News Kevin Gee

Kevin Gee Establishes SPARC Center at School of Education

Research will focus on children experiencing adverse life and social circumstances

Portrait of Kevin Gee

In May 2024, Dr. Kevin Gee, professor and Chancellor’s Fellow in the School of Education, established the School Policy, Action, and Research Center (SPARC). The School’s newest center, SPARC generates research leading to actionable insights that can support the educational wellbeing of vulnerable youth. The center’s work supports children experiencing adverse life and social circumstances, including Asian American and Pacific Islander youth who have been bullied, children experiencing chronic absenteeism, and youth in the child welfare system.

These three populations were already overlooked and underserved before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gee noted, and their needs have only increased since. “Chronic absenteeism has doubled in certain grades, with kindergarten absenteeism skyrocketing,” he said. “Bullying has intensified for certain ethnic groups. More foster youth than usual dropped off school rolls, with districts not knowing where they are. All of these issues are likely to have long-term ramifications on the future trajectories of these students. And with state budget cuts and teacher shortages, I’m afraid that they will continue to be underserved.”

Despite the increasing impact on these populations, educators and policymakers often remain unaware of the challenges they face. “For example, I’ve had people say to me that they didn’t realize that Asian American students get bullied,” Gee said. “And yes, they do experience bullying, and at higher rates than many other populations, so we really need to call attention to that.”

But beyond raising awareness, Gee wants to help policymakers, practitioners and school leaders take action. Gee notes that education policy starts at the federal, state or district level, but if schools don’t have guidance on how to enact policies, then the policy work can’t have the desired impact. “We’re trying to develop insights for our research that can guide what’s happening in schools,” he said. “Schools are where all the action happens, where the frontline contact between teachers and students happens, and where principals enact their leadership. That’s where we can best create change.”

SPARC is building on collaborations already established by Gee, working in particular with Attendance Works at the national level, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence at the state level, and the Center for Poverty & Inequality Research at UC Davis. “This work can’t be done in a vacuum,” Gee said. “These organizations are critical to us for both conducting research and for disseminating it. Research shouldn’t just sit behind a paywall. It has to reach the people who can directly use it.”

With the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, for example, Gee and his team are partnering with school districts to visit schools that have lower chronic absence rates. “We want to learn what these schools are doing,” he said. “It’s our bright spot initiative—we’re trying to shine a light on what they’re doing right so that we can disseminate best practices to struggling districts.”

SPARC has released two publications, the report “Bullying of California’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Youth: Who is Most at Risk and What Can Schools Do?” and the article “Hate Speech Against Asian American Youth: Pre-Pandemic Trends and The Role of School Factors,” published in Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Both publications include graduate or undergraduate student authors. “SPARC will provide great opportunities for student researchers,” said Gee. “It’s of benefit to them in their educational development, and it’s a way to train the next generation of leaders and researchers who have an eye towards creating change on the ground for kids in schools.”

Learn more about SPARC and the center’s latest research.

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