Philanthropic foundations like Rockefeller provide a critical source of funding for RAND research on issues that might not otherwise find sponsors.
February 9, 2022
It was the middle of another COVID summer. The Delta variant was surging. And schools were getting ready for the fall without really knowing what the fall would look like. Would parents feel safe sending their children back to the classroom?
The Rockefeller Foundation asked RAND to find out. The result was a survey of thousands of parents that found stark differences along racial and ethnic lines and showed what schools could do to ease the return to class. Researchers briefed the White House and the U.S. Department of Education on their findings.
It was the latest project to bring together Rockefeller and RAND to answer some of society’s most pressing questions. Months earlier, the foundation had also sponsored a RAND study to look at what worked, and what didn’t, when schools provided COVID testing for students. Taken together, the two studies provided some clarity at the very moment school districts were trying to see the future.
“Neither study would have happened without Rockefeller,” said Heather Schwartz, the director of RAND’s Pre-K to 12 Educational Systems Program, who led the parent survey. “They were 1,000 percent important—not just for us being able to do those studies, but for ensuring our findings had the high level of impact they did.”
Philanthropic foundations like Rockefeller provide a critical source of funding for RAND research on issues that might not otherwise find sponsors. Grants from foundations have accounted for around 40 percent of the money raised thus far during RAND’s fundraising campaign, Tomorrow Demands Today. That works out to just under $80 million.
The RAND–Rockefeller partnership provides a look at how important that funding can be. It’s been working for years to help make communities, and society in general, healthier, more equitable, more effective, and more resilient. When COVID shut down schools, it started asking what it would take to get them safely back open.
By Fall 2020, hundreds of public and private schools had started testing their students for COVID. Rockefeller sponsored a RAND study of those “early adopters” to see what other schools could learn from their examples. Researchers found that testing could be an effective tool to get students back into their classrooms, but costs were high. They recommended that districts seek out partnerships with local health systems and health departments.
Members of Congress cited RAND’s research in a letter calling on the departments of Health and Human Services and Education to help accelerate state and local testing programs.
Rockefeller next funded a series of RAND surveys that asked thousands of parents whether they felt comfortable sending their children back to school. The surveys, in May and July 2021, found that Black and Hispanic parents were much more hesitant. In the July survey, for example, 82 percent of Black parents and 83 percent of Hispanic parents said their children would be in class in the fall, compared with 94 percent of White parents.
Two-thirds or more of Black, Hispanic, and Asian parents said they would feel safer if schools had better ventilation, had their teachers vaccinated, maintained social distancing, required masks, and provided regular testing. White parents were 13 to 36 percentage points less likely than Black parents to say they needed those precautions in place to feel safe.
The findings were meant to provide a path forward—for schools, but also for The Rockefeller Foundation itself. In response, it pledged to “continue to do everything we can” to support schools and policymakers. “In-person learning is a continuing, clear priority for parents, but not at the expense of safety,” Andrew Sweet, the foundation’s managing director of COVID-19 Response and Recovery, said in a statement.
That is “an extremely meaningful finding,” he added, “as the pandemic evolves around us all.”