Ideas and Evidence

MDRC is dedicated to learning what works to improve the well-being of people in poverty.

We provide policymakers and practitioners with fact-based research and analysis to help them address critical issues in social policy and education.

05/2023 | Mervett Hefyan, Meghan McCormick

In this commentary originally published in Route Fifty, Mervett Hefyan and Meghan McCormick discuss three ways states can strengthen home visiting services to address the effects of the pandemic on young children and to boost parental health as well.

05/2023 | Colin Hill

In this blog post published by the National College Attainment Network, MDRC’s Colin Hill describes the findings from MDRC’s recent evaluation of the City University of New York’s ASAP student success program at three Ohio community colleges.

04/2023 | Edith Yang

In this commentary originally published in GovTech, Edith Yang explains how gathering and analyzing data are only two components of successful data projects. The right combination of people, perseverance, and project scoping are just as important.

04/2023 | Sophia Sutcliffe, Dan Knox, Marjorie Dorimé-Williams

In this commentary originally published in Inside Higher Ed, Sophia Sutcliffe, Dan Knox, and Marjorie Dorimé-Williams describe a new effort to understand the significant role faculty and staff play when students transfer between community colleges and four-year institutions.

04/2023 | Virginia Knox

In this essay, MDRC President Virginia Knox describes how MDRC and its partners are working with state welfare agencies to help them harness the power of their administrative data to better understand participants’ needs and to improve service delivery.

03/2023 | Susan Sepanik

California State University recently decided not to proceed with a proposal that would have required students to take an additional year of high school math, science, or other quantitative reasoning course for admissions. This commentary describes how MDRC’s analysis of the proposed policy helped inform that decision.

02/2023 | Rebecca Davis, Shira Kolnik Mattera

In this commentary originally published in The Hechinger Report, Rebecca Davis and Shira Mattera describe how investing in universal early assessment is an important approach to help communities meet the specific needs of young children and their families.

12/2022 | Erika B. Lewy, Susan Bickerstaff, Katie Beal

In this commentary originally published in Community College Daily, Erika Lewy, Susan Bickerstaff, and Katie Beal outline five evidence-based principles that college administrators can use to guide the reform of developmental (or remedial) education, a common roadblock to student success.

12/2022 | Alexander Mayer

In this commentary originally published by Community College Daily, Alex Mayer explains which programs have been proven to help students complete college or increase their earnings.

11/2022 | Lily Freedman, Ann Bickerton

Risk factors such as housing instability and untreated mental conditions are prevalent among people who come in contact with the criminal justice system, so some jurisdictions are trying to connect them with social services. This blog post provides several examples of these support-oriented pretrial approaches and research on their effectiveness.

11/2022 | Rachel Rosen

In this commentary originally published in the Albany Times-Union, Rachel Rosen makes the case that New York State should build on its investment in P-TECH 9-14 schools to help young people launch careers in the growing green-energy economy.

10/2022 | Marta Benito-Gomez, Rachel Fu

In this blog post originally published by New America, Head Start educators report on challenges they’ve faced collecting and using assessments and identify opportunities for improvement.

08/2022 | Emily Hanno

Today’s early education assessment tools fail to capture the complexity of skills in children who are dual language learners (DLLs). In this blog post originally published by New America, Emily Hanno describes three principles that researchers and practitioners believe are important when developing accurate, actionable, and equitable assessment tools for DLLs.

08/2022 | Meghan McCormick

In this commentary originally published by the Fordham Institute, Meghan McCormick explains why it is critical to strengthen existing early education assessments in order to build better evidence on the impacts of preschool on children.

08/2022 | Samantha Wulfsohn, Samuel Maves

In this blog post originally published by New America, a diverse group of pre-K parents from around the country share their experiences with early learning assessments in childcare, pre-K, and Head Start settings.

07/2022 | Samuel Maves

In this blog post originally published by New America, seven pre-K leaders—including center directors and principals—share their perspectives about how to make early education assessments more useful, equitable, and effective.

06/2022 | JoAnn Hsueh, Cynthia Miller, Michelle Maier

In this commentary originally published in Route Fifty, JoAnn Hsueh, Cynthia Miller, and Michelle Maier discuss how states are supplementing the wages of childcare workers to retain them during widespread staffing shortages. Ensuring eligible workers enroll to receive the benefit can be challenging, but research suggests three strategies to help.

05/2022 | Meghan McCormick

Incorporating the perspectives of early childhood educators is key to strengthening pre-K assessment systems. In this piece originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick offers insights from pre-K teachers about how to make assessments more equitable, relevant, and useful.

