First lady Laura Bush has traveled the country touting programs that the White House says do everything from steering kids away from drugs and violence to increasing reading skills and building character. As the first lady prepares to convene a national Helping America's Youth summit in Washington, D.., next month, a look at some of the programs she has visited shows that, by and large, they are based on promising ideas, but have little scientific evidence of effectiveness, reports Youth Today.
The adviser who helped find model programs for the first lady describes facing the same challenge that confronts the operators, advocates, and funders of youth development programs: “When you look out there, the number of programs that meet strong standards [for evaluations] are just not there,” says G. Reid Lyon, a well-known education researcher. Mrs. Bush has said that the programs she's visiting are “very effective,” “successful” and “have some track record.” While some of the programs have been examined by independent evaluators, most of their evidence consists of self-evaluations, incomplete preliminary data, anecdotes, or a belief that certain activities help kids – the kinds of evidence that youth development advocates have been citing for decades, but are now often told is not good enough. Youth Today describes a sample of the programs the First Lady has visited, looking especially for those that appear to have some evidence of effectiveness.