How Massachusetts provides education policymakers with research insights: An interview with Carrie Conaway, Chief Strategy and Research Officer, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education – Episode #145

Massachusetts is known as a leader in providing education policymakers with research findings that they can use to improve policy and practices. The state’s Office of Planning and Research, within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), takes a multifaceted approach:

  • Design a proactive research agenda, also known as a learning agenda
  • Increase internal capacity for research
  • Create partnerships with external researchers

To learn more, we are joined by Carrie Conaway (@clconaway), the Chief Strategy and Research Officer of the ESE. She leads the 15 person Office of Planning and Research.

How Seattle used results-driven contracting to improve homeless services: An interview with Jason Johnson, Deputy Director, Human Services Department, City of Seattle – Episode #144

Because many of the most important functions of state and local governments involve contracting for goods and services supplied by the private sector, improving procurement processes is an important way to strengthen outcomes for citizens. That is the motivation behind our series on results-driven contracting.

Our focus today is Seattle, Washington, whose Human Services Department worked with the Government Performance Lab (GPL) at the Harvard Kennedy School to improve outcomes for its homeless population. The changes included:

  • Consolidating contracts and allowing for more flexibility
  • Establishing goals for homeless service providers and tracking progress
  • Using active contract management

To learn more, we are joined by is Jason Johnson, the Deputy Director of Human Services Department in Seattle.

Additional information: Check out the brief by the GPL about Seattle’s contracting reforms. [click here].

How states can optimize their pre-K programs: An interview with Greg Duncan, Professor, UC Irvine, and Member, Pre-Kindergarten Task Force – Episode #143

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia spent $6.2 billion in state funds on pre-kindergarten programs in 2015, highlighting the emphasis that policymakers are placing on pre-k to help students prepare for elementary school. Research has shown both the success of pre-K as well as inconclusive evidence about the sustainability of those gains as children become older. Those findings raise the question: How can states optimize their pre-K programs to provide both the strongest early learning boost and a solid foundation for future learning?

Recently, a group of leading pre-K researchers set out to find consensus about what we know about pre-K education. In April 2017 the Pre-Kindergarten Task Force presented their findings. To learn more, we are are joined by a member of the task force, Greg Duncan. He is a Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine.

In the interview, Duncan summarizes the research evidence around four key decisions (policy levers) facing state policymakers related to pre-K: (1) Whether to fund more or fewer pre-K slots; (2) Whether and how to regulate classroom quality; (3) Whether and how to prescribe curriculum; and (4) How to support the gains of pre-K after children leave pre-K, i.e., in the elementary school years.

How states can use “efficacy networks” to test strategies for school improvement: An interview with Tom Kane, Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education – Episode #142

The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), emphasizes the importance of evidence, including defining four levels of evidence-based practices. The law, however, leaves it to states to decide how much they want to build an evidence base and how much to nudge districts toward choosing more effective strategies. So what should state education leaders do who want to leverage the new law and encourage districts to learn and do what works for students?

Tom Kane joins us for a two-part series to provide suggestions. In this podcast episode, he discusses how states could use the authority and resources provided by ESSA to launch a system of “efficacy networks,” meaning collections of local agencies committed to measuring the impact of the interventions they’re using. As he notes, “An overlapping system of efficacy networks working with local [education] agencies would create a mechanism for continuous testing and improvement in U.S. education. More than any single policy initiative or program, such a system would be a worthwhile legacy for any state leader.”

He also describes how the Proving Ground initiative run by the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard is demonstrating the value of having an efficacy network. CEPR is working with 13 school agencies to develop a model to easily conduct low-cost, local pilots.

Tom Kane is a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and faculty director of CEPR. His recent article in the journal Education Next is called, “Making Evidence Locally: Rethinking education research under the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Transforming the culture of procurement in state and local government: An interview with Jeffrey Liebman, Director, Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab – Episode #141

“Many of the most important functions of state and local governments – from building and maintaining roads to housing the homeless – involve contracting for goods and services supplied by the private sector,” notes the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab in their primer, Results-Driven Contracting: An Overview. “Unfortunately, governments often treat procurement as a back office administrative function, rather than as a core part of their strategy for delivering better performance.”

As a result, increasing the effectiveness of procurements offers an enormous opportunity today for state and local governments to improve their overall performance. As part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative, the Government Performance Lab has been working with a set of city governments to adopt results-driven contracting strategies and to transform the culture of procurement.

To learn more, we are joined by the Lab’s director, Jeffrey Liebman. He is a professor at the Kennedy School and is also the Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government. His recent article published on the website Route Fifty is, “Business as Usual Can Be the Riskiest Procurement Approach.”

