Policy Research

YDSI's President and Senior Research Consultants are currently involved in several large scale policy research efforts. In addition, they have been Principal Investigators on a number of previous initiatives related to YDSI's current work. A sample of these current and previous projects are described below.

Current Research

First Things First

Dr. Gambone is the principal investigator of the external evaluation of a district wide reform initiative -- First Things First (FTF) -- in Kansas City, Kansas (KCK) for the past seven years. The KCK School District, an urban district of about 20,000 students, has attracted national attention among school districts and school reformers for its approach to comprehensive school improvement. Implementation of the reform is being assessed on the basis of field interviews, classroom observations, and surveys of teachers, students, and parents. The reform’s effects on students and schools will be assessed using school records of outcomes such as attendance, test scores, dropout and graduation rates, as well as survey measures of engagement, experiences of support, and quality of implementation.

The first report, published by Gambone & Associates, First Things First: Creating the Conditions and Capacity for Community-Wide Reform in an Urban School District, documents the strategies and activities of the FTF initiative in KCK and reports on the early results. The report also examines the partnership and accountability system established by the KCK school district, IRRE, and the Kauffman Foundation at the start of the reform.

Dr. Gambone’s responsibilities as Principal Investigator of the evaluation include:

Creating the research design guided by the FTF theory of change;
Hiring and supervising researchers conducting classroom observation and field interviews;
The development of data collection instruments including questionnaires, observation forms, and interview protocols;
Providing technical assistance to the KCK School District’s Department of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment to build their capacity to administer the FTF surveys to students and teachers as well as conduct phone interviews with parents to complete parent surveys;
Designing and overseeing the production of longitudinal databases for tracking student performance, thus helping the district develop a better system for keeping track of their student data;
Supervising the analysis of survey, records, and observation data;
Presenting the change in level of implementation and outcomes to key district, IRRE, and Kauffman staff each year to allow for mid-course corrections in the quality of implementation as needed as well as preparing these results for easy presentation to the individual schools; and
Co-authoring reports with members of the KCK research team.

Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)

YDSI is collaborating with Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) on a study of civic engagement among marginalized youth funded by CIRCLE. As an extension of an earlier study, the current project seeks to increase the field's understanding of the effects of civic activism on youth's sense of civic efficacy and community problem solving skills.

YDSI is assisting SPR in the identification and recruitment of traditional youth serving agencies to serve as a comparison group for those agencies that participated in the first phase of the project. In addition, YDSI will train agencies in the survey administration procedures and conduct analyses of the survey data. YDSI will be co-authoring a report comparing the youth development component and identity and civic engagement components of youths' experience in traditional youth serving programs vs those focused on civic engagement.

Flint Community Schools Theory of Change Evaluation

As consultants to the Institute for Research and Reform in Education (IRRE) Dr. Gambone and Dr. Sipe are co-directors of the external component of an evaluation of the district-wide school reform in Flint Community Schools, Flint, Michigan.

Their responsibilities include:

Working with the local Flint team to finalize the research design guided by the initiative's theory of change;
Assisting the Flint team in the development of data collection instruments including questionnaires, observation forms and interview protocols;
Managing the research team's activities through monthly team meetings and on-going coordination with Dr. Judith Lanier (director of the internal component of the evaluation);
Providing technical assistance to the Flint district in areas such as designing longitudinal databases for tracking student performance, and creating analysis plans and programs for survey data; thus, developing the capacity of the District to perform these functions on their own in the future;
Conducting data collection site visits with a team of internal researchers to provide external validation of implementation data collected by local researchers.
Conducting analyses of observational, interview, survey and records data; and
Co-authoring reports with members of the Flint research team.

Previous Research

Voluntary Youth Serving Organizations (VYSO)

As Deputy Director of Research at Public/Private Ventures, Dr. Gambone served as the Principal Investigator of a study of national voluntary youth serving organizations – Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and Girls Incorporated.

This research examined several key questions:

whether these organizations attract a diverse group of youth, or only those who are unlikely to make choices in adolescence that later require public intervention;
whether youth spend sufficient time in the organizations to constitute a significant experience in their lives; and
what types of positive activities are youth drawn to within these organizations.

Even more importantly, however, this research was the first major attempt to develop measures of supports and opportunities that can be used to document youth's experience in youth serving organizations. The study's goal of developing and demonstrating an alternative method for evaluating the quality of activities and experiences deemed to be "developmental" was a crucial step forward in agencies' ability to adopt an accountability approach without relying on outcomes over which they have no control. Dr. Gambone co-authored P/PV's synthesis report on VYSO—Safe Havens: The Contributions of Youth Organizations to Healthy Adolescent Development.

Community Change for Youth Development (CCYD)

As Co-Director of this P/PV demonstration, Dr. Gambone was responsible for conducting background research that shaped the direction and overall design of this large-scale community-based change initiative. She was also responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of the research design to evaluate CCYD. As a community change effort, CCYD offered no standard program model to assess, no definitive terms of participation in an intervention and no defined population (beyond adolescents) to study.

The research team, led by Dr. Gambone (and continuing under the subsequent leadership of Dr. Sipe), developed a research model for studying community change empirically. The model had three major parts:

measuring the critical components of community change that were hypothesized as necessary for the successful planning and implementation of CCYD;
measuring whether these critical components lead to an increase in the developmental supports and opportunities (adult support and guidance, gap activities, work as a developmental tool, youth involvement, and support through transitions) available to young people in the community; and
measuring whether an increase in these developmental resources at the community level leads to an increase of these resources in the lives of individual youth in the community.

As was true of the VYSO research, the CCYD research design contributed significantly to the development of the Youth Development Framework that guides all of YDSI's current work. Both Drs. Gambone and Sipe authored or co-authored P/PV reports on CCYD's research findings.

San Francisco Beacons Initiative (SFBI)

Beacon Centers are designed to offer developmental opportunities for community youth at local public school during non-school hours. These community centers, operated by local community-based organizations, but located in public schools, are designed to be responsive to local needs and the conditions of specific neighborhoods. At the same time, all centers are expected to provide a broad range of opportunities to youth in five core areas: education, career development, arts and recreation, leadership, and health. The initiative hypothesizes that through their participation in Beacon Center activities youth will develop important competencies that will enable them to become responsible adults.

During her tenure as a senior researcher at P/PV, Dr. Cynthia Sipe was the initial principal investigator for an evaluation of the San Francisco Beacons Initiative. As the PI, Dr. Sipe was responsible for:

Creating the research design for the evaluation, based on the SFBI Theory of Change;
Development of data collection instruments, including a survey of middle school youth, interview protocols and a protocol for observation and assessment of Center activities;
Interviewing and hiring local researchers to conduct activity observations;
Working with the local school district to obtain demographic information and records data on attendance, suspensions, grades, and standardized test scores;
Working with SFBI's management information systems developer to ensure that Centers would be able to track program activities and youth's participation in those activities;
Conducting site visits and interviews with staff to each of the five Centers participating in the evaluation; and
Conducting preliminary data analyses.

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