Examines the results of a randomized controlled trial of a two-pronged intervention designed to improve the academic and non-academic skills of disadvantaged youth falling behind or at risk of dropping out.

“There is growing concern that improving the academic skills of disadvantaged youth is too difficult and costly, so policymakers should instead focus either on vocationally oriented instruction for teens or else on early childhood education. Yet this conclusion may be premature given that so few previous interventions have targeted a potential fundamental barrier to school success: ‘mismatch’ between what schools deliver and the needs of disadvantaged youth who have fallen behind in their academic or non-academic development. This paper reports on a randomized controlled trial of a two-pronged intervention that provides disadvantaged youth with non-academic supports that try to teach youth social-cognitive skills based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and intensive individualized academic remediation. The study sample consists of 106 male 9th and 10th graders in a public high school on the south side of Chicago, of whom 95% are black and 99% are free or reduced price lunch eligible” (Abstract). (Abstractor: Author)

Full publication title: The (Surprising) Efficacy of Academic and Behavioral Intervention with Disadvantaged Youth: Results from a Randomized Experiment in Chicago

Major Findings & Recommendations

“The impacts of the pilot intervention reported on in this paper are large enough to raise the question of whether the field has given up prematurely on the possibility of improving academic outcomes for disadvantaged youth” (p.29). Specifically this study found that: • “Program participation (the effects of treatment on the treated, or TOT) increased math achievement test scores by 0.65 of the control group’s standard deviation (equal to 0.48SD within the national distribution), which equals a change in rank within the national test-score distribution of 15 percentile points” (p.3). • “Participation also improved math grades by 0.67SD, and had sizable (but sometimes not quite statistically significant) effects in reducing absences by one-quarter and F’s in math and non-math classes by two-thirds. • Participation also improved a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) indicator for being ‘on track’ for graduation…by 46%, which translates into a gain in expected high school graduation rates of about 14 percentage points” (p.3). • “A two-pronged intervention that addresses the maladaptive automatic behaviors that impede youth from successfully engaging with school and, at least as importantly, better individualizes the academic instruction that disadvantaged youth receive, seems to generate large gains in learning with a sample of low-income male high school students living in a very distressed urban area. • Participation reduces course failures by about 66 percent in both math and non-math classes, increases rates of being ‘on track’ for graduation (and hence expected high school graduation rates) by nearly one-half, and shows large gains in a broad measure of math test scores” (p.29-30). • “The size of the impacts per dollar spent we reported on here are large even in relation to some of the most successful early childhood interventions that have been studied” (p.32). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)