Impact Evaluation of the Oakland Promise Brilliant Baby Program

NORC’s Early Childhood Research and Practice Collaborative is conducting a longitudinal evaluation of the impact of the Oakland Promise Brilliant Baby program on the early healthy development of at-risk children and the economic well-being of their families. The evaluation is designed to provide ongoing feedback throughout the implementation of the program and build capacity for Oakland Promise to conduct ongoing formative evaluation internally.

Jointly launched in 2015 by the City of Oakland’s Mayor’s Office and the Oakland Unified School District, the Brilliant Baby program is an innovative two-generation early intervention that within the first few months of life grants economically vulnerable children with college savings accounts (CSAs) seeded with $500 and provides their parents with client-directed financial coaching. The program builds upon a growing literature documenting the effectiveness of CSAs to improve the likelihood that children from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds attend a post-secondary institution later in life.

Brilliant Baby is the developmentally earliest component of Oakland Promise’s broader “cradle-to-career” approach to providing Oakland’s children with the skills, resources, and aspirations to graduate from high school, complete college, and be successful in a career of their choice. The City of Oakland and its partners are investing in rigorous program evaluation in order to improve the program, build the evidence base for early CSA interventions, and serve as a national model for future replication. NORC and Oakland Promise’s Brilliant Baby program staff have engaged in a collaborative design process that resulted in a detailed logic model for Brilliant Baby, a rigorous evaluation design, strong stakeholder buy-in for the evaluation, and robust program data infrastructure both for impact evaluation and ongoing program monitoring and improvement.

NORC is evaluating program fidelity and whether Brilliant Baby improves parent attitudes and behaviors as well as key child development outcomes early in life. This evaluation utilizes a randomized controlled trial design (RCT) to evaluate the impacts of CSAs and financial coaching coupled with monetary incentives on the economic well-being of families and the early development of children using a variety of measures. By comparing families who were randomly assigned into three categories--to either a control group, a group that only received CSAs, or a group that received both CSAs and financial coaching, the evaluation will be able to causally assess the impact of different aspects of the program on key quantifiable metrics. This evaluation was also designed with the power to follow children over time across the full “cradle to career” experience—through college completion.

NORC is also helping Oakland Promise to evaluate the other components of the cradle to career program, including its Kindergarten to College, Future Centers, and College Scholarships & College Completion programs.