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GED 21st Century Learning Pathways Pilots

October 31, 2014 Comments off

GED 21st Century Learning Pathways Pilots
Source: MDRC

For the nearly 39 million U.S. adults who do not have a high school diploma, the General Educational Development (GED) programs and exam have served as the main avenue for improving individuals’ skills and helping them earn a high school credential. However, few students who start these programs ever get this credential and even fewer advance to the postsecondary education and higher-level training programs that could increase their earning potential. In response to this challenge, the American Council on Education (ACE) partnered with Pearson Inc. to release a new more rigorous GED test in 2014 that assesses the crucial thinking, writing, and analytical skills considered essential for success in today’s labor market. In addition, ACE partnered with the New York City Department of Education’s District 79 (D79), the Office for Adult and Continuing Education (OACE), and MDRC to create the Learning Pathways Pilots, a project aimed at improving students’ preparation for this new more rigorous exam.

The pilots focused on revising a K-12 writing curriculum (based on the Writers Express [WEX]) and an adult basic education math curriculum (based on Extending Mathematical Power [EMPower]) to align with the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core is a set of nationally recognized K-12 language arts and math competencies upon which the new GED exam was based. These curricula were then implemented in dozens of D79 and OACE classrooms. This report details the findings from MDRC’s evaluation of the implementation of these curricula over the course of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years.

Overall, the study found that the curricula were implemented broadly throughout both school districts and reached thousands of students. Administrators, teachers, and students saw value in the content of both WEX and EMPower, the curricula’s connections with the Common Core, and their ability to prepare students for the 2014 GED exam. However, a number of challenges arose in implementing the curricula. These included the transient nature of the student population and turnover in district leadership and management, which ultimately led to students receiving relatively few lessons from these new curricular models.

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Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color

October 30, 2014 Comments off

Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color
Source: MDRC

Despite progress on many fronts, young men of color still face many obstacles to success in American society and suffer disproportionately from economic and social disadvantage. In recent years, foundations and state and local governments have launched major initiatives to address this pressing issue. For example, in 2011, the City of New York created the Young Men’s Initiative, a $42-million annual program, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundation, to invest in the success of the city’s young men of color. In February of this year, the Obama Administration announced “My Brother’s Keeper,” a multimillion-dollar push by the government, foundations, and businesses to “build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color.”

In light of the momentum building to improve the fortunes of young men of color, this review takes a look at what is known about this population and highlights programs that are shown by rigorous research to be making a difference. It first examines the special challenges and struggles of these young men in the labor market, including problems related to their disproportionate involvement in the criminal justice system and their experiences in the educational system. A growing number of young men of color have become disconnected from the positive systems, institutions, and pathways designed to help people achieve success — high school diplomas, enrollment in and completion of postsecondary education or training, and ultimately career ladders leading to well-paying jobs.

Given these facts, the natural next question is: What can be done? Does this group of young men constitute, as some have labeled them, a “lost generation”? Or are there interventions that can provide real hope and real results? Can the nation’s institutions do a better job of increasing educational and labor market opportunity? Is there, in fact, a way to move away from deficit-focused characterizations of young men of color to ones that recognize and build on their resilience and strengths?

The second section of the paper reviews the results from high-quality, randomized controlled trials involving young men of color, some conducted by MDRC and some by other groups. It highlights a number of promising interventions, casting doubt on the conventional wisdom that nothing can be done.

Taking the First Step: Using Behavioral Economics to Help Incarcerated Parents Apply for Child Support Order Modifications

October 7, 2014 Comments off

Taking the First Step: Using Behavioral Economics to Help Incarcerated Parents Apply for Child Support Order Modifications
Source: MDRC

The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project, sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the first major opportunity to apply a behavioral economics lens to programs that serve poor and vulnerable families in the United States. Led by MDRC, the project applies behavioral insights to issues related to the operations, implementation, structure, and efficacy of selected social service programs and policies, with the goal of learning how tools from behavioral science can be used to deliver programs more effectively and, ultimately, to improve the well-being of low-income children, adults, and families.

This report presents findings from a behavioral intervention designed to increase the number of incarcerated noncustodial parents in Texas who apply for modifications to reduce the amount of their child support orders. Incarcerated noncustodial parents have a limited ability to pay their child support orders each month, due to their incarceration, which can lead to the accumulation of significant child support debt. The Texas Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG’s) Child Support Division operates a program that contacts incarcerated noncustodial parents via mail, informs them of the option to apply for order modifications, and provides instructions on how to begin the process. In the past, less than one-third of contacted parents responded to the outreach and applied for a modification — less than expected, given the benefits they gain from modifying their orders.

The BIAS project diagnosed bottlenecks in the application process, hypothesized behavioral reasons for the bottlenecks, and designed behaviorally informed changes to the mailing sent to incarcerated noncustodial parents. It revised the letter to make it more readable, printed it on blue paper so that it would stand out, pre-populated a section of the application, and sent a postcard before the letter was sent and another postcard following the letter to those who had not responded. While this was a low-cost effort (less than $2 per person), the revised outreach increased the application response rate to 39 percent, an 11 percentage point increase over the control group’s response rate of roughly 28 percent. Program administrators hope that this is an important first step in a causal chain hypothesized to reduce child support arrears owed, leading, in turn, to an increase in the likelihood that, on release, parents will support their children.

