Evidence First

Policymakers talk about solutions, but which ones really work? Join Therese Leung as she talks with MDRC researchers about the best evidence available on education and social programs that serve low-income people.
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Evidence First




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Jul 12, 2018

Early math ability is one of the best predictors of children’s math and reading skills into late elementary school. Children with stronger math proficiency in elementary school are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. But most early childhood programs don’t focus on math instruction. What kinds of math programs can improve children’s early math abilities? And can they lead to positive impacts for other longer-term outcomes?

The Making Pre-K Count and High 5s demonstrations were designed to rigorously assess whether providing high-quality math instruction, aligned across prekindergarten (pre-K) and kindergarten, could lead to long-term gains across a variety of domains for students growing up in low-income communities in New York City. Making Pre-K Count and High 5s are the first studies of the Robin Hood Early Childhood Research Initiative, a partnership between Robin Hood and MDRC, which is supported with lead funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Overdeck Family Foundation, and other funders. 

MDRC’s findings show that these programs reduced the achievement gap in math skills between low-income children and their higher-income peers.

Join Katie Beal as she talks to Shira Mattera, Research Associate at MDRC, and Robin Jacob, a Research Associate Professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, about the positive impacts of the Making Pre-K Count and High 5s demonstrations on kindergarten outcomes.

May 15, 2018

Social service and education programs aim to help the people they serve achieve positive outcomes (for example, completing a degree or getting a job). But some participants still don’t succeed. Could predicting who is more at risk of not meeting important milestones allow programs to intervene with supports for those who most need them?

Predictive analytics is a tool that can help programs use existing data to make predictions of risk for their clients. Program staff can identify milestones, which, if not met, can prompt action. For example, if a child is not reading at grade level by grade 3, school staff can provide additional supports to help avoid unwanted future outcomes,  such as failing or dropping out. 

Join Katie Beal as she talks to Rekha Balu, Director of MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science, who describes how predictive analytics is informing MDRC’s work, and to Brad Dudding, Chief Operating Officer at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), who explains how CEO is using predictive analytics to help formerly incarcerated individuals gain employment and reduce recidivism.

Sep 6, 2017

College Promise is a widespread college access movement in the United States, with more than 200 programs across the country. Although these programs help students access college by covering the cost of tuition and fees, they do not typically address barriers to student success.

The Detroit Promise Path, administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber, is a program that allows high school graduates to attend local colleges tuition-free and provides evidence-based support strategies to students to help them stay in school and graduate. The program was developed by MDRC and the Detroit Regional Chamber, and MDRC is conducting an ongoing evaluation to understand the program’s impact on student success.

Sep 1, 2017

School choice can be an arduous process and can prove especially challenging for low-income or recent-immigrant families. Offering supports, simplifying the process, and personalizing information, among other things, can help families navigate decisions about school choice. In this podcast, MDRC researcher Barbara Condliffe considers how lessons from other policy arenas can help improve school choice process.

Feb 22, 2017

Can working closely with employers make job training programs more effective?

Although many training programs exist, low-income individuals often cannot afford them, do not complete them, or do not obtain a marketable credential. At the same time, many employers claim that they cannot easily find people with the right occupational skills to meet their needs.

Oct 5, 2016

Can small changes based on the insights of behavioral science improve the effectiveness of social programs?

Research has shown that small changes in the environment can facilitate behaviors and decisions that are in people’s best interest. For example, a change in the way messages or requirements are worded may increase the likelihood that program participants make positive choices. However, there has been relatively little exploration of the potential application of this science to complex, large-scale human services programs. With funding from the Administration for Children and Families, MDRC has been testing low-cost behavioral science interventions that can make programs more effective and, ultimately, improve the well-being of low-income children, adults, and families.

Join Therese Leung as she talks to three guests about MDRC’s work in behavioral science, with a particular focus on improving child support programs:

  • Susan Brown, Director of the Child Support Enforcement Agency, Franklin County, OH
  • Emily Schmitt, Senior Social Science Research Analyst, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Michael Johns, Research Associate at MDRC
Dec 15, 2015

Girls are making up a larger share of the juvenile justice system than ever before. One program that’s trying to address this issue is the PACE Center for Girls in Florida. 

Sep 4, 2015


How do young adults fare after they age out of the foster care or juvenile justice systems? And are there services that can help these young people make a successful transition to adulthood?   

With funding from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, MDRC just released results from an evaluation of the Transitional Living Program (now called YVLifeSet) run by the organization Youth Villages. The program provides intensive, individualized, and clinically focused case management, support, and counseling. This is one of the few rigorously studied programs in this area and the first to find positive results for young adults across a wide range of outcomes, including earnings, housing stability, and economic well-being.  Join Therese Leung as she talks to Erin Valentine, a researcher at MDRC, about the evaluation.



Apr 6, 2015

What's worked to help disadvantaged youth get jobs? And how can we get more employers actively engaged in this issue? Therese Leung talks with Farhana Hossain, a researcher at MDRC, about the problem of youth unemployment.