The (Surprising) Efficacy of Academic and Behavioral Intervention with Disadvantaged Youth: Results from a Randomized Experiment in Chicago
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. Participation increased math test scores by 0.65 of a control group standard deviation (SD) and 0.48 SD in the national distribution, increased math grades by 0.67 SD, and seems to have increased expected graduation rates by 14 percentage points (46%). While some questions remain about the intervention, given these effects and a cost per participant of around $4,400 (with a range of $3,000 to $6,000), this intervention seems to yield larger gains in adolescent outcomes per dollar spent than many other intervention strategies.
This paper was made possible by the generous support of a project grant from the MacArthur Foundation, operating grants to the University of Chicago Crime Lab from the MacArthur and McCormick foundations, and grant number 2012-JU-FX-0019 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. For invaluable assistance in making the intervention possible, we thank Chad Adams, Roseanna Ander, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Valerie Chang, Akeshia Craven, Tony DiVittorio, Wendy Fine, Michael Goldstein, Craig Howard, Tim Jackson, Ed Klunk, James Millar, Janey Rountree, Gretchen Cusick, Timothy Knowles, Stig Leschly, Alan Safran, Leonetta Sanders, Kate Spivak, Julia Stasch, Sara Stoelinga, Elizabeth Swanson, Joseph Wilcox, and John Wolf, as well as the staffs of the Chicago Public School system, Match Education and Youth Guidance. Thanks to Marianne Bertrand and Ofer Malamud for helpful comments. Thanks to Stacy Norris for her help in accessing the data we analyze here, to Amanda Norton and Matthew Smith for all of their valuable assistance, to Richard Harris for his incredible efforts analyzing the data, and especially to Nathan Hess for his amazing leadership of the data analysis reported here. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice. Any errors are of course our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.