Treatment options for people who rely on opioids and experience chronic pain and disabilities are neither simple nor straightforward. The Knowledge Hub, developed by AIR experts through a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, is designed to support individuals with chronic pain and disabilities, their families, and their health care providers. This centralized, easy-to-use database offers evidence-informed resources on pain management, opioid use, and accessing treatment for opioid use disorder.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been reluctant to seek out health care services, and rates of routine preventive care visits and chronic condition monitoring have dropped. Deferring care can have major adverse health consequences and will likely harm those who are already underserved by the U.S. health care system. AIR conducted a national survey to explore differences in how people used medical and dental services before and during the pandemic. The survey also gathered information about individuals’ feelings toward receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Ultimately, understanding the reasons behind hesitancy to seek routine care can inform—and hopefully strengthen—providers’ communication efforts.
While opioid overdose deaths have been rising in the U.S. for decades, there has been an unprecedented increase in such deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding where overdose deaths are occurring and pinpointing the need for and ability to access opioid use treatment are key to addressing this issue. AIR and IMPAQ experts analyzed data from a recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General study to understand differences between rural and urban areas.
AIR partners with diverse sectors at the national, state, and local levels to implement evidence-based community violence intervention strategies. These strategies prevent violence from occurring, interrupt violence that is already underway, and lessen harm among those who have already experienced violence.
Refugee children face several obstacles in enrolling in Turkey’s public schools. UNICEF’s Conditional Cash Transfer for Education program aims to address these barriers by providing bimonthly cash payments to eligible households. AIR conducted a rigorous program evaluation that explored the program’s relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, coherence and coordination, and sustainability.
IMPAQ, an affiliate of AIR, conducted a performance evaluation of Catholic Relief Services McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program project in Mali. The five-year program aimed to improve the literacy and health of 77,104 children in 264 primary schools in the Mopti and Koulikoro Regions.
Women’s groups with economic objectives—such as self-help groups, savings groups, and livelihood groups—have emerged as an important means of increasing gender equality, as well as women’s well-being, empowerment, and access to opportunities. The World Bank, in partnership with the Nigerian government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is supporting the implementation of one such women’s group, the Nigeria for Women Project. AIR developed a mixed-methods study to examine how this group affects both individual women and the overall group, as well as fidelity of program implementation and cost effectiveness.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing teaching workforce issues, including shortages, educator effectiveness, and declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs. However, new federal COVID-19 relief funds also offer states and districts opportunities to address these concerns both during and beyond the pandemic. In this Q&A, two leaders of AIR’s Center on Great Teachers & Leaders, Lisa Lachlan and Lynn Holdheide, share insights and evidence-based recommendations for education leaders as they address new and persistent staffing issues.
Today’s students are expected to enter the workforce already able to solve complex problems, master new technologies, and engage with members of diverse communities—skills associated with the concept of deeper learning. AIR has followed several cohorts of students into adulthood to better understand the lasting effects of deeper learning programs in high schools. In the latest study, AIR researchers examined whether attending a high school with a deeper learning program affected young adults’ experiences in the workforce and in their community.
A rapidly changing economy means employees need to be able to learn new skills as their needs evolve. At the same time, employers need an effective way to measure and track their employees’ new skills. A new AIR report, funded through a grant from Walmart, examines the landscape of employer skill validation practices, providing employers with up-to-date information about the current skills of their workforce. The report can be used to inform upskilling and reskilling efforts and to identify future recruiting needs.