The program was administered by welfare offices in four counties in California: Alameda, Los Angeles, San Bernadino, and San Joaquin.
Between 1994 and 1997 custodial parents and pregnant teens under age 19 on welfare who did not have a high school diploma or GED were randomly assigned using the
last two digits of their Social Security number to one of four groups: full Cal-Learn (including case management and financial incentives), case management only, financial
incentives only, and no treatment. This WWC report focuses on the financial incentives and no treatment conditions. The evaluation samples were selected from the lists of all
teens in each research county who appeared to be Cal-Learn eligible based on electronic and paper records, which indicated that they were pregnant or custodial teen parents
on welfare. After males and those registered in error were removed, the sample was 4,859, and 2,682 of those teens responded to the Wave I survey. Interviews for the
Wave I survey were conducted between April 1996 and April 1999, with an average of 13 months between program entry and interview. Additional exclusions were made for
teens who lost custody of their children, moved to a nonresearch county or out of state, left AFDC, or did not participate for at least six months. After the additional exclusions,
the survey evaluation sample consisted of 2,156 respondents, including 554 in the financial incentives group and 549 in the no treatment group. The Wave II survey was
administered for the 2,156 Wave I respondents who were not excluded from the sample, with 1,562 respondents. This data were collected 26 months after program entry, on
average, and outcomes from the Wave I survey were used for teens who did not respond to the Wave II survey. Since the study does not present overall findings for the entire
sample, this review presents the findings for teens age 18 and older at the most recent survey, which comprises nearly 83% of study teens.
For 65% of the teens in the survey sample, Cal-Learn began when they were 17 or 18 years old, while the remaining 35% entered the sample when they were 16 or younger.
The average age was 17.2. Most participants (72%) entered Cal-Learn with only one child, while 24% had no children and 4% entered with two or more children. Of teens age
18 or older at their latest interview, 67% reported that they were enrolled in school when they entered Cal-Learn, compared with 33% who were not. All teens in the analysis
sample are female. The sample was 47% Hispanic, 27% African-American, 21% white, and 5% other.
The program featured two key elements: financial bonuses and penalties for either making progress in school or failing to make progress and intensive, individualized case
management to help each client move toward high school graduation or GED receipt. Cal-Learn clients who graduated with a high school diploma or earned a GED received
a $500 reward through a personal check. Prior to graduation, good progress was rewarded with a $100 bonus check applied to the family welfare grant of a Cal-Learn teen
when she received a report card indicating satisfactory progress (at least a C average). But if the Cal-Learn teen did not turn in a report card or had a report card showing
inadequate progress (a D– or F average), the family welfare check was reduced by a total of $100 (two $50 deductions over two consecutive months). Teens who earned
an average grade between C and D were rated as making adequate progress and received neither a bonus nor a sanction. Up to four report cards a year were assessed to
determine if bonuses or sanctions were warranted. In addition, all participants who were attending school were entitled to receive subsidies for support services—child care,
transportation, and other school-related expenses. Generally, bonuses were issued within a month, while sanctions took two months.
Control group students were neither directed toward case management nor eligible to receive bonuses or sanctions. All teens in the evaluation were offered support services,
including reimbursement for child care, transportation to school, and school-related expenses.
The study included a measure of staying in school (dropped out) and a measure of completing school (received high school diploma or GED). Dropping out and high school diploma receipt were taken from survey responses, while GED receipt came from administrative records.
Support for implementation
Information on staff training was not available.