Reviews | New election, same problems in Maryland

Jon Baron was a candidate for the 2022 Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland.

In the classic film “groundhog daya TV weatherman played by Bill Murray is stuck in a time loop, reliving February 2 over and over again.

It’s an apt metaphor for what Marylanders have been going through for years, as politicians from both parties rolled out plan after plan to improve education, raise wages and help struggling families get on. forward. Decades later, the needle has barely moved on these issues — in Maryland or nationally. In this election year, we have an opportunity to change our approach. Let’s finally do it.

Today, more than a quarter of eighth graders in Maryland can’t even read at a basic level, and more than a third can’t do basic math – just like 20 years ago, according to the measures of the United States Department of Education. Census Bureau data shows that more than half a million The people of Maryland live in poverty and that we have not reduced our poverty rate by over 30 years. Even the current problem of inflation eroding income gains is not new to many Marylanders: Census data shows that after inflation is taken into account, the poorest 40% of households have seen their income stagnate since 1979, as income inequality soared.

Why are we stuck? The answer lies in the fact that Maryland, like other states, continues to roll out well-intentioned but unproven programs. This long-standing approach to social spending has failed to deliver progress for a simple reason: many programs, no matter how plausible or well-intentioned, simply don’t work — they don’t improve people’s lives — like we did it. seen too often when results are measured. The same pattern occurs in other fields, such as medicine and business: when new treatments or approaches are rigorously tested, only 10-20% are usually effective.

Yet we continue to roll out untested social programs, expecting this approach to suddenly succeed where it has failed in the past. Hence, Groundhog Day.

The cure lies in adopting a key lesson from other fields: to move forward, we need to deploy solutions that not only sound good, but have also been tested in the real world and improve people’s lives. It’s been standard procedure in medicine for more than 50 years, ever since the Food and Drug Administration began requiring pharmaceutical drugs to be effective in rigorous randomized trials before they were allowed to be marketed. The result has been amazing improvements in human health (think measles and coronavirus vaccines, HIV/AIDS treatment, and statins and blood pressure medications to prevent heart attacks and strokes – all proven effective in rigorous testing).

Could a similar approach work in social policy? Yes! In recent years, rigorous trials have identified a small but growing number of exceptional social programs that produce big improvements in people’s lives, showing that success is indeed possible. A key example is Year up to, a job-training program for disadvantaged young adults that focuses on fast-growing industries and offers paid internships with local employers. It increases average earnings by a remarkable $8,000 per year.

In education, KIPP – a network of college-preparing public charter schools serving primarily low-income minority students – increases reading and math scores from kindergarten to eighth grade five to 10 percentile points and university enrollment by seven percentage points. Another program, Conclusionwhich provides personalized counseling to help low-income students enter and graduate from college, increases bachelor’s degree completion by eight percentage points.

Unfortunately, these programs only have one foot in Maryland because government social spending in our state, as in other states, generally does not reward proven effectiveness. Instead, money is typically allocated through funding formulas or other processes that disregard rigorous evidence, thereby supporting programs that seem plausible but have not been tested.

To move forward, we must rewrite Maryland’s laws governing social spending to incorporate two fundamental principles. First, they should make it clear that programs with the highest standards of proven effectiveness receive top priority for funding to scale them statewide to benefit many thousands of people. Second, given the currently limited number of proven programs, laws should also provide funds to rigorously test innovative new programs – and promising existing ones – in order to expand the number of proven programs eligible for scale-up.

If we continue on our current path, we’ll be – like Murray’s TV weatherman – here 20 years from now, still mired in the same problems and listening to policymakers roll out the next new plan. Instead, let’s launch a new approach to problem-solving in Maryland, using tried and tested solutions – just like in medicine – to finally spark progress in education, economic opportunity and other areas affecting people. million lives.

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