Insights from the only Federal department with two Deputy Secretaries: An interview with Heather Higginbottom, former Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, U.S. Department of State – Episode #140

Almost all Federal agencies are lead by a Secretary and a Deputy Secretary. But in 2000, Congress created a new position at the State Department, the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources — in other words, the chief operating officer. In doing so, the Department became the only federal Cabinet-level agency with two co-equal Deputy Secretaries.

What lessons does having a second Deputy Secretary provide for other public agencies, whether federal, state or local? To get insights, we speak with Heather Higginbottom (@hhigginbottom). She served as the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources from 2013 to the end of the Obama administration. Before that role she served as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. She currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer of CARE, the global humanitarian organization. We recorded this conversation in 2016 while she was still in her Deputy Secretary role.

Update: The Trump administration appears to be combining the two Deputy Secretary roles at State into one, reversing the structure during the Obama administration.

Transforming support services in Federal agencies: An interview with Jeffrey Neal, Former Chief Human Capital Officer, Defense Logistics Agency and Department of Homeland Security – Episode #139

How can Federal agencies successfully streamline their support services, such as HR and IT, to boost efficiency and improve results?

We get insights from Jeffrey Neal (@JeffNealHR), a leading expert in human resources issues. He served for 33 years in the Federal government, including as the Chief Human Capital Officer for the 23,000-employee Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) from 2000 to 2009. At DLA, he helped the agency identify more than $50 million in administrative and operational savings. He later served as the Chief Human Capital Officer for the Department of Homeland Security, which has more than 240,000 civilian and military employees. Today he is a Senior Vice President at the consulting firm ICF and he also runs the ChiefHRO blog.

Creating a results-focused city government: An interview with Michael Nutter, former Mayor of Philadelphia – Episode #138

NutterWhat is the value of evidence and data for elected city leaders as well as how can those leaders create a results-focused culture within city government? We get insights from Michael Nutter who served for eight years at the Mayor of Philadelphia, from 2008 to January 2016. Under his leadership, Philadelphia became known as a leader in the use of data and evidence.

In particular, the Nutter Administration established strategic goals with measurable targets; launched PhillyStat, Philadelphia’s performance management system; established Philadelphia’s open data policy in 2012 and launched an open data portal in 2015; and launched Philly 311, the city’s online customer service system.

Today Michael Nutter is a CNN political commentator, a professor at Columbia University, a fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics and a senior fellow with the What Works Cities initiative, among other roles.

Making rigorous program evaluation easier with RCT-YES software: An interview with Peter Schochet, Fellow, Mathematica Policy Research – Episode #137

Public leaders — whether they’re helping run a state agency, a school system, a hospital, a set of Head Start centers or any other organization — are likely to implement changes over time, whether it’s adjusting programs or adding new services. Maybe it’s a new curriculum for students in a school district or new intake procedure for patients in a hospital. Whatever the change, how can those leaders determine if the change is actually effective?

Our focus today is new software, called RCT-YES, designed to help public leaders (and the researchers who work with them) answer that question. It was funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, the statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education, and developed in partnership with Mathematica Policy Research. The software, available free to download online, is based on new statistical methods for analyzing data from randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

To learn more, we are joined by Peter Schochet. He is a nationally known methodological expert in program evaluation and a Senior Fellow at Mathematica. He led the team that developed RCT-YES.

Web extra: For those with deeper expertise in evaluation, Peter Schochet gives an overview of how the RCT-YES software is designed to conduct a wide range of analyses using RCT or QED data and how the software uses new statistical methods for analyzing those data. [click here]

Lessons in applying behavioral insights to human services from the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project: An interview with Lashawn Richburg-Hayes and Nadine Deshausay, MDRC – Episode #136

Nadine_Dechausay_MDRCLashawn_Richburg-Hayes_MDRCIn 2010, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a project to explore how programs could advance their goals, and address specific challenges, by applying insights from behavioral sciences, including behavioral economics. It is called the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project. Now, six years later, it has results from 15 randomized experiments conducted across seven states on the topics of employment, child support and childcare.

BIAS imageTo get an overview and hear implementation lessons for human services agencies that might want to use these types of interventions — or “nudges,” as they are often called — we are joined by two researchers from the social policy research firm MDRC, which was a partner on the BIAS project. Lashawn Richburg-Hayes is a Director and Nadine Deshausay is a Research Associate at MDRC.

More information: For more information on the 15 projects, including their goals, strategies, results and costs, see MDRC’s PowerPoint presentation presented at the BIAS Capstone Convening in April 2016 [click here].