Reading the Evidence Tea Leaves: Trump Inaugural Address Cites Welfare, Education

What role will evidence play in the new administration?  While that is not yet clear, in his inaugural address President Trump called out two issues where evidence-based policy has been playing an increasingly important role: education and welfare.

While both issues received only short references, their inclusion in a speech that was relatively short overall suggests how important they may be to the new administration.

On poverty, the president cited “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities” as a pressing problem and that “we will get our people off of welfare and back to work.” On education, he criticized “an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

The poverty reference reinforces the expectation that Congress will revisit welfare reform later this year. House Republicans have already laid out an anti-poverty plan that places evidence at the center of its reform efforts.

On education, the administration’s plans with respect to evidence are less clear. The president has previously criticized Common Core and endorsed school choice.

But the president’s inaugural address suggests that ineffectiveness is a central concern, which may elevate the importance of evidence. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind, includes several evidence-based provisions.

Update: Trump was even more explicit in his support for welfare reform in a speech to congressional Republicans on January 26. According to Roll Call:

Trump also touted his interest in overhauling welfare, another key plank of Ryan’s “A Better Way” agenda. “We want to get our people off welfare and back to work,” the president said.


Posted in Evidence, Politics

Investing in Innovation (i3): Strong Start on Evaluation and Scale, But Greater Focus Needed on Innovation

The Social Innovation Research Center has today released a report examining the early progress of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program. The executive summary follows below.


This report is an evaluation of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, a tiered-evidence grantmaking initiative at the U.S. Department of Education.    The program’s primary purpose is to support the development, testing, and scaling of field-initiated programs for high-need students in K-12 education.

Created in 2009, it has provided over $1.4 billion in grants for education projects, including those focused on kindergarten readiness, student achievement, decreasing dropout rates, and turning around low-performing schools. In late 2015, the program was changed as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  However, the renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program has retained most of i3’s original features.

This report reviews the program’s early progress. Its findings are based on a review of publicly available final project evaluations, internal performance reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and interviews with current and former officials from the U.S. Department of Education, i3 project directors, and several national experts in education.

The report includes an assessment of the program’s overall results, its contributions to the knowledge base, and lessons learned from launching, implementing, evaluating, and scaling i3-funded projects. The remainder of this executive summary provides highlights from the full report.

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Posted in Education

Building Evidence in Education: i3’s Past and Future

The following is an excerpt from SIRC’s report on the i3 program. In it, national experts and former Obama administration officials weigh in on lessons learned and the program’s possible future.


Viewed in isolation, the i3 program – while imperfect – appears to have been generally effective.  But the newly-renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program does not exist in a silo.

The program exists in a larger policy context – one that includes other federal programs, state and local education agencies, and perhaps most importantly, a political context that has become very different in the aftermath of the 2016 elections.

How does EIR fit into this larger context?  As one administration exits the stage, what fate awaits it in the next one?  If the new Republican administration and GOP Congress choose to keep it, how might it change?

New Administration, New Priorities

In late 2015, Congress reworked i3 as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, bipartisan legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind. The new EIR program now bears a bipartisan imprint.

Still, as a program originally associated with the Obama administration, its fate under the incoming administration is uncertain.  The Trump administration may decide to eliminate it, but it may also see it as useful tool for furthering its school choice and accountability agendas.  Moreover, support for evidence-based policy and tiered evidence initiatives (like EIR) more generally has been growing among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

When asked, Rick Hess, the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, began by making the pessimistic case.  “I don’t know what will be done in the new administration,” he said, “but I assume the new administration and Congress will take a hard look at the full array of Obama initiatives, including this one.”

“If i3 had happened outside the context of Race to the Top and had not been locked arm-in-arm with foundations on Common Core, I think I would have looked upon it differently, because historically the idea of public-private partnerships has a lot of appeal.”

“On the other hand, there are folks who are interested in school choice.  They might see it as a vehicle for encouraging more choice programs and expanding efforts to study their impact,” he said.

The president-elect has pledged $20 billion for school choice.  His Education Secretary-designee, Betsy DeVos, is a strong school choice and accountability advocate.   Federal support for charter schools is overseen by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, the same division that runs EIR.   As a program that provided support for charter school initiatives like KIPP and New Schools for New Orleans, EIR could be useful to the incoming administration.

Others point to potential support in Congress. “Betsy DeVos will be extremely important, but there is also more appetite on the congressional side than there used to be,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, a former director of the Institute of Education Sciences under President George W. Bush.

“There is still bipartisan momentum to increase evidence use within federal policy,” agreed Martin West, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former senior education policy advisor to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “I think the status of programs like EIR hinges on that broader momentum.”

Support for evidence-based policy has been growing among Republicans in recent years. In the summer of 2016, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of the House Republican leadership made evidence a central component of a policy plan that it ran on in the fall, called A Better Way.   Although the plan did not mention EIR specifically, it endorsed tiered-evidence initiatives in general.

The broader focus on evidence has also drawn cautious support from analysts at conservative organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute, and Heritage Foundation.   In November, the Heritage Foundation endorsed the increased use of evidence in the federal budget process.

