Evidence on improving preschool children’s social and emotional competence

MRDC has released findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration, an evaluation of the effects of three classroom-based approaches to enhancing children’s social-emotional development on a large scale. These programmes were The Incredible Years Teacher Training Programme (which focuses on teachers’ management of the classroom and of children’s behaviour); Preschool PATHS (which uses structured lessons to help children learn about emotions and interact with peers appropriately); and Tools of the Mind–Play (a one-year version of the Tools of the Mind curriculum that promotes children’s learning through structured “make-believe” play).

The demonstration was conducted in the US with 17 Head Start providers (similar in some ways to the UK’s Sure Start programme) that varied by geographic location, organisational setting, and size. Centres operated by these providers were randomly assigned to one of the three interventions or to a “business-as-usual” control group. Key findings included:

  • PATHS showed small to moderate improvements in children’s knowledge and understanding of emotion (emotion knowledge), social problem-solving skills, and social behaviours.
  • The Incredible Years improved children’s emotion knowledge, social problem-solving skills, and social behaviours. It did not produce expected impacts on children’s problem behaviour and executive function (except for highest-risk children).
  • Tools of the Mind–Play did not demonstrate expected impacts on executive function or self-regulation; it produced only positive impacts on emotion knowledge.

The authors note that the estimated impacts should be interpreted as the effects of the interventions beyond any effects of the existing Head Start programme in these classrooms. Overall, findings showed that evidence-based approaches can improve preschool children’s social-emotional competence when implemented at scale with appropriate supports.

Source: Impact Findings from the Head Start CARES Demonstration (2014), MDRC.

Boosting the life chances of non-white boys

A new report from MDRC looks at what is known about the economic and social disadvantage of non-white young men in the US and the evidence behind initiatives that may help to tackle this problem.

The paper reviews the results from a number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and highlights promising interventions. Interventions are divided into two broad categories: (a) Proactive Approaches: preventive interventions aimed at young men who are still connected to positive systems (like schools or community colleges) that seek to enhance their success in moving through those systems and on to productive careers, and (b) Reconnection Approaches: interventions targeting those who have disconnected from positive systems. The report also lists ongoing research with results expected soon.

The authors note that well-targeted and well-implemented programmes can make a difference, but to make a lasting difference, successful interventions must be taken to scale — that is, replicated and expanded successfully in new places and settings.

As well as identifying proven and promising programmes, the authors outline four additional (evidence-based) approaches that could have wider implications for supporting young people from underperforming groups. These are:

  • Encouraging young people to apply for the best higher education establishment they are capable of attending, not “undermatching”;
  • Specialised support within higher education for students from underperforming groups;
  • Embedding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy within employment schemes for those within the justice system; and
  • New approaches to summer jobs and internships to help give work experience to help build work-readiness, a CV, and gain references.

Source: Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color: Evidence from Promising Programs (2014), MDRC

Reading partners

A new policy brief from MDRC summarises the early results of an evaluation of the Reading Partners one-to-one volunteer reading programme, and finds positive impacts.

The programme serves more than 7,000 struggling readers in primary schools in deprived areas of several US states. Tutors do not need to have any experience, but are given training and ongoing support. Reading Partners received $7 million in investments and grants to expand to more schools throughout the US, and for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme.

This evaluation took place during the 2012-2013 school year in 19 schools in three states, and involved 1,265 pupils. Positive impacts were found on three different assessments of reading proficiency which measured reading comprehension, fluency, and the ability to read sight-words efficiently. The authors say that these encouraging results demonstrate that Reading Partners, when delivered on a large scale and implemented with fidelity, can be an effective tool for improving reading proficiency.

Source: Reading Partners: The Implementation and Effectiveness of a One-on-One Tutoring Program Delivered by Community Volunteers (2014), MDRC.

Encourage family support to improve outcomes

A new review from MDRC analyses the evidence on how families’ involvement in children’s learning and development affects literacy, mathematics, and social-emotional skills at ages 3 to 8. A total of 95 studies, primarily from the last ten years, were included. Four categories were considered: learning activities at home, family involvement at school, school outreach to engage families, and supportive parenting activities.

The review found that overall family involvement had small to moderate effects on children’s outcomes. Numerous studies confirmed a link between family involvement and children’s literacy skills. A number of studies also demonstrated positive associations with children’s mathematics skills, and a few with children’s social-emotional skills. The weakest association was between family involvement at school and children’s outcomes.

The review concludes that family involvement is potentially important in terms of efforts to improve children’s early learning and development, particularly as all parents, when given direction, can increase their involvement with their children’s learning. The authors dismiss the idea that certain groups of parents do not care or will not become involved in their children’s education.

A future edition of Better: Evidence-based Education will be looking at the issue of parents and schools.

Source: The Impact of Family Involvement on the Education of Children Ages 3 to 8 (2013), MDRC.

Encouraging findings for Success for All

A recently published report presents the first-year findings of a three-year longitudinal evaluation of Success for All (SFA), a whole-school literacy approach. As part of a US i3 scale-up grant, third-party evaluator MDRC randomly assigned 37 elementary schools in underprivileged areas across the US to SFA (n=19) or control (n=18) conditions. The study will follow children between the ages of 5 and 8.

First-year findings indicated significantly positive effects of SFA on the Woodcock Word Attack (phonics) scale, but no differences on Woodcock Letter-Word Identification. These findings are in line with prior longitudinal studies, which have found positive effects on Word Attack in the earliest school years, followed by Letter-Word Identification, and then Passage Comprehension by Year 3 and beyond.

Achievement effects were similar for all types of pupils, but not all subgroups had significant differences when they were analysed separately.

Later reports will focus on reading gains over time and on observation and treatment fidelity rating data.

Source: The Success for All Model of School Reform: Early Findings from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Scale-Up (2013), MDRC.

Can cash incentives lead to positive outcomes for teens?

Using a randomised control trial research design, MDRC is conducting an evaluation of the Opportunity NYC–Family Rewards programme. Implemented in New York City in 2007, this programme offered monetary incentives to families living in poverty for education, health, and workforce participation and job-training activities, with the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of poverty.

In MDRC’s most recent report, researchers examine how parents and their teenage children were affected by Family Rewards two years into the programme. Their analyses focus on the differences between a treatment group and control group in areas such as time use, mental health, and risky behaviours, as measured by surveys.

Findings of their study show that Family Rewards:

  • Changed how teenagers spent their time. For a subgroup of academically proficient teenagers, it increased the proportion of those who engaged primarily in academic activities and reduced the proportion who engaged primarily in social activities;
  • Increased parents’ spending on school-related and leisure expenses and increased the proportion of parents who saved for their children’s future education;
  • Had no effects on parents’ monitoring of their teenage children’s activities or behaviour and did not increase parent-teenager conflict or teenagers’ depression or anxiety;
  • Had no effects on teenagers’ sense of academic competence or their engagement in school, but substantially reduced their self-reported problem behaviour, such as aggression and substance use;
  • Did not reduce teenagers’ intrinsic motivation by paying them rewards for school attendance and academic achievement.

MDRC’s next report on Family Rewards will examine the results after three years of the programme; a final report will include two years of post-programme follow-up.

Source: Using incentives to change how teenagers spend their time (2012), MDRC