At a time when limited government resources demand that the nation make the most of investments in social and education programs, policymakers increasingly need to make decisions on the basis of reliable evidence. MDRC has developed two-page memos for policymakers that suggest ways to make progress on critical issues. The first seven are below. Additional memos in the “Looking Forward” series will be released in the coming weeks.
How do we make the most of the promise of preschool, particularly as preschool programs become universal? How do we avoid the “fade out” of early positive effects as children transition to elementary school? This policy memo describes how enhancing children’s social and emotional development and their early math skills may be part of the answer.
Past and ongoing research offers direction for how to strengthen the most basic foundation for early childhood development: family relationships. This policy memo makes the case for building on this accumulating evidence to create new and innovative approaches to support children’s earliest years and the unique role of fathers.
Almost 7 million 16- to 24-year-olds are neither working nor in school. This policy memo argues that, while the research evidence on youth programs is mixed, there are some promising findings — and a resurgence in political interest — on which to build.
Too many community college students arrive on campus unprepared, get placed into developmental (or remedial) courses, and never complete a credential, graduate, or transfer to a four-year institution. This policy memo calls for bolder action to learn what works to improve developmental education.
America faces a two-pronged problem in higher education: increasing costs and low completion rates. This policy memo describes how offering financial aid that rewards academic progress may help students pay for college and complete their degrees more quickly.
Subsidized employment programs provide jobs to people who cannot find employment in the regular labor market and use public funds to pay all or some of their wages. This policy memo describes how these programs may be part of the answer for the long-term unemployed in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
The 700,000 incarcerated prisoners released each year face considerable obstacles to successfully reintegrating into their communities, and many return to prison. While state and federal agencies have mounted ambitious prisoner reentry initiatives, this policy memo explains that there is still much to learn about what works.
More Than a Job: Final Results from the Evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities Transitional Jobs Program
This report presents the final results of the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). CEO is one of four sites in the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social and education policy research organization, is leading the evaluation, in collabora- tion with the Urban Institute and other partners.
Based in New York City, CEO is a comprehensive employment program for former prisoners — a population confronting many obstacles to finding and maintaining work. CEO provides temporary, paid jobs and other services in an effort to improve participants’ labor market prospects and reduce the odds that they will return to prison. The study uses a rigorous random assignment design: it compares outcomes for individuals assigned to the program group, who were given access to CEO’s jobs and other services, with the outcomes for those assigned to the control group, who were offered basic job search assistance at CEO along with other services in the community.
The three-year evaluation found that CEO substantially increased employment early in the follow-up period but that the effects faded over time. The initial increase in employment was due to the temporary jobs provided by the program. After the first year, employment and earnings were similar for both the program group and the control group.
CEO significantly reduced recidivism, with the most promising impacts occurring among a sub- group of former prisoners who enrolled shortly after release from prison (the group that the program was designed to serve). Among the subgroup that enrolled within three months after release, program group members were less likely than their control group counterparts to be arrested, convicted of a new crime, and reincarcerated. The program’s impacts on these outcomes represent reductions in recidivism of 16 percent to 22 percent. In general, CEO’s impacts were stronger for those who were more disadvantaged or at higher risk of recidivism when they enrolled in the study.
The evaluation includes a benefit-cost analysis, which shows that CEO’s financial benefits out-weighed its costs under a wide range of assumptions. Financial benefits exceeded the costs for taxpayers, victims, and participants. The majority of CEO’s benefits were the result of reduced criminal justice system expenditures.
One of the greatest challenges that community colleges face in their efforts to increase graduation rates is improving the success of students in their developmental, or remedial, education programs — the courses that students without adequate academic preparation must take before they can enroll in courses for college credit. Emphasizing results from experimental and quasi-experimental studies, this literature review identifies the most promising approaches for revising the structure, curriculum, or delivery of developmental education and suggests areas for future innovations in developmental education practice and research. This analysis focuses on four different types of interventions for improving students’ progress through remedial education and into college-level courses, including (1) strategies that help students avoid developmental education by shoring up their skills before they enter college; (2) interventions that accelerate students’ progress through developmental education by shortening the timing or content of their courses; (3) programs that provide contextualized basic skills together with occupational or college-content coursework; and (4) programs that enhance the supports for developmental-level learners, such as advising or tutoring.
While research on best practices in developmental education abounds, little rigorous research exists to demonstrate the effects of these reforms on students’ achievement. Programs that show the greatest benefits with relatively rigorous documentation either mainstream developmental students into college-level courses with additional supports, provide modularized or compressed courses to allow remedial students to more quickly complete their developmental work, or offer contextualized remedial education within occupational and vocational programs. These strategies show the most promise for educators and policymakers who must act now, but they should also continue to receive attention from researchers. Many of the strategies have not yet been evaluated using more rigorous and reliable research methods, and/or early promising results have not been replicated in other settings.
This literature review also notes several promising reforms that merit further study: technology-aided approaches, improved alignment between secondary and postsecondary education, and curricular redesign that reconsiders the key skills that academically underprepared students will need in their careers. Finally, it flags two generic issues — placement assessments and faculty support — that will likely need to be addressed for community colleges to see large-scale changes in their developmental-level students’ achievement.
Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study: Findings After the Second Year of Implementation
This study examines the impact of intensive mathematics professional development (PD) on teachers’ knowledge and teaching skills for seventh-grade mathematics in rational number topics, such as fractions, decimals, percent, ratio, and proportion. The intensive PD studied includes over 100 hours of support in the form of summer institutes, seminars, and in-school coaching. Schools in 12 districts participating in the study were randomly assigned to receive the intensive PD activities or only the PD activities normally provided by the district. All seventh-grade teachers teaching at least one regular seventh-grade mathematics class within the treatment schools were offered the intensive PD during the first year of implementation. In six of the districts, the intensive PD was provided to eligible seventh-grade teachers in the study schools for a second year.
Findings after two years of implementation include:
- The intensive PD was implemented as intended, but teacher turnover limited the average dosage received. On average, the treatment teachers in the second-year impact sample received 68 percent of the full intended dosage. Because some teachers left the study schools and others entered as the study progressed, not all teachers had the opportunity to experience the full dose of PD.
- There was no evidence that the intensive PD resulted in improved teacher knowledge. There were no significant impacts on teachers, scores on a specially constructed teacher knowledge test or on either of the subscores. On average, about 75 percent of teachers in both the treatment and the control groups correctly answered test items that were of average difficulty for the test instrument.
- There was no evidence that the intensive PD had led to improvements in student achievement in rational numbers knowledge. Students taught by teachers in the intensive PD group and students taught by teachers in the control group performed similarly on a rational numbers test.
Designing and Analyzing Studies That Randomize Schools to Estimate Intervention Effects on Student Academic Outcomes Without Classroom-Level Information
This paper provides practical guidance for researchers who are designing and analyzing studies that randomize schools — which comprise three levels of clustering (students in classrooms in schools) — to measure intervention effects on student academic outcomes when information on the middle level (classrooms) is missing. This situation arises frequently in practice because many available data sets identify the schools that students attend but not the classrooms in which they are taught. Do studies conducted under these circumstances yield results that are substantially different from what they would have been if this information had been available? The paper first considers this problem in the context of planning a school-randomized study based on preexisting two-level information about how academic outcomes for students vary across schools and across students within schools (but not across classrooms in schools). The paper next considers this issue in the context of estimating intervention effects from school-randomized studies. Findings are based on empirical analyses of four multisite data sets using academic outcomes for students within classrooms within schools. The results indicate that in almost all situations one will obtain nearly identical results whether or not the classroom or middle level is omitted when designing or analyzing studies.
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