Evidence First: MDRC Podcast


Policymakers talk about solutions, but which ones really work? MDRC’s Evidence First podcasts feature experts — program administrators, policymakers, and researchers — talking about the best evidence available on education and social programs that serve low-income people.



Microlending, or small loans to low-income people to start or grow their businesses, is a promising approach to combat poverty and improve overall well-being. But little rigorous evidence exists on the model’s effectiveness. The early results of MDRC’s evaluation of the Grameen America program are promising. This episode discusses the challenges of carrying out a random assignment study design for Grameen America’s complex model and the partnership that helped overcome them.


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. Join Katie Beal as she talks with MDRC’s Dan Bloom about three recent studies of youth employment programs — YouthBuild, Year Up, and New York City’s Young Adult Internship Program (YAIP) — and suggestions for creating a coordinated system to help put young people on a path to success.


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. Research suggests that standardized tests — the traditional method for placing students into developmental or college-level courses — misplaces substantial numbers of them. An alternative strategy is to place students using multiple measures of college readiness, including grade point averages. This episode discusses early findings from a study of systems that use multiple measures for placement, and covers lessons for colleges interested in implementing these systems.


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.


Career and technical education programs have taken on many different forms, but one that has been gaining in popularity is apprenticeships. Colorado is at the forefront of this emerging apprenticeship movement. Inspired by the Swiss model of apprenticeship, the CareerWise Colorado initiative 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. If a two-year pilot test goes well, the plan is to expand the model to a statewide scale, and eventually to expand it nationwide.


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. 


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 then more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. MDRC wanted to know: What kinds of math programs can improve children’s early math abilities? And can they lead to positive impacts on other longer-term outcomes? 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.


Social service organizations and education programs aim to help the people they serve achieve positive outcomes, but some participants still don’t succeed. Predictive analytics is a tool that can help programs use existing data to predict which clients are at risk of not meeting important milestones. This can help program staff intervene with additional supports for those who need them and, hopefully, avoid unwanted outcomes.
Join Katie Beal as she talks to Rekha Balu, Research Associate at MDRC, and Brad Dudding, Chief Operating Officer at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), to learn more about how CEO is using predictive analytics.


College Promise programs help students access college by covering the cost of tuition and fees, but they do not typically address barriers to student success. In this episode, Alyssa Ratledge and Monica Rodriguez discuss the Detroit Promise Path, which provides evidence-based support strategies to students to help them stay in school and graduate.


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 episode, MDRC researcher Barbara Condliffe considers how lessons from other policy arenas can help improve school choice process.                 .


A sector-focused approach to job training can help low-income adults build skills for jobs in high-demand fields with opportunities for career growth. In this episode, MDRC researcher Richard Hendra offers lessons from WorkAdvance, a skill-building program that works closely with employers to help job seekers prepare for and enter quality jobs.


Can small changes based on the insights of behavioral science improve the effectiveness of social programs? Join Therese Leung as she talks to three guests about MDRC’s work in behavioral science, especially its work with child support programs.


In this episode, Therese Leung interviews three guests about the PACE Center for Girls in Florida, a juvenile justice prevention program that provides treatment and services with the needs of girls in mind, and MDRC’s ongoing evaluation of the intervention.


Are there services that can help young people aging out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems make a successful transition to adulthood? In this episode, Therese Leung talks with Erin Valentine about MDRC’s evaluation of the successful YVLifeSet program from Youth Villages.


What’s worked to help disadvantaged youth get jobs? And how can we get more employers actively engaged in this issue?

Farhana Hossain recently coauthored a report, Toward a Better Future: Evidence on Improving Employment Outcomes for Disadvantaged Youth in the United States, that reviews labor market trends and research on employment-related programs for youth over the past 30 years. The Great Recession took a toll on the already dim economic prospects of low-income 16- to 24-year-olds who face structural barriers to employment. The evidence suggests that the involvement of employers in devising education, training, and work experiences that meet labor market demands should be a key component of any policy response.