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Preventing youth violence and dropout: A randomized field experiment (No. w19014) (Heller et al. 2013)

Citation

Heller, S., Pollack, H. A., Ander, R., & Ludwig, J. (2013). Preventing youth violence and dropout: A randomized field experiment (No. w19014). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Becoming a Man program on arrest and educational outcomes.
    • The study was a randomized controlled trial. Eligible male youth from 18 public schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods were screened for eligibility. The 2,740 who met requirements were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups or a control group.
    • The study found that being offered the opportunity to participate in the program reduced violent crime arrests during the program year and improved schooling outcomes in both the program and follow-up years.
    • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Becoming a Man program, and not to other factors.

Intervention Examined

Becoming a Man

Features of the Intervention

Conducted by Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago, two local nonprofit organizations, Becoming a Man used cognitive behavioral therapy principles to attempt to reduce violence and dropout among disadvantaged youth. Through in- and after-school programming and regular exposure to prosocial adults, students were taught to recognize situations in which automatic responses could lead to trouble and to correct those responses accordingly.

The in-school component offered up to 27 one-hour, once-per-week group sessions during the school day over the school year. Students skipped an academic class in order to participate in the program, which is one of the incentives for many youth to attend. The sessions were delivered in small groups and with low student-to-staff ratios to help develop relationships.

The after-school component kept youth occupied during the hours immediately after the end of school, which can be a high-risk time for engaging in suboptimal behaviors. In addition, coaches led one- to two-hour sessions on nontraditional sports, such as archery and martial arts, which provided opportunities for youth to practice cognitive behavioral therapy principles.

Features of the Study

The study was a randomized controlled trial conducted in Chicago in school year 2009–2010. The study authors recruited 18 public elementary (which serve grades K–8) and high schools in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city to participate. They began by identifying all male students (3,669 people) who were expected to attend those schools and be enrolled in grades 7–10 during school year 2009–2010. A few students (268) were excluded from the study because they missed more than 60 percent of days during the previous academic year and received a failing grade in at least 75 percent of their courses; another 294 students with serious conditions including autism, speech and language disabilities, traumatic brain injury, and emotional and behavioral disorders were also excluded.

The remaining 2,740 students were ranked on the basis of a risk index. The authors then calculated the number of students needed in each school for the study sample, selected that many students in descending order on their risk index, and randomized those selected students to one of four conditions: in-school only, after-school only, both in-school and after-school, or the control group. The authors combined the first three (treatment) groups for analysis. The control group could not participate in the Becoming a Man program.

The authors used electronic arrest records from the Illinois State Police, matched to the analysis sample using probabilistic matching on name and date of birth, to measure criminal justice outcomes and administrative records from the Chicago Public Schools for academic outcomes during the program year and a follow-up year.

Findings

    • The study found that being offered the program reduced violent crime arrests by four per 100 youth during the program year. However, there were no statistically significant impacts on nonviolent, nonproperty, or nondrug crimes during the program year.
    • The effect on violent crime arrests did not persist into the follow-up year.
    • Being offered the program led to lasting gains in an index of schooling outcomes equal to 0.06 standard deviations in the program year and 0.08 in the follow-up year.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

About half of the youth assigned to one of the treatment groups participated. Among those who participated at all, the average participant attended 13 of the possible 27 one- to two-hour sessions. Therefore, the estimated impacts (which calculated the effect of being offered the program) likely understated the impact of actually participating in the program.

Because of this, the authors also estimated impacts of participating in the treatment on outcomes. However, such an analysis introduces the possibility that certain types of youth might have chosen to participate and might also have had better outcomes absent participation; for example, they might have had greater motivation, which spurred them to participate and improved their outcomes. Therefore, that analysis of participants cannot receive a high causal evidence rating. This review focuses only on the results for the offer to participate in the program, which receives a high causal evidence rating.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Becoming a Man program, and not to other factors.

Reviewed by CLEAR

September 2015