Paycheck Plus: A New Antipoverty Strategy for Single Adults

May 27, 2014 Comments off

Paycheck Plus: A New Antipoverty Strategy for Single Adults
Source: MDRC

Over the past several decades, workers with college degrees have seen their wages rise substantially, in tandem with the nation’s economic growth. However, wages for less-skilled workers, specifically those without a college education, have followed a dramatically different course. Many less-educated workers have faced increasing hardship as their wages stagnated over the past 30 years and some — particularly men — have seen their earnings fall sharply. This decline in the payoff to work has reduced employment and contributed to persistently high poverty rates and growing economic inequality. The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) supplements the earnings of low-wage workers and has become one of the nation’s most effective antipoverty programs. However, because most of its benefits go to low-income workers with children, it only reaches a minority of low-wage workers. Although low-income workers without dependent children are eligible for the EITC, benefits for this group are nominal in comparison with those received by families with children.

This brief describes Paycheck Plus, a pathbreaking demonstration project testing a new EITC-like earnings supplement for low-income single adults that aims to improve their economic circumstances while promoting employment. The project recently completed its first milestone, recruiting and enrolling over 6,000 individuals, with half assigned at random to a program group eligible for the supplement and the other half assigned to a control group not eligible for the supplement. MDRC will follow both the program and control groups for several years, to assess the supplement’s effects on economic well-being, work, and other outcomes. Funded by New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) and the Robin Hood Foundation and managed by MDRC, the project is a direct response to the downward trend in employment, wages, and earnings among New York’s and the nation’s least-skilled workers. Paycheck Plus could serve as a national model and add to the current bipartisan discussion about supporting low-wage work, increasing the minimum wage, and expanding the EITC.

Encouraging Low- and Moderate-Income Tax Filers to Save

April 16, 2014 Comments off

Encouraging Low- and Moderate-Income Tax Filers to Save
Source: MDRC

SaveUSA, a voluntary program launched in 2011 in four cities (New York City, Tulsa, San Antonio, and Newark), encourages low- and moderate-income individuals to set aside money from their tax refund for savings. Tax filers at participating Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites can directly deposit all or a portion of their tax refund into a special savings account, set up by a bank or credit union, and pledge to save between $200 and $1,000 of their deposit for about a year. Money can be withdrawn from SaveUSA accounts at any time and for any purpose, but only those who maintain their initially pledged savings amount throughout a full year receive a 50 percent match on that amount. Account holders, irrespective of match receipt, can deposit tax refund dollars in subsequent years and become eligible to receive additional savings matches on their new tax refund deposits.

This report presents findings on SaveUSA’s implementation in all four cities and its early effects on savings and other financial outcomes in two cities: New York City and Tulsa. In these latter cities, a randomly selected half of the tax filers who were interested in SaveUSA in 2011 could open accounts (the “SaveUSA group”), but the other half could not (the control group). The report compares the savings and other financial behaviors of the two groups over time to estimate SaveUSA’s effects. The findings thus suggest the effects that savings policies structured similarly to SaveUSA might have.

Beyond the GED: Promising Models for Moving High School Dropouts to College

February 7, 2014 Comments off

Beyond the GED: Promising Models for Moving High School Dropouts to College
Source: MDRC

Nearly 39 million adults in the United States do not have a high school diploma. Roughly two-thirds of them eventually obtain a high school equivalency credential like the General Educational Development (GED) certificate, with the hope of then obtaining a job. But in today’s changing economy, possessing a GED certificate ― while helpful for finding employment ― often isn’t enough, and many GED recipients will continue to struggle in the labor market. Postsecondary education is also helpful to improve their employment prospects, but fewer than 5 percent of GED recipients go on to enroll in college or other adult education programs.

Emphasizing results from quasi-experimental and experimental research, this literature review identifies the most promising approaches for increasing dropouts’ rate of attaining a GED certificate or other high school credential and making a successful transition to college. The report divides these recent interventions into three primary types of adult education reforms: (1) efforts to increase the rigor of adult education instruction and the standards for achieving a credential; (2) GED-to-college “bridge” programs, which integrate academic preparation with increased supports for students’ transition to college; and (3) interventions that allow students to enroll in college while studying to earn a high school credential.

The Impact of Family Involvement on the Education of Children Ages 3 to 8

November 13, 2013 Comments off

The Impact of Family Involvement on the Education of Children Ages 3 to 8
Source: MDRC

This report summarizes research conducted primarily over the past 10 years on how families’ involvement in children’s learning and development through activities at home and at school affects the literacy, mathematics, and social-emotional skills of children ages 3 to 8. A total of 95 studies of family involvement are reviewed. These include both descriptive, nonintervention studies of the actions families take at home and at school and intervention studies of practices that guide families to conduct activities that strengthen young children’s literacy and math learning.

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