Program Aimed at Dropouts Worth the Investment

A recent study from the  RAND Corporation on the effectiveness of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe, a residential and mentoring program aimed at 16 and 17 year old high school dropouts,  found the intervention to be both cost effective and beneficial to the youth cadets.

A rigorous evaluation of the program (that operates in over half of the states of the country) found substantial long-term benefits to the program participants including a high level of educational attainment and the related social and financial rewards. A cost-benefit analysis of Youth ChalleNGe estimated that it provided $2.66 worth of social benefits for each $1.00 invested in the program. The report did not identify many long-term benefits to the larger community (such as reduced criminal activity) associated with the program, however, some may be inferred from the significant impact on the individual participants.

The full report, A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program by Francisco Perez-Arce, Louay Constant, David S. Loughran and Lynn A. Karoly, and a one-page summary of the findings are available at the RAND website.



The Pittsburgh Promise is on the Right Track

Yesterday, The Pittsburgh Foundation announced that early analysis from an on-going RAND study of The Pittsburgh Promise indicates the project is off to a “solid start” and has played a beneficial role within the community.

The Pittsburgh Promise is a scholarship program for students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The program advocates for improvements to the quality of education within the system, while promoting college readiness and working to increase preparedness among the region’s workforce. Some of the positive impacts related to the program’s operation include,

  • Students and their families reported feeling motivated by the scholarship program to attain the requisite GPA, maintain regular attendance in school and explore higher education opportunities.
  •  Pittsburgh Public Schools enrollment has leveled off, rather than continue its prior downward trend.
  • Since the inception of the program, there has been an increase in college enrollment of graduates of the schools eligible for the program funds.

The full report, including recommendations from RAND to The Pittsburgh Promise on how to continue their beneficial impact, as well as a video summary of the study to date from the lead researcher Dr. Gabriella Gonzalez, are available at the RAND website.

Monetary Incentives May Not Lead to Improved School Performance

A study of New York City public schools by the RAND Corporation shed some light on the complexity of motivational factors and education outcomes as it found that financial incentives did not improve school performance.

The 3-year study (2007-2010) was designed to evaluate a program that used bonuses to reward school and student achievement. The findings indicated that money alone was not a strong motivational factor as no overall improvement was noted in any grade, at any school. Data point to educators perhaps not buying into or understanding (or agreeing with) the logic behind the promise of fiscal incentives as many reported not changing their teaching style to attempt to draw down a part of the monetary prize.

The report, A Big Apple for Educators New York City’s Experiment with Schoolwide Performance Bonuses: Final Evaluation Report by Julie A. Marsh, Matthew G. Springer, Daniel F. McCaffrey, Kun Yuan, Scott Epstein, Julia Koppich, Nidhi Kalra, Catherine DiMartino and Art (Xiao) Peng is available for download at the RAND website.

Think Tank Taps Crowdsourcing for New Methodology

There is now evidence to support utilizing social media to harness large groups to help inform policy-making and other far-reaching decision processes. RAND Corporation recently released findings from early testing of a model that combines online technology and social media to conduct cost-effective data gathering exercises designed to advise planning and policy around current events or issues.

The system, ExpertLens, combines three methods, the Nominal Group Technique, the Delphi Method and crowdsourcing – a public request for input directed to a large segment of people, usually by way of social media outlets. This approach is expected to increase expert input as well as enable faster information compilation and analysis.

Innovation is driving new and better approaches to research design – my inner research geek rejoices! I especially love how concepts plucked from a social media phenomenon such as crowdsourcing are being used to improve think tank practices. My hope is that additional work is done around how crowdsourcing can be successfully (and reliably) used outside of the ecommerce and marketing arenas. In my opinion, the social sciences need not take a “wait and see” approach.