Using Evidence on Cost-Effectiveness
August 01, 2021
Appears in August 2021: School Adminstrator.
The influx of federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan warrants careful attention by district leaders to higher-value investments
Schools across the country are searching for ways to provide targeted learning supports to students who have fallen behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One example of a program that might be considered is the Reading Partners program, which helps elementary students who are behind on their literacy skills to catch up to classmates. The program matches students with a volunteer reading tutor two times a week for one-on-one support.
The program is unique, not in its goal but in that it has been the subject of a study that measured both its effectiveness and the costs associated with those effects. A team of researchers with MDRC, led in 2016 by Robin Jacob, evaluated the program with a rigorous randomized design to understand the costs and effects of improving literacy. The study found Reading Partners improves student reading at a cost that is lower than many alternatives.
This kind of evidence illustrates how study findings on costs and effects can benefit school systems nationwide, especially in the dynamic funding landscape of the COVID-19 era as federal recovery funding flows into schools. Careful attention to such evidence will better ensure the recovery funds help school leaders achieve their goals and result in improved outcomes for students.
Rebecca Davis is a research assistant at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Brooks Bowden is director of the center and a faculty member at the Graduate School of Education at Penn.