AIR’s 2023 Evidence on Living, Learning, and Building Better Communities
For 76 years, AIR has been dedicated to generating and using evidence to improve people’s lives and enrich their communities. Although the focus of our mission hasn’t changed, the world certainly has. At AIR, we continue to adapt to the times: from adopting new research and technical assistance techniques, to addressing key challenges like climate change and school integration.
Below, we’ve collected some of our findings from the past year—lessons on how we live, how we learn, and how we can build better communities. Some of these lessons are evergreen; others are specific to circumstances or conditions. As the world evolves, AIR will continue to meet the moment, while always looking to our mission as a north star.
AIR By the Numbers
How We Live
The Topic: Climate Change
The Projects: The far-reaching consequences of climate change continue to make themselves more apparent with each passing year. AIR is invested in several climate change-related projects, such as anticipating food insecurity, initiatives for displaced individuals, the effects of environmental conditions on student achievement, and more.
The Lesson: Climate change is an equity issue that often exacerbates preexisting disparities. The most successful approaches will have global potential but begin on a community level.
The Topic: Afghan Refugees
The Project: In August 2021, more than 75,000 Afghan refugees were evacuated to the United States. Government agencies, resettlement agencies, and community organizations had to organize on short notice to address this group’s needs at scale. With funding from the AIR Equity Initiative, AIR is helping these multisector organizations collaborate more efficiently and advance health equity for this population.
The Lesson: Ongoing issues around global instability and climate change mean that refugee resettlement is not a flash-in-the-pan issue. Our government and community agencies need to plan and prepare for future short notice resettlements.
The Topic: COVID-19 Outcomes
The Project: The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the major disparities in the health care outcomes of marginalized populations in the U.S. AIR is partnering with the RADx-UP Coordination Center, which provides community-based organizations with data-sharing infrastructure, technical assistance, and information dissemination around COVID prevention and treatments with the goal of improving health outcomes in these communities.
The Lesson: When working with communities, it is important to step back and allow community members to drive the pace of the conversation to facilitate the gradual development of deep community relationships.
The Topic: The Importance of Mentoring
The Project: The makeup of the social science research field does not reflect the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of the communities that researchers serve. The AIR Equity Initiative’s Pipeline Partnership Program (P3) provides education and training in the expertise and skills required to sustain best practices in behavioral and social science research, as well as opportunities for formal and informal relationships with mentors.
The Lesson: When done correctly, mentorship is a two-way street—a relationship that enriches the lives, and work, of both participants.
The Topic: Public Health
The Project: Public health encompasses everything from domestic violence to medicine supply delivery to school safety. Systemic racism and other forms of bigotry have left many families and communities marginalized, and recent public health challenges, such as extreme weather events and global illness, have exacerbated these issues further.
The Lesson: Moving the needle on public health outcomes will require significant, coordinated partnerships across diverse sectors, agencies, experts, and providers.
The Topic: The Primary Care Provider Shortage in the United States
The Project: Primary care plays an essential role in the U.S. health care system. Unfortunately, a nationwide scarcity of primary care providers leaves many Americans without access to care, and the shortage is expected to grow. A recent AIR study examined the current incentives offered by the Health Services and Resources Administration that are designed to increase provider supply and patient access.
The Lesson: The current financial incentives for primary care providers to relocate and practice in a health professional shortage area have relatively muted effects. To truly tackle the provider shortage, more detailed analysis is needed to understand the factors driving supply issues.
How We Learn
The Topic: Equity in Education Policy
The Project: There are communities in the United States that have long experienced disparities in educational outcomes, and the COVID-19 pandemic worsened these gaps. AIR-led projects, including the COVID-19 Equity in Education Project and the PreK-12 RESTART Network, identify evidence-based strategies that can support accelerated learning and academic achievement, especially for students experiencing poverty.
The Lesson: The education system is deeply entwined with health care, housing, and the other systems that govern our daily lives. During the pandemic, in the best-case scenarios, these wide-ranging problems resulted in cross-sector community partnerships.
The Topic: Launching Apprenticeship Programs
The Project: More and more states are embracing apprenticeship training programs for youth. However, practitioners in charge of growing these programs can often feel like they’re working in isolation when they have much to learn from each other.
