Examining the evidence on Learning Accounts

Social Programs That Work has released a new evidence summary on Learning Accounts, a demonstration programme in New Brunswick, Canada that provided up to $8,400 in conditional financial aid for post-secondary education to low-income 10th grade (Year 11) pupils. The pupils had to meet certain benchmarks (ie, completion of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade (Years 11-13)) to receive the funding.

The programme was evaluated through a randomised controlled trial with a sample of 1,145 low-income 10th graders in 30 high schools in New Brunswick, Canada. Within each school, the low-income pupils were randomly assigned to a group that was offered participation in the Learning Accounts programme, or to a control group that received usual school services. Survey data was used to measure high school graduation rates, and administrative data was used to examine later graduation from college.

According to the evidence report, over the 10 years following random assignment, the programme produced a 6.5 percentage point increase in the high school graduation rate, and 6.8 percentage point increase in the rate of post-secondary completion.

Source: Learning Accounts (September 2019), Social Programs That Work

Decades of evidence supports early childhood education

A recent meta-analysis of almost 60 years’ worth of high-quality early childhood education (ECE) studies in the US found that participating in ECE programmes significantly reduced special education placement and grade retention (pupils having to repeat a year), and lead to increased graduation rates from secondary school.

Dana Charles McCoy and colleagues examined data from studies spanning 1960-2016. All had to meet strict inclusion criteria and address ECE’s effects on special education placement, grade retention, or dropout rates, yielding 22 studies. Seven were randomised controlled studies, four were quasi-experimental, and eleven used non-randomised assignment and compared groups who were equivalent at baseline.

Results showed statistically significant effects of ECE. Compared to pupils who did not attend ECE, participants were 8.1% less likely to be placed in special education, 8.3% less likely to be held back a year and 11.4% more likely to graduate from secondary school.

Source: Impacts of early childhood education on medium- and long-term educational outcomes (November 2017), Educational Researcher Volume 46, issue 8

Small Schools of Choice improve graduation rates and college enrolment

A new update on New York high schools Small Schools of Choice has shown that the positive effects of the approach continue into postsecondary education.

In the 1990s, New York City instituted a high school reform effort called Small Schools of Choice (SSCs). SSCs have 100 students in each year group and emphasise academic rigour and strong student/faculty relations. Students apply to their preferred schools and are selected by lottery.

Researchers at MDRC examined the effects on postsecondary education of attending SSCs in a longitudinal study of more than 12,000 mostly disadvantaged students. They found that students at SSCs had higher graduation rates and were more likely to attend college the following year than the control group of students who applied to SSCs but attended other schools.

Attending an SSC increased graduation rates in the four cohorts studied by an average of 9.4 percentage points. Students at SSCs were more likely than the control groups to remain enrolled in college more than three years later. SSCs made these gains at a 14-16% lower cost per graduate than the control schools (mostly due to higher rates of graduation and fewer students needing a fifth year of high school to graduate).

Source: Headed to College: The Effects of New York City’s Small High Schools of Choice on Postsecondary Enrollment (2014), MDRC