“Despite decades of efforts and trillions of dollars in spending, rigorous evaluations typically find that around 75 percent of programs or practices that are intended to help people do better at school or at work have little or no effect,” says Future of Children senior editor Ron Haskins in a recent New York Times op-ed related to his new book.
Haskins isn’t arguing for massive budget cuts for federally funded social programs—instead, he’s hoping the new Congress won’t cut funding for evaluation research, which is a relatively new federal initiative. Evaluation research helps us know which programs work and don’t work; then we can expand what works and modify or eliminate what doesn’t work. Haskins concludes his op-ed by affirming that “social policy is too important to be left to guesswork.”
Research is one of the best tools to inform policy decisions because it’s more objective than political ideology. A lot is at stake when deciding which programs will be used to tackle social problems. This is especially true when considering child-related issues because what happens to people as children is likely to have lifelong effects. Regardless of what Congress decides to do, the Future of Children can be used as a nonpartisan resource to promote effective policies and programs for children and families based on the best available research.
For instance, when addressing childhood disability, begin with our volume “Children with Disabilities.” You’ll learn about the importance of policy measures that increase coordination between different types of services. Additionally, you’ll see how technology can improve outcomes but can also expand disparities unless access is provided equitably.
If you’re interested a multigenerational approach, read our volume “Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two Generation Mechanisms.” You’ll learn about what the most promising programs are doing for families. For example, you can read about how preschool and home-visiting programs can alleviate children’s stress, how increasing parent’s education levels can strengthen children’s healthy development, how improving parent’s health can improve children’s health, how carefully timed income support can promote children’s healthy development, and how helping poor families build assets can help children succeed.
For those interested in improving the literacy of young Americans, see “Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-First Century.” You’ll read of the breadth and complexity of literacy challenges, but also find policy implications such as the need to focus more attention on informational text and analytical writing in K-12 education, as well as arguments to increase access to strong preschool programs for children from low-income and non-English-speaking families.
Whatever your political persuasion, the best research can bring people together to solve social problems. Whenever possible, let’s leave guesswork behind and follow the evidence. To read our research publications, visit futureofchildren.org.