The Lesson: Organizing and connecting these practitioners across the country facilitates the sharing of best practices and a sense of community, which helps prevent professional burnout.
The Topic: Civic Learning
The Project: Meaningful civic learning helps prepare young people to contribute to thriving democratic societies through informed civic participation and community engagement. However, persistent achievement declines, revealed by recent civics and history assessments administered through the National Assessment of Educational Progress, have led to calls for improved instruction and learning outcomes across these topics.
The Lesson: Addressing significant achievement gaps in history and civics education requires improved curriculum and more robust teacher supports, paired with a more systematic approach to monitoring student progress.
The Topic: Educator Shortages
The Project: There is a widespread U.S. teacher shortage, and both state and national legislators are actively considering raising wages to improve teacher recruitment and retention. AIR analyzed existing research on current teacher salaries and outlined state-by-state data and guidance for considering teacher salary increases, providing a starting point for these conversations.
The Lesson: Low salaries are the most common reason educators cite for leaving the field.
Recognition of Our Work
AIR ranked tenth among employers that are creating meaningful career opportunities for women and people of color, up from 15 in 2022.
AIR was recognized as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion” by the Disability Equality Index for the second consecutive year. AIR achieved a 100 percent score, up from 90 percent in 2022.
For the third consecutive year, AIR was named to Seramount’s “Top 75 Companies for Executive Women.”
AIR was recognized alongside Fortune 500 companies in Ragan Communications and PR Daily’s annual list, which honors organizations instrumental in positively impacting communities. AIR’s Giving Tuesday campaign earned a spot as a finalist.
AIR’s work in refugee and migrant issues garnered a communications award for exceptional publication design and relevant communication.
How We Build Better Communities
The Topic: Credible Messengers
The Project: Mentors can be an invaluable resource for youth, especially those growing up under difficult circumstances. But mentoring relationships can flounder when there is a disconnect of understanding between the mentor and mentee. Credible messengers are mentors whose lived experiences mirror that of their mentees in some way.
The Lesson: A mentor’s life experience can serve as a credential in their work to guide, support, and encourage young people facing similar adversity.
The Topic: School Integration
The Project: Though deliberate school segregation is unlawful in the United States, schools remain persistently homogenous and unequal. The Bridges Collaborative is a first-of-its-kind initiative that brings together education and housing policymakers and experts to address these challenges.
The Lesson: Residential and school segregation are inextricably linked, but bringing interested parties from both fields together can help tackle the issues in new ways.
The Topic: Juvenile Justice
The Project: The U.S. justice system disproportionately polices and criminalizes Black and Brown communities, with particularly adverse consequences for young people. AIR is involved in evaluating numerous juvenile justice programs, including the Neighborhood Opportunity and Accountability Board, which seeks to implement holistic solutions that serve both individuals and communities, and hopefully break the cycle of ongoing justice system involvement.
The Lesson: There’s a common misconception that police and justice want to be involved in every situation—but in fact, they usually don’t want to be the only support system available, especially when a situation involves a wide array of needs that may not align with their strengths.
Expert Voices from the Field
- AIR’s first-ever woman president, Jessica Heppen, discusses the challenges and opportunities facing AIR in the near future.
- Karen Francis reflects on the faces behind AIR data projects in Zambia and Tanzania.
- Pooja Reddy Nakamura discusses how customization is key when designing literacy programs.
- Beth Ratway and Stefanie Wager explain key elements for developing social studies standards and why they matter.
- Christine Kiecha and Laura Hamilton highlight socioeconomic approaches and tools that can be used to engage in climate change mitigation efforts.
- Sara Wolforth shares insights on how positive connections outside traditional academics support teaching and learning at the National Governors Association Winter Task Force meeting.
- Dan Goldhaber and Michael DeArmond contribute to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report on the future of data in K-12 education.
- Alicia Espinosa and John Spence share how AIR designed and implemented a plan to improve equitable outcomes in career and technical education in Ohio.
- Terris Ross reframes the conversation around educational equity by asking us to redefine it.
- Laura Hamilton and Corey Savage discuss how a systematic approach to data collection, reporting, and evaluation should be part of the conversation around addressing growing achievement gaps.