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

How parental involvement affects a child’s academic performance

This meta-analysis published in Urban Education;examines the relationship between school-based parental involvement programmes and the academic achievement of children aged four to 18. Findings of the study indicate that overall there is a significant relationship between parental involvement programmes and academic outcomes, but that further research is needed to examine why some types of programmes have a greater impact on educational achievement than others.

The types of parental involvement programmes examined are:

  • Shared reading programmes, which show the strongest relationship with improvement in educational outcomes (effect size = .51, p< .01).
  • Emphasised partnership programmes, which involve parents and teachers working together as equal partners to help improve pupils’ academic or behavioural outcomes. This type of programme has the second largest effect size on educational outcomes (ES=.35, p< .05).
  • Communication between parents and teachers has an effect size of .28 (p< .05).
    Checking homework produced the smallest effect size of the four programmes (ES=.27, p< .05).

A 2008 meta-analysis, published in the Review of Educational Research, found similar results. Parents who taught their children to read had a much larger impact than those that only listened to their children reading; suggesting that giving parents practical means of helping their children succeed in school is important in improving their children’s achievement.

Sources:A meta-analysis of the efficacy of different types of parental involvement programs for urban students (2012), Urban Education , 47(4),

The effect of family literacy interventions on children’s acquisition of reading from kindergarten to grade 3: A meta-analytic review (2008), Review of Educational Research, 78(4)

Pupil motivation and school reform

The Center on Education Policy in the US offers a series of papers that examines topics related to pupils’ academic motivation. The summary paper, Student Motivation: An Overlooked Piece of School Reform, summarises findings from a wide array of studies by academics in a range of disciplines, as well as lessons from programmes intended to increase motivation.

Topics include: why motivation is important and how it might be defined and measured; whether rewarding pupils can result in higher motivation; whether pupils can be motivated by goal-setting; the role of parental involvement, family background, and culture; strategies schools might use to motivate pupils; and non-traditional approaches to motivating otherwise unenthusiastic pupils.

A few of the many suggestions that the authors offer for schools to consider are:

  • Programmes that reward academic accomplishments are most effective when they reward pupils for mastering certain skills or increasing their understanding rather than rewarding them for reaching a performance target or outperforming others.
  • Tests are more motivating when pupils have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through low-stakes tests, performance tasks, or frequent assessments that gradually increase in difficulty before they take a high-stakes test.

Source:S tudent Motivation: An overlooked piece of school reform (2012), Center on Education Policy

Citizenship education in Europe

This report from the Eurydice network summarises how policies and measures relating to citizenship education have evolved in recent years. Citizenship education has gained prominence in teaching across Europe, with 20 of the 31 countries (EU Member States, Iceland, Norway, Croatia, and Turkey) dedicating a separate compulsory subject to its teaching.

The report focusses in particular on curriculum aims and organisation; student and parent participation in schools; school culture and student participation in society; assessment and evaluation; and support for teachers and school heads.

Citizenship features on the curriculum in all countries, but the authors say that more needs to be done to improve teachers’ knowledge and skills for teaching it. In general, citizenship education is integrated into initial teacher training courses for secondary education in subjects such as history and geography, but only England and Slovakia offer training as a specialist teacher in citizenship education.

Source: Citizenship education in Europe (2012), Eurydice

Can educational attainment be raised by changing parents’ and children’s attitudes?

Changing three attitudes (aspirations, locus of control, and valuing school) does not affect educational attainment. That is one of the findings of a review by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which examined whether educational attainment can be raised by focusing interventions on changing the attitudes of parents and children.

The study evaluated evidence from more than 60 research papers, of which almost 30 were evaluations of specific interventions. These interventions covered the following areas: parent involvement, extra-curricular activities, mentoring, volunteering, peer education, and interventions with a primary focus on changing attitudes.

The review looked for evidence of a chain of impact from changing a particular set of attitudes to a rise in attainment. These attitudes were the aspirations to do well at school and to aim for advanced education, the sense that one’s own actions can change one’s life, and the giving of value to schooling and school results, referred to as aspirations, locus of control, and valuing school. The evidence from this evaluation supports a shift in emphasis from “raising aspirations” to “keeping aspirations on track”.

Source: Can changing aspirations and attitudes impact on educational attainment? (2012), Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Excellent results with Incredible Years

The online magazine Prevention Action has published a report on Incredible Years. This evidence-based parent training programme has previously been proven to achieve considerable success in improving outcomes for children aged three to eight years old with challenging behaviours.

New research has shown it also produces positive results with older children and their families. Studies of Incredible Years in Ireland, and also of the programme’s therapeutic dinosaur, for small groups of children at high risk of developing conduct disorder, are also underway.

Source: Incredible results for the Incredible Years (2011), Prevention Action