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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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Nov 14, 2020

A special series from the Rural Matters podcast

This episode is the second of a special four-part series about issues facing rural higher education from our colleagues at the Rural Matters podcast. It is coproduced by MDRC and supported by Ascendium Education Group.

In this episode, Rural Matters host Michelle Rathman chats with four individuals committed to improving education in West Virginia: Danielle Vetter, Senior Program Officer at Ascendium Education Group; Stephanie Hyre, Senior Program Officer of The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation; Corley Dennison, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education; and Paul Daugherty, President & CEO of Philanthropy West Virginia. 

Vetter discusses Ascendium’s priorities in the rural space, including research, building capacity for postsecondary providers, and catalyzing investment and partnerships to create opportunities and open doors that may have been previously closed. Dennison notes how rural West Virginia really is and how important it is to initiate innovative programs, such as one designed to improve developmental education. Dennison also describes the main goal of West Virginia Climbs, supported by Ascendium, that 60 percent of workers in the state will have some kind postsecondary credentials by 2020.

Daugherty explains how Philanthropy West Virginia promotes collaboration among government, businesses, nonprofits, and philanthropy to bolster communities, an effort that has taken on added significance during the pandemic, especially on the issues of food security and business and survival. Hyre describes the work of the Education Affinity Group, a subset of Philanthropy West Virginia whose priorities include early childhood literacy and postsecondary degree attainment.

Oct 29, 2020

This episode is the first of a special four-part series about issues facing rural higher education from our colleagues at the Rural Matters podcast. It is coproduced by MDRC and supported by Ascendium Education Group.

COVID-19 has caused seismic shifts for postsecondary education. For rural colleges, the pandemic exacerbated issues that have affected students and communities for decades. While 41 percent of urban adults have a college degree, only 28 percent of rural adults do. The college access gap between rural and urban areas is sizable: In most states, rural high school students achieve graduation rates similar to urban and suburban counterparts, but their college enrollment rates are much lower.

Rural communities have long been confronted with unique education challenges. Chief among them is the digital divide: Many rural areas lack adequate broadband internet infrastructure, which has become even more critical during the pandemic. Only 63 percent of rural adults say they have access to the internet at home, compared with 75 percent of urban adults. In areas where internet is available, it can be costly. And students may lack the technology they need to be successful in online learning.

In this episode, Rural Matters host Michelle Rathman chats with MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge; Dr. Jan Miller, Dean of the College of Education and the Director of Online Programs at the University of West Alabama; and Joe Thiel, Director of Academic Policy and Research for the Montana University System. They discuss some innovative programs that rural higher ed institutions are adopting to address the challenges faced by rural communities.

Oct 15, 2020

Too many community college students get stuck in multi-semester developmental math sequences and never progress to or complete college-level courses. To meet this challenge, the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin developed the Dana Center Math Pathways (DCMP), which diversifies the math course content that students take so it better aligns with their career interests. The curriculum also encourages student-centered learning in small group formats.

Researchers from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness — a partnership between MDRC and the Community College Research Center — recently published an evaluation of DCMP in Texas. After three semesters, the study found that the DCMP had a positive impact on students’ completion of the developmental math sequence, increasing their likelihood of taking and passing college-level math and the number of math credits earned. Researchers also saw a small impact on early cohorts’ attainment of a certificate. 

To learn more about these encouraging results and what they mean for the field, Katie Beal spoke with Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, a senior associate at MDRC and lead author of the study.

Jul 30, 2020

Subsidized employment uses public funds to create jobs for the unemployed and are especially useful during economic downturns. Many have argued that subsidized employment programs should be part of policymakers’ response to pandemic-induced mass joblessness.

MDRC has been studying subsidized employment for more than 40 years and recently completed two large-scale federal projects that rigorously tested 13 subsidized employment programs in eight states. The programs served very disadvantaged workers, such as people receiving cash assistance or people returning to the community from prison.

To learn more about subsidized employment programs and how they can be designed to reach the most disadvantaged, Leigh Parise spoke with MDRC Senior Vice President Dan Bloom.

Jun 29, 2020

The City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) provides comprehensive support services to community college students to help them stay enrolled and graduate. MDRC’s evaluation of ASAP at CUNY community colleges found that it nearly doubled graduation rates within three years — which are some of the largest impacts found among programs for community college students.

To see if the program could work beyond New York City, CUNY, MDRC, and the Ohio Department of Higher Education worked with three Ohio community colleges to implement the ASAP model. Recent findings from MDRC’s evaluation show that the Ohio programs had similarly large impacts on student outcomes, illustrating that the program can be successfully replicated and serve as a model for community colleges across the country.