05/2022 | Melanie Skemer, Sarah Picard, Brit Henderson, Chloe Anderson Golub

Research suggests that pretrial policy reforms supporting arrested individuals’ release pending trial—unless evidence shows they will not return to court or they pose a threat to public safety—have positive results. This post discusses several policies that were established to prevent the overuse of pretrial detention.

05/2022 | Meghan McCormick, JoAnn Hsueh

In this commentary originally published in The Hechinger Report, Meghan McCormick and JoAnn Hsueh explain how the surprising findings from a study of the Tennessee state-run, voluntary pre-k program highlight the need to collect better data so we can understand what really works.

04/2022 | Jonathan Bigelow

In this commentary originally published by Route Fifty, Jonathan Bigelow highlights the national challenge of finding landlords who will accept Housing Choice Vouchers. However, evidence from the Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) project in King County and Seattle offers lessons about what might help landlords say yes.

04/2022 | Melanie Skemer, Sarah Picard

In this commentary originally published by The Crime Report, Melanie Skemer and Sarah Picard discuss how recent media coverage about the relationship between New York State’s bail reform and an uptick in crime has been misleading, particularly in using newly released data to conflate bail reform with a program called supervised release.

04/2022 | Deondre' Jones

In this commentary originally published by WorkShift, Deondre’ Jones describes how the WorkAdvance initiative helped reduce racial employment disparities for Black and Latino adults. He also explains important components that program providers may want to include to better support participants of color.

03/2022 | JoAnn Hsueh

In this commentary originally published by Early Learning Nation, JoAnn Hsueh, director of MDRC’s Family Well-Being and Children’s Development policy area, describes three evidence-based strategies that can help increase child care workers’ opportunities for advancement and upward mobility.

02/2022 | Samuel Maves, Meghan McCormick

In this commentary originally published by New America, Samuel Maves and Meghan McCormick describe the lessons that state advocates and policymakers learned from implementing pre-K assessment systems. These lessons were discussed during an event cohosted by New America, the Alliance for Early Success, and MDRC.

02/2022 | Rachel Rosen

In this commentary originally published by The 74, Rachel Rosen, co-director of MDRC’s Center for Effective Career and Technical Education, explains how effective CTE models can be adapted to prepare high school students for jobs in new industries that lower carbon emissions.

12/2021 | Michelle Dimino, Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary originally published by Higher Ed Dive, Third Way’s Michelle Dimino and MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge explain how research shows that wraparound support programs are the most effective way to help students earn college degrees.

Why It’s Critical to Improve Pre-K Assessments to Support Equitable Early Learning

11/2021 | JoAnn Hsueh, Meghan McCormick

Policymakers are considering historic investments in high-quality, universal pre-K. In this commentary originally published by New America, JoAnn Hsueh and Meghan McCormick explain why and how researchers, districts, and states should make prekindergarten assessments of children more equitable, useful, and actionable.

11/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Alyssa Ratledge explain that reliable child care is critical to the success of student-parents in community college. They offer three evidence-driven approaches states and colleges can take to better support student-parents.

11/2021 | Sam Schaeffer, Ivonne Garcia

In this commentary, which originally appeared in The Crime Report, Sam Schaeffer and Ivonne Garcia describe how temporary cash grants provided by the Center for Employment Opportunities helped more than 10,000 returning citizens transition from prison during the pandemic. They also share findings about the program from MDRC’s recent study.

09/2021 | Michelle Maier, Shira Kolnik Mattera

In this commentary, originally published in District Administration, MDRC’s Michelle Maier and Shira Mattera offer evidenced-backed advice for policymakers and practitioners about how to invest new federal funds to enhance the quality of preschool programs.

08/2021 | Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary, originally published in The Hill, MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge highlights the value of postsecondary institutions in rural communities and describes innovations that rural colleges have developed during the pandemic that could be expanded with more support.

09/2021 | Alexander Mayer, Catherine Brown

In this commentary, originally published by The Hechinger Report, MDRC’s Alex Mayer and Catherine Brown from The Institute for College Access & Success explain how research shows that investing in comprehensive student support programs can increase college graduation rates.

06/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Shira Kolnik Mattera

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Shira Mattera describe how investing greater resources in community-based programs will be critical for building an equitable universal pre-K system that provides high-quality experiences to all children.

06/2021 | Shira Kolnik Mattera, Ximena Portilla

In this commentary, which originally appeared in Early Learning Nation, MDRC’s Shira Mattera and Ximena Portilla suggest three important investments that states, districts, and programs can make to support high-quality teaching in early education settings.

