In early 1980, the Clark Foundation launched an ambitious series of demonstration programs designed to address the high rate of school dropouts and youth unemployment in several U.S. cities. These programs shared a focus on disadvantaged minority youth, but they varied in their structure from site to site—from a focus on job search and placement in Grades 11 and 12, to academic skills and vocational training throughout high school.
Beginning with the 1984–85 school year, the evaluations' emphasis moved from technical assistance and process evaluation to assessing changes in student outcomes. A matched comparison group design was used to determine whether program students were making gains in attendance, credits earned, grades, and standardized test scores. In only one site, Chicago, were statistically significant differences consistently found between program and comparison sites on these measures. The three academy sites (Palo Alto, Pittsburgh, and Portland) showed some limited evidence of effects in these realms, while the remaining sites did not. All sites showed gains in school retention and student attitude measures.
Another Clark Foundation objective was to influence the institutions in each of the cities to be more responsive to disadvantaged minority youth. The demonstration programs have shown considerable success in this sense. The Boston Compact has become a national model. There are statewide replications underway of the Clark Foundation-funded programs in California and Colorado. In many sites, the programs have had an impact on the cities and may be replicated at that level.
This work has led to a number of lessons and insights about conducting such evaluations. The many issues one must confront are reviewed both in designing such evaluations and in obtaining necessary data from schools. In addition, the purposes such evaluations serve, and guidelines to be followed in conducting them, are also reviewed.