To learn more about the Ohio results and what it takes to replicate and scale the successful ASAP model, Katie Beal spoke with Christine Brongniart, the University Executive Director of CUNY ASAP, and Camielle Headlam, a research associate at MDRC.

Jun 4, 2020

New types of career and technical education programs are trying to prepare workers for an increasingly complex labor market. For high school students, this preparation can mean combining academic study with a strong career focus and hands-on work experience with an industry partner. MDRC is testing the effectiveness of this approach in an evaluation of the New York City P-TECH 9-14 school model. P-TECH 9-14 schools collaborate with local community colleges to allow students to earn high school diplomas and cost-free, industry-recognized associate’s degrees at the same time. During the six-year program, employer partners support P-TECH 9-14 schools by providing students with work-based learning experiences such as internships, mentoring, and job shadowing.

Interim results show that after three years, students in P-TECH 9-14 schools earn about two more credits than students at other schools. Students in P-TECH 9-14 schools also pass state-level proficiency exams earlier and pass at higher rates.

In this episode, Leigh Parise talks about the NYC P-TECH grades 9-14 high school model and MDRC’s study with Rachel Rosen, codirector of MDRC's Center for Effective Career and Technical Education and co-principal investigator on the study.

May 13, 2020

Community colleges graduation rates remain low. Some studies have shown that students who enroll in summer courses are more likely to stay on track and graduate, yet despite these benefits most college students do not attend during the summer.

So why don’t students attend, and how can colleges encourage more of them to enroll in the summer? To answer these questions MDRC launched the Encouraging Additional Summer Enrollment — or EASE — project in partnership with the Ohio Association of Community Colleges and 10 community colleges in Ohio. MDRC designed, implemented, and tested two interventions to encourage summer enrollment, using insights from behavioral science, a study of how people make decisions. Both interventions worked to increase enrollment, and both could be operated at a relatively low cost.

Join Leigh Parise as she talks about the EASE study with Caitlin Anzelone, deputy director of MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science.

Apr 20, 2020

Individual Placement and Support (IPS) is a model for helping people who have serious mental illness find employment. There is a good deal of evidence showing the model’s success, but less is known about the model’s effectiveness with those who have other types of disabilities and health conditions, such as physical disabilities or less severe types of mental illness.

Between 2016 and 2018, MDRC led an evaluation of Breaking Barriers, a program in San Diego County that implemented the IPS model. Breaking Barriers served individuals who had a wide range of disabilities, not only serious mental illness. An initial analysis of data found that Breaking Barriers’ IPS services did not have an effect on employment outcomes. With funding from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, MDRC will be conducting additional analyses of Breaking Barriers, as part of the Building Evidence on Employment Strategies for Low-Income Families (BEES) project.

In this episode, Leigh Parise talks to Robert Drake, one of the developers of the IPS model and the vice president of the IPS Employment Center at the Rockville Institute, and Lily Freedman, a member of the MDRC evaluation team, about the IPS model, Breaking Barriers implementation, and the further analysis to be done under BEES.

Mar 10, 2020

In the beginning, MDRC was known primarily for evaluations of state welfare-to-work programs. Since then, MDRC has brought its unique approach to an ever-growing range of policy areas and populations. Recently, MDRC celebrated 25 years of working in the field of K-12 research – collaborating with teachers, school leaders, and districts to improve students’ prospects for success. Join Leigh Parise as she talks with Fred Doolittle, MDRC Senior Fellow, and William Corrin, Director of K-12 education research at MDRC, about how the organization expanded into education and the lessons they’ve learned from 25 years of research.

Sep 24, 2019

Government agencies work hard to help the people they serve, whether it’s helping individuals find jobs or improve family well-being. But despite best efforts, some participants still don’t succeed. What are some ways government agencies can improve services and ensure participants remain on the right track?

In this episode, Kate Gualtieri, MDRC’s Director of Strategy, talks with MDRC Senior Fellow Melissa Wavelet, the former director of the Office of Performance and Strategic Outcomes in the Colorado Department of Human Services, about her experience implementing a variety of data-driven strategies that help city and state government agencies meet their goals and improve the lives of the people they serve. They also discuss Melissa’s work at MDRC on the TANF Data Collaborative, a new initiative sponsored by the Office of Family Assistance and the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the federal Administration for Children and Families, created in an effort to accelerate the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) data for program improvement and evidence-building at the federal, state, and local levels.

Sep 12, 2019

Nationwide, only 25 percent of full-time, first-time students at community colleges earn a degree within three years. To increase graduation rates for low-income community college students, the City University of New York (CUNY) launched Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) — a comprehensive program that provides wrap-around support services to students, including one-on-one advising, help covering transportation and book expenses, and tutoring.

