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The Moving the Needle Competition is consistent with President Barack Obama's call in launching My Brother’s Keeper to build on “actual evidence of what works.” (Richard Drew/The Associated Press)

Houston — As part of its effort to encourage governments to make decisions based on rigorous research and reliable evidence, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today launched the Moving the Needle Competition, which will provide funding for state and local governments and nonprofit organizations that implement highly effective social programs in an effort to “move the needle” on pressing problems such as poverty, education, and crime. The competition was highlighted today as a key evidence-based initiative in a White House announcement about My Brother’s Keeper, a federal effort to address persistent opportunity gaps and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.

Through its Top Tier Evidence Initiative, LJAF’s Evidence-Based Policy team systematically reviews all of the rigorous program evaluations that are conducted in every area of social policy. Unfortunately, most programs do not produce the hoped-for effects. However, the team has identified roughly a dozen programs shown in well-conducted, high-quality evaluations to produce strong outcomes of clear policy importance — such as higher high school graduation rates, increased employment and earnings, and a reduction in the number of criminal arrests.

In the hopes of expanding these credible programs to more communities, LJAF is inviting government and nonprofit agencies to submit proposals for implementing one or more of the programs. Examples of such programs include:

  • H&R Block College Financial Aid Application Assistance: The program provided streamlined application assistance to low- and moderate-income families with a dependent child near college age. Over a three- to four-year period, the program increased college enrollment and persistence by 29 percent, versus the control group.
  • LifeSkills Training: This low-cost program is designed to prevent substance abuse among middle school students. After five to six years, it reduced smoking initiation by 20 percent and drunkenness by 10 to 15 percent, versus the control group.
  • Career Academies: The academies are small learning communities within low-income high schools. They offer academic and technical/career courses as well as workplace opportunities. Eight years after high school, average earnings for participants in the program had increased by $2,500 per year, versus the control group.
  • New York City’s Small Schools of Choice: Through a citywide initiative, small public high schools were established in mostly high-poverty communities to replace large, low-performing high schools. Four years after students entered the small schools, the program produced a 6 to 10 percentage point increase in the four-year high school graduation rate, and a 4 to 6 percentage point increase in graduation with academic proficiency, versus the control group.
  • City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs: This community college program provides academic, personal, and financial support to low-income students needing remedial education. After three years, it raised the graduation rate to 40 percent, versus 22 percent for the control group.

“For programs with rigorous evidence of strong impacts, there is every reason to expand their delivery, without delay,” LJAF Vice President of Evidence-Based Policy Jon Baron explained. “If implemented effectively and on a large scale, these programs may improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

The competition is being launched at a time of growing bipartisan interest in evidence-based policymaking. Congress recently established the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, an effort championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.). One of the Commission’s goals is to identify ways to integrate rigorous evaluation into the design of federal programs so that decision makers have a clear understanding of what works and what needs to be improved.

LJAF has committed a total of up to $15 million for the Moving the Needle Competition, which is structured in the following way: Governments and nonprofits commit to using existing resources — such as federal funding for high-poverty schools — to pay for a program’s delivery in their community. LJAF will provide grants of approximately $1 million to $1.5 million for technical assistance. These funds will help to ensure that the agencies implement the programs in the same manner in which they were shown to be effective in the original evaluations. As a condition of award, each winner must agree to participate in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of its program. LJAF will select and fund an independent evaluator to conduct the RCT, which will determine whether the sizable effects found in previous studies can be reproduced.

For more information about the Moving the Needle Competition, please see this Request for Proposals. Those wishing to apply must submit a letter of interest by July 1.