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Evidence-Based Reform:

Key to Major Gains in Education, Economic Mobility, Crime Prevention, and Other Areas of Social Policy
Walking on Tiles

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, whose mission is to tackle major U.S. social problems using rigorous evidence about “what works.” From 2001-2015, the Coalition focused on federal policy, working successfully with the Bush and Obama administrations and Congress to get key evidence-based reforms enacted into law and policy in education, employment, early childhood, and other areas (see addendum). The Coalition is now being relaunched, as discussed below, with a focus on state and local policy. We are unaffiliated with any programs or interventions, enabling us to serve as an independent source of expertise on evidence-based policy.

The Coalition’s Relaunch: Why Now?

The past 20 years have seen real growth in the body of social programs rigorously shown to produce important gains in educational/economic mobility and other life outcomes. Illustrative examples, shown effective in large, well-conducted randomized controlled trials (RCTs), include:

  • Year Up and Per Scholas – these are job training programs for low-income adults that focus on fast-growing industries with well-paying jobs, and provide paid internships with local employers. Increase long-term earnings by 20-40%.


  • ASAP and ACE – a comprehensive program for low-income students at community colleges (ASAP) and four-year colleges (ACE). Increases college graduation rates by 11-15 percentage points.


  • Bottom Line – a comprehensive program of one-on-one advising to help low-income students get into and graduate from college. Increases bachelor’s degree completion by 8 percentage points.


  • KIPP – a network of college-prep, public charter schools serving mainly low-income, minority students. Produces gains of 5-10 percentile points in K-8 reading and math achievement, sustained 2-3 years after study entry.


  • Saga Tutoring – high-dosage, schoolwide math tutoring for 9th and 10th graders in high-poverty high schools. Produces a sustained increase in math achievement, equating to more than 70% of a grade-level of learning at the end of 11th grade.


The Challenge Ahead:

Such programs currently serve only a small fraction of people who could benefit, because government social spending generally doesn’t prioritize or reward proven programs. Instead, social spending is typically allocated through funding formulas or other processes that give no weight to rigorous evidence about what works. Thus, for example, Year Up and Per Scholas – the two U.S. job training programs with the strongest evidence of large earnings gains – receive almost no government funding, and rely largely on philanthropic support, even though government is by far the largest funder of job training for low-income workers in the United States.

At the same time, the many unproven programs that government does fund too often do not deliver the hoped-for results, as we learn when their impacts are ultimately measured [refs 1, 2].

What’s Needed:

Social spending must take a page from the field of medicine, where – per law and policy – proven treatments are put into widespread use, generating amazing improvements in health over time. Since the 1960s, the FDA has required new pharmaceutical drugs to be proven effective in RCTs before allowing them to be marketed. This has led to dramatic medical advances over the past half-century, such as vaccines for measles and COVID, effective treatments for HIV/AIDS and many cancers, and statins and antihypertensive drugs to prevent heart attacks and strokes — all proven effective in FDA-required trials.

We seek to ignite similar progress in social policy, by reforming social spending laws and policies to codify two key concepts:

  • Programs meeting the highest standards for proven effectiveness should receive top priority for funding, so as to expand them widely and benefit many thousands of people; and 


  • Funds should also be allocated to rigorously test innovative new programs – and promising existing ones – in order to grow the body of proven programs over time.


Recent years have seen great progress in building a body of programs rigorously shown to produce major improvement in people’s lives. Let’s now deploy those programs – and build new ones, through rigorous testing – to make real headway on the nation’s social problems.

Coalition Achievements 2001-2015

The federally-focused Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, which operated from 2001-2015, partnered with the Bush and Obama administrations and Congress to get important evidence-based initiatives enacted into law and policy. The achievements are described on Coalition’s archived website, and include, for example, HHS’s Evidence-Based Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV, currently funded at $550 million per year) and the Department of Education’s Education Innovation and Research program (EIR, currently funded at $284 million per year).

An external review, based on confidential interviews with senior federal officials, found that the Coalition had a major policy impact: “The Coalition was given credit by multiple interviewees for the Office of Management and Budget’s establishment of a requirement that many discretionary domestic programs be subject to rigorous evaluation, and for … legislation carrying similar requirements. As one interviewee stated, ‘The Coalition played a central role in securing [the Obama] Administration’s commitment to high standards of evidence.’ And another interviewee stated, ‘The push for strong evidence would not have happened as quickly and widely and with so relatively little controversy without the Coalition.’”

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