MDRC’s evaluation of the CUNY ASAP model found that the program doubled graduation rates in New York City. Three community colleges in Ohio successfully replicated the ASAP model as part of the ASAP Ohio Demonstration, and MDRC’s evaluation found positive results in line with those at CUNY.

Join Katie Beal as she talks with Dr. Marcia Ballinger, President of Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, about the demonstration and what it takes to scale a comprehensive program like ASAP.

Jul 25, 2019

High-quality preschool education can have substantial positive impacts on children’s early learning and development, as well as longer-term outcomes like graduating from high school and attending college. But the boost in skills young children experience can fade out as they move on to kindergarten and elementary school, exacerbating the achievement gap between children from more- versus less-advantaged backgrounds.

This fadeout pattern has drawn greater attention to students’ experiences after preschool, in early elementary school, and helped increase support for improving curricular alignment from preschool to third grade. Alignment refers to the range of policies and practices designed to launch young children on a positive developmental pathway, with the early elementary grades continuing to build on what children learn in preschool. Join Leigh Parise as she talks with MDRC’s Meghan McCormick about measuring quality in preschool programs and the challenges of implementing aligned curricula.

May 16, 2019

Can giving small loans to low-income people to start or grow their businesses help lift them out of poverty and improve overall well-being? That’s the idea behind microlending – a promising approach implemented by institutions worldwide. But only limited rigorous evidence is available on the model’s effectiveness, especially in advanced economies.

MDRC is evaluating Grameen America, a program that provides small loans to groups of low-income women in the U.S. using a model designed by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus for the original Grameen Bank program in Bangladesh in the 1970s.

But carrying out the first random assignment evaluation of Grameen America and its complex model presented unique challenges. In this episode, Katie Beal talks with Marcus Berkowitz, Vice President of Technology and Innovation at Grameen America, and Richard Hendra, MDRC’s Senior Fellow who leads the evaluation, about the partnership between the organizations and how they worked together to overcome those challenges.

Mar 6, 2019

One out of every 10 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 is neither working nor in school. These “disconnected” young people face an uphill battle finding work and are at risk of economic hardship well into adulthood. Although there are many programs that aim to reconnect young people to education and employment, findings from evaluations of these programs have been mixed. The evidence base has grown substantially in the past several months, though, as studies of three pro­grams — YouthBuild, Year Up, and New York City’s Young Adult Internship Program (YAIP) — have released new findings. MDRC’s Dan Bloom and Cynthia Miller recently wrote a brief that discusses findings from the new studies and their implications for youth programs.

Jan 11, 2019

Students who are placed into developmental (remedial) courses often fail to complete them, and many colleges and states are therefore interested in reforming developmental education. But what if students are not accurately placed into developmental courses in the first place? What if some of the students placed into developmental courses could have succeeded in college-level courses? Research suggests that standardized tests — the traditional method for placing students — actually does misplace substantial numbers of them. An alternative strategy is to place students using multiple measures of college readiness, including grade point averages, instead of a single test score. Join Katie Beal as she talks to MDRC’s Dan Cullinan and the Community College Research Center’s Elisabeth Barnett about early findings from a Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness study of systems that use multiple measures for placement, and about lessons for colleges interested in implementing these systems.

Nov 15, 2018

How should policymakers address the long-standing youth unemployment problem in Puerto Rico, which only worsened in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria? With support from the W. T. Grant Foundation, MDRC partnered with Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud, or the Youth Development Institute, to develop recommendations that can create pathways into the workforce for young people and that are supported by evidence-based and promising practices relevant to the current situation in Puerto Rico. Join Katie Beal as she talks to John Martinez, Director of Program Development at MDRC, about those recommendations and the challenges of implementing them. 

Oct 11, 2018

Career and technical education programs have taken on many different forms, but one that has been gaining in popularity is apprenticeships. Join Katie Beal as she talks to Noel Ginsberg, CEO of CareerWise Colorado, and Gretchen Morgan, former president of CareerWise Colorado, about the initiative that seeks to enlist hundreds of employers from many sectors to employ thousands of high school students in the nation’s first large-scale youth apprenticeship program. MDRC is currently working with CareerWise Colorado to help its leaders understand the factors that either impede or promote the smooth implementation of this complex initiative, so that the program can continue to improve.

Sep 4, 2018

This summer Congress passed the long-awaited reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which governs the federal investment in career and technical education (CTE). But what do CTE programs actually do? And how have they evolved over time? Join Katie Beal as she talks to Mary Visher, a senior research associate at MDRC, about CTE programs — including their development and challenges. They also discuss MDRC’s two-decade history of constructing and evaluating CTE programs, including the landmark study of Career Academies, and the other CTE programs MDRC is currently partnering with to build evidence and inform policy and practice. 

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. 

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