May 2021 North America Newsletter

Three young adults working on a project together.

Good afternoon,

I write with exciting news: our Executive Director, Mary Ann Bates, is taking a six-month leave of absence from J-PAL to serve as a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In this role, she will be helping to drive federal evidence-based policymaking efforts, including the development of a learning agenda as a core component of the next President’s Management Agenda (PMA) and filling critical knowledge gaps across the Administration’s priorities. As you know, part of J-PAL’s mission is to support government leaders in their use of evidence, and we are excited to see themes of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act being incorporated more broadly across the federal government. If you’re interested in learning more about the PMA and the Biden Administration’s priorities, stay up to date at https://www.performance.gov.

During Mary Ann’s leave, I will serve as acting Executive Director, Vincent Quan will oversee our policy, fundraising and external engagement efforts, and Liz Zuckerberg will oversee our financial planning and operations work. My background is in managing and implementing randomized evaluations and training others to do this work. If you’d like to learn more about me, I invite you to read this blog post on my role as Associate Director of Research and Training at J-PAL North America and how my previous experience as an economist for the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics helped prepare me for the realities of implementing randomized evaluations.

Given my research background, I'm particularly excited to be introducing three new sections in this month’s newsletter. These sections will feature a randomized evaluation conducted by a J-PAL affiliated researcher, a research resource developed by J-PAL, and recent media highlights of J-PAL and research conducted by our network. We hope you find this new content helpful and, as always, please reach out with any feedback. 


Laura Feeney
Acting Executive Director, J-PAL North America

New research underscores the potential to replicate and scale summer youth employment programs to prevent criminal justice involvement and violence

Summer jobs programs, which provide part-time employment and development opportunities to youth, have been shown to reduce violence and involvement in the criminal justice system. Because of the promise of these programs, a key question for researchers has been whether similar effects could be achieved at scale and in different contexts. New results from randomized evaluations of summer youth employment programs in Chicago and Philadelphia between 2015 and 2018, conducted by J-PAL affiliate Sara Heller and funded by J-PAL North America's State and Local Innovation Initiative and Social Policy Research Initiative,provide insight into these scale-up questions and reinforce summer jobs as a strong candidate for replication and scale-up across US cities. Heller finds that summer jobs programs still produce meaningful effects across variation in providers and several other important aspects of implementation. These results suggest that the benefits of the overall program model may hold even when governments decide to modify how it is delivered or administered as part of adapting it to their jurisdiction's needs. Findings also show that youth at higher risk of experiencing socially costly outcomes experience the largest benefits from program participation, an important input for recruitment strategies that policymakers should keep in mind as they design and implement programs in their cities. More information on the policy implications of this study can be found on Heller's website.

Research-practice partnership in Puerto Rico seeks to improve academic achievement and reduce inequality in student learning

A recent J-PAL blog post explores a research-practice partnership between J-PAL affiliated researchers and the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) and their ongoing efforts to design, implement, and evaluate a large-scale principal training program during the Covid-19 pandemic. The program, which seeks to improve academic leadership and management practices, aims to address inequality in student achievement and boost learning outcomes across Puerto Rico. In this post, the authors reflect on the crucial role that flexibility has played in their partnership to date, both in terms of program design and in response to myriad challenges, including earthquakes, hurricanes, and Covid-19. The team’s successful pivot in the wake of these crises, alongside promising early results on the principal training program, sets a promising stage for continued program implementation, partnership, and evaluation moving forward.

New K-12 tutoring webpage features evidence, resources, and policy recommendations

In response to growing interest in tutoring as a strategy to combat Covid-19 learning loss, J-PAL North America’s education team launched a new webpage compiling resources on K-12 tutoring for education leaders, government agencies, and tutoring programs. Resources include key findings from J-PAL North America’s Tutoring Evidence Review—a meta-analysis of 96 randomized evaluations of tutoring programs, evidence-based policy recommendations, resources developed by the National Student Support Accelerator at Brown University, media highlights, and more information on ongoing J-PAL-funded tutoring studies. We welcome inquiries from education leaders, government agencies, tutoring programs, or other organizations interested in evaluating a tutoring program or implementing evidence-based tutoring at scale. For more information, please contact Kim Dadisman.

Featured Evaluation Summary: Improving take-up of tax benefits in the United States

With May 15 marking the end of tax season, many US citizens will have filed their taxes and, if eligible, claimed social and economic benefits. However, due to barriers to benefit take-up, including lack of awareness, confusion regarding program rules, and avoidance of the hassles involved in making the claims, about five million eligible individuals will not claim the Earned Income Tax Credit every year. To address these barriers, researchers partnered with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to test the effectiveness of different messages to taxpayers designed to encourage them to claim certain tax benefits. Researchers found that repeated notifications with simple, highly relevant information improved taxpayers’ likelihood of claiming benefits. Based on the results of this study, the IRS made changes on a national scale to notices sent to taxpayers.

Feature Research Resource: Real-time monitoring and response plans: Creating procedures

When an unintended change arises in a study of a social program or policy, there is often a limited window during which to address it. A good monitoring procedure helps researchers learn about major deviations from plans by observing indicators of how the intervention, data collection, and other essential processes are operating and providing actionable, real-time reports. In a new research resource, we synthesize lessons learned across studies to guide readers to 1) choose which indicators are most important to include in a real-time monitoring procedure, 2) organize incoming data with automatically generated checks and flags, and 3) set up channels of communication and plans for reviewing data and reporting concerns.