Given these varied sources of potential support, EIR’s fate is unclear.  If it were to be kept in place, however, how might it be changed?

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Posted in Education

Trump Selects Ryan Ally as White House Budget Director

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) as his nominee for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The OMB director oversees the development of the proposed presidential budget, various performance and management functions, and the regulatory process. OMB has also been an important driver of evidence-based policy during the Obama years.

Mulvaney is known as a strong fiscal conservative and was a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. If the new administration were to incorporate evidence more tightly into its budget process, as has been recommended by the conservative Heritage Foundation, it would do so under Mulvaney’s leadership.

Mulvaney’s selection is also the latest example of close ties between Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been a strong supporter of evidence-based policy, albeit with a conservative bent. According to The Washington Post:

Mulvaney has had largely friendly relations with Boehner’s successor, Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). He was among three members who offered nominating speeches for Ryan in a closed-door House GOP leadership election last month.

Ryan and Mulvaney have a record of working together on budget issues.

Ryan, who served as chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2011 to 2015, said Mulvaney is “someone I have come to greatly respect and rely on, going back to our time serving together on the Budget Committee.”

And according to CNN:

[Mulvaney] didn’t initially support Trump for president — he first endorsed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during the primaries. But he endorsed Trump a few hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan did in June, saying at a candidates’ forum in Gaffney, South Carolina, that Trump could advance the Republican agenda.

Ryan praised the nomination shortly after it was announced.

“Mick Mulvaney is the absolute right choice,” Ryan said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Mick in his new role, and I commend President-elect Trump on this excellent selection.”


Posted in Politics

ED Announces First Round of Grants Under i3’s Replacement

The Department of Education today announced the availability of new grants under the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program, an updated version of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

As was the case with i3, EIR has three tiers of grants, with higher levels of funding provided to projects with higher levels of incoming evidence. The three types of grants are linked to each other, each “with the expectation that projects that build this evidence will advance through EIR’s grant tiers.” According to ED:

Applicants proposing innovative practices (as defined in this notice) that are supported by limited evidence can receive relatively small grants to support the development, iteration, and initial evaluation of the practices; applicants proposing practices supported by evidence from rigorous evaluations, such as large randomized controlled trials (as defined in this notice), can receive larger grant awards to support expansion across the country.

Congress authorized this reworked version of i3 in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind.

Final funding for the program has yet to be resolved by Congress, which passed a continuing resolution before leaving for Christmas. It funded all federal discretionary programs (including this one) at current levels until April 28.  The temporary funding extension will give the incoming Trump administration a chance to influence funding for the rest of the year when it comes up for full consideration in April.

Until then, EIR/i3 remains level-funded at $120 million. The program was also funded at that level in the Senate version of the full-year spending bill (S.3040), but it was defunded in the House version (H.R.5926). Assuming she is confirmed, the president-elect’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, may have some say on the final spending figure.

Meanwhile, ED is proceeding with the new roll out.  Descriptions of the three types of grants (and links to their associated applications) follow below. Application deadlines for all three are the same: February 13 for the notice of intent to apply and April 13 for the application itself.

Note: SIRC is anticipating release of a major report on lessons learned from the i3 program in January. The report is based on interviews with over 60 i3 grantees, outside experts, and former and current Education Department officials. This report was developed with the generous financial support of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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Posted in Education

Social Innovation Directory Updated

SIRC’s directory has been updated!  The directory includes over 1,000 links to reports and other resources on social innovation and performance issues.  The directory is accessible below and also through links above and to the right.


Cross-cutting Topics

The directory is updated a few times per year.  For the latest news and resources, consider subscribing to SIRC’s email list (see the top right of this page).

Posted in Uncategorized

Heritage Foundation Endorses Increased Use of Evidence in Budgeting for Trump Administration

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been playing a significant role in advising the transition team for the incoming Trump administration, has included a section on evidence-based policymaking in its recently released Blueprint for a New Administration.

The Heritage document was released on November 1, but it has drawn increased attention in recent weeks as the organization’s influence with the incoming administration has grown.

“Part gatekeeper, part brain trust and part boots on the ground, Heritage is both a major presence on the transition team itself and a crucial conduit between Trump’s orbit and the once-skeptical conservative leaders who ultimately helped get him elected,” according to a story from Politico.

The Trump domestic policy transition team is being overseen by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Blackwell has long standing ties to Heritage. His transition portfolio includes the Department of Education, Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Health and Human Services.

Heritage is recommending that the Trump administration reinstitute the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), which was used under President George W. Bush to determine whether programs worked and to help justify budget decisions.

The OMB tool had a mixed record during the Bush years. Congress often ignored the administration’s recommendations, particularly during the last two years of the Bush administration (2007-2009) when Congress was controlled by Democrats. With Republicans now in charge, a new PART could have substantially more influence.

Some observers caution, however, that the real role of evidence will not become clear until after the president-elect announces more appointments, including the new OMB director. Two names floated for the position are Gary Cohn, a Goldman Sachs executive, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC).

Heritage Recommendations

The Heritage Foundation’s evidence recommendations follow below:

Institute Evidence-Based Policymaking.