06/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Teresa Eckrich Sommer, Terri Sabol, JoAnn Hsueh

In this commentary originally published in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, two MDRC researchers and their colleagues describe how Head Start programs can invest federal relief funds to help parents of children in Head Start advance toward their economic goals.

05/2021 | Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary, originally published in Community College Daily, MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge draws on years of research to make the case for the importance of adding robust support services to free tuition programs at community colleges.

03/2021 | Cynthia Miller, Lawrence F. Katz

In this commentary originally published in The Hill, MDRC’s Cynthia Miller and Lawrence Katz, Harvard economist and member of MDRC’s Board, describe why expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers without dependent children can be an effective part of the recovery effort.

The Case for Investing Pandemic Relief Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten Summer Programs

04/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Amena Sengal

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Amena Sengal argue that states and districts should allocate some pandemic relief dollars to strengthening summer learning for pre-k and kindergarten students.

Using Existing Services During the Pandemic

03/2021 | Helen Lee

Many families with young children experienced severe strains during the pandemic—unemployment, increasing poverty, and increased anxiety and depression. State program administrators can help by strengthening home visiting services and using pediatric visits to reach families. This brief offers recommendations based on evidence of promising strategies, and insights from MDRC’s work.

03/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Christina Weiland

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Christina Weiland argue that states should make investing in high-quality early childhood and kindergarten programs a priority in their pandemic recovery efforts.

03/2021 | Nandita Verma

For over 20 years, MDRC has designed and evaluated strategies that use the housing subsidy system to support economic self-sufficiency. This memo reviews what is known about these strategies, how people respond to them, and what elements should be considered when designing economic mobility programs for families receiving housing assistance.

02/2021 | Clinton Key

Some estimate that the expansion of the Child Tax Credit could help ameliorate the economic impact of the pandemic and, if made permanent, cut child poverty in the United States in half. But to achieve the promise of these estimates, policymakers should improve the design and delivery compared to the current child tax credit to minimize burdens and barriers for recipients. Here are four research-backed ways to do it.

Research-Based Advice for Community College Administrators

12/2020 | Andrea Vasquez

Two decades of MDRC research shows that a holistic counseling strategy that reduces adviser caseloads and offers students more frequent, comprehensive guidance can help them address both academic and personal issues and improve college outcomes. This paper provides lessons for higher education professionals interested in implementing this approach.


In this three-minute video, Meghan McCormick, an MDRC research associate, describes evidence-based ways to promote equitable access to early care and education programs, a challenge made more urgent by the pandemic.

12/2020 | Virginia Knox

In this commentary originally published in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, MDRC President Virginia Knox explains that public and philanthropic investments have built a foundation of evidence that can inform decision makers as they work to build economic mobility and reduce inequality.

11/2020 | Michelle Maier

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, early care and education providers faced challenges attracting and retaining qualified, well-trained, and diverse early educators — and staff turnover can affect children’s early progress. Three approaches may help improve these workers’ access to professional education, their overall economic well-being, and their sometimes difficult working conditions.

11/2020 | Dan Bloom

In this commentary originally published in Government Executive, MDRC Senior Vice President Dan Bloom argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that it’s important for decisionmakers to make bold policy reforms and to build evidence for future action at the same time.

11/2020 | Alexander Mayer, Kate Tromble

A college degree remains critical to unlocking opportunity and to accessing America’s middle class, yet millions of students who pursue higher education never earn degrees. This memo, produced with Results for America, draws lessons and policy implications from two decades of rigorous research in postsecondary institutions focused on addressing this problem.

Meeting the Needs of Workers and Employers

11/2020 | Kelsey Schaberg

Low-wage workers have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing greater levels of unemployment than their higher-wage-earning peers. Training programs that focus on moving workers into skilled jobs in industries with strong local demand could reposition them for 21st-century success.

Career and Technical Education Connects the Dots

10/2020 | Rachel Rosen

The economic recession triggered by the global pandemic has magnified the need for high-quality programs that can help students acquire the skills, training, and postsecondary credentials they need to thrive in the workplace. Here are some programs that studies show improved academic outcomes and increased earnings.

What States and Colleges Need to Know

10/2020 | Alyssa Ratledge

Colleges, researchers, and advocates believe innovation and change are needed in developmental (remedial) education, because developmental courses have low success rates and because many of their students ultimately drop out. This brief summarizes research on developmental education and provides summaries of findings and implications for state and college practices.

10/2020 | Meghan McCormick

Children in low-income communities are less likely than others to attend programs that improve kindergarten readiness. MDRC has identified two ways to promote more equitable access: Make information about existing high-quality programs easier to understand and improve quality by investing in curricula and professional development.