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The (Surprising) Efficacy of Academic and Behavioral Intervention with Disadvantaged Youth from a Randomized Experiment in Chicago (WP-14-03)

Philip J. Cook, Kenneth Dodge, George Farkas, Roland Fryer Jr., Jonathan Guryan, Jens Ludwig, Susan Mayer, Harold Pollack, and Laurence Steinberg

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.

Philip J. Cook, ITT/Terry Sanford Professor of Public Policy, Professor of Economics and Sociology. Duke University

Kenneth Dodge, William McDougall Professor of Public Policy, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University

George Farkas, Professor of Education, University of California, Irvine

Roland G. Fryer, Jr.Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Jonathan Guryan, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Jens LudwigMcCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy, University of Chicago

Susan Mayer, Professor of Public Policy, University of Chicago

Harold PollackHelen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

Laurence Steinberg, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Temple University

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