The next Administration should improve the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) along with a fiscally disciplined, evidence-based review within OMB. PART was an attempt by the Bush Administration to assess the effectiveness of every federal program’s purpose, management, and results. The extremely ambitious PART was a first-of-its-kind attempt to link federal budgetary decisions to performance. President Barack Obama regrettably terminated PART. A revitalized review process would require federal agencies to present OMB with credible evidence on their performance. Budget requests from agencies should be based on their performance, not just desired levels of funding.

The next President can encourage Congress to be more fiscally disciplined by requiring evidence of program efficacy in budget recommendations. Instituting an improved PART and an evidence-based review would help the President pressure Congress to eliminate wasteful spending, and to make federal programs operate as efficiently as possible. Agencies should be required to review programs at intervals no longer than every five years, and require ongoing performance monitoring.

When practiced correctly, evidence-based policymaking would allow policymakers, especially at the OMB, to base funding decisions on empirically rigorous evaluations of program results. Given scarce federal resources, federal policymakers should fund only those programs that have been proven to work.

Leadership is crucial to setting an evidence-based agenda.

  1. The next President needs to send a clear message to the OMB and the entire federal bureaucracy that the West Wing believes evidence-based policymaking should influence budget decisions.
  2. The OMB director needs to develop clear standards for collecting and analyzing evidence of program efficacy for budgetary decision making.

David B. Muhlhausen, “Evidence-Based Policymaking: A Primer,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3063, October 15, 2015.

David B. Muhlhausen, “Evaluating Federal Social Programs: Finding Out What Works and What Does Not,” testimony before the Subcommittee on Human Resources, Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, July 17, 2013.

David B. Muhlhausen, Do Federal Social Programs Work? (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013).


Posted in Evidence, Performance Management

Pay for Success, Child Welfare Evidence Provisions Unexpectedly Struck from End-of-Session Bill

Two sets of provisions widely supported by child welfare and evidence advocates have been struck from a pending bill affecting the National Institutes of Health, called “21st Century Cures.”

According to Congressional Quarterly:

Two bills related to foster care and other children’s services that passed the House by voice vote in June were in the medical innovation and mental health package (HR 34) released last Friday, which the House will debate Wednesday. The bills, a priority for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., were struck after senators led by Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., voiced opposition Tuesday when a North Carolina group home organization protested. …

The other bill (HR 5170, S 1089) that was to be in the package would have awarded federal money to state and local governments who could demonstrate that certain social service programs were achieving a beneficial outcome.

According to the report:

Burr’s last-minute objections caught lawmakers in both chambers off guard. Frustrated Democratic aides questioned why leaders in the House didn’t stand up for the welfare provisions, especially because Burr’s steadfast support for the 21st Century Cures effort probably meant that he would have continued to support the bill overall.

“The bill passed the House unanimously in June and Burr never objected when the bill was hotlined in the Senate,” a Democratic Senate aide told CQ. “Republican leaders backed down, despite the fact this bill has support of more than 500 child welfare groups, including Children’s Defense Fund and American Academy of Pediatrics.”

No word yet from congressional staff on whether the provisions might be reinstated in this or another bill before Congress leaves for the year. SIRC will continue to monitor the situation and report any changes.


Posted in Children and Families, Social Impact Bonds / Pay for Success

Pay for Success Legislation Nears Enactment

Update (11/30/16): The pay-for-success provisions have been unexpectedly dropped from the bill. SIRC’s original story follows below.

Federal legislation that would authorize $100 million for pay-for-success projects (dubbed “Social Impact Partnerships”) has been attached to a larger end-of-year bill that is expected to pass in the House this week and the Senate in the next two weeks.

The latest action on similar legislation had come in late May, when the House passed a nearly identical bill (H.R.5170) sponsored by Reps. Todd Young (R-IN) and John Delaney (D-MD).  Separate legislation was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) in 2015, but it was never acted on.

If it is enacted as expected, the bill would be a nice going away present for Young, who won a race for the Senate in November and will be joining the bill’s Senate co-sponsors in January.

Major Provisions

The legislation tasks the Treasury Department with overseeing the Social Impact Partnership program, although the department may delegate oversight authority for individual projects to other federal agencies. The bill creates a federal interagency council to advise and coordinate with the Treasury Department and a separate appointed commission of experts to assist the interagency council.

Under the bill, the first request for proposals would be issued within a year of  enactment — likely late next year if the bill is enacted by the end of December.  Applications would be restricted to states and local governments, but they would apply on behalf of partnerships that would typically include nonprofit social service providers, intermediaries, evaluators, and philanthropic organizations.

Funding may be provided for projects lasting up to 10 years. However, federal payments will only be made to the state or local governments if the designated independent evaluator has determined that the project has met the requirements specified in the agreement.

Evaluations would need to rely on randomized controlled trials or, where they are not feasible, other methodologies that have been approved by the interagency council that allow for the “strongest possible causal inferences.”

Funds could also be used for feasibility studies. The Social Innovation Fund has been providing funding for that purpose to a number of grantees since 2014.

The full text can be found in Title XXV (p. 943) of the larger bill.

Posted in Social Impact Bonds / Pay for Success