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Short Bits: Hot Friday Sessions

November 9, 2013 02:38 PM

By Nicole Fauteux

Does 1+1 = 3? What Research Tells Us About the Potential of Two-Generation Approaches

“Are parents increasing their education levels and employment when their children are randomly assigned to Head Start? Yes,” said P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale of Northwestern University, one of four presenters on a panel of researchers who shared their findings on two-generation approaches to improving children’s well-being and their parents’ economic prospects.  Panelists reported that two-generation interventions related to income, assets, education and employment can produce positive results, but the timing and targeting of interventions may be key to their success. 

Empirical research lags behind policy in this area, which is largely based on strong theoretical evidence. The papers presented by the panel will appear in the spring 2014 issue of The Future of Children. Discussant Nisha Patel of The Aspen Institute noted that this is the third year she has participated in an APPAM discussion of two-generation approaches and the crowd keeps growing – a good sign that future research on this topic will be forthcoming. 

Early Childhood Interventions at Scale: Lessons for Current Policy Efforts

Policymakers considering President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All Initiative will want to consult three papers presented Friday afternoon that attempted to shed light on the short- and long-term impacts of early childhood education.  The researchers employed large data sets from Head Start, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study and the statewide Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten program for economically disadvantaged students.  Of particular interest to all the panelists was the question of why early cognitive gains made in preschool programs appear to fade by the end of kindergarten or first grade.

Do the effects truly fade, they asked, or does the convergence of student scores arise from other factors that have not been studied? What is the experience of children in the control groups prior to entering school? What is occurring in the kindergarten classroom, and how has the increased availability of full-day kindergarten changed the equation? The session raised more questions than it answered, but happily the researchers indicated that they are already tackling some of these and will be sharing some of their findings next year.

Could Data “Tsunami” Usher in APPAM’s Moment?
Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job in the 21st Century

"I've been waiting a long time to see a headline like that," APPAM President Paul Decker told the crowd gathered Friday in Washington for his presidential address. The headline, taken from a Harvard Business Review article, was one of many moments of levity that punctuated Decker’s talk titled False Choices, Policy Framing, and the Promise of "Big Data".

While the use of big data is unquestionably a disruptive force within policy analysis, Decker believes the coming wave of data—and the need for people truly capable of making sense of it all—could usher in “APPAM’s moment.”

“The tools are continually evolving, but the underlying principles behind research are not,” he said. “Tricky research issues such as the distinction between causation and correlation and the appropriate methods to identify causation are not solved by the use of big data techniques. Our policy analysis and evaluation experts have been struggling with these issues for decades, and their expertise is critical to steering the translation of research and data into appropriate practice.”

 

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