Journal Articles

Arceneaux, Kevin. 2005. Using Cluster Randomized Field Experiments to Study Voting Behavior. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 601 (1): 169-179.

Abstract: Voter mobilization experiments are often conducted using individual-level randomization, which can be difficult to implement. A simpler approach is to randomly assign voting precincts, rather than individuals nested within them, to treatment and control groups. Not only is it easier and potentially less expensive to implement, it may allow researchers to study vote preference effects without collecting survey data. This article explores various methodological concerns that researchers should consider when designing and analyzing precinct-level experiments. These concerns are illustrated using data from a precinct-level randomized field experiment conducted in Kansas City, Missouri.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Please discuss the advantages of using cluster randomization versus individual level randomization to study voting behavior.
  2. What considerations are presented for correcting standard errors for intra-cluster correlation risk in order to ensure that the findings are supported by the analysis of data?
  3. What recommendations does the researcher offer for maximizing the number of observations to produce greater statistical power?


Farrington, David P. 2003. “A Short History of Randomized Experiments in Criminology.” Evaluation Review 27(3): 218 -227.

Abstract: This article discusses advantages of randomized experiments and key issues raised in the following articles. The main concern is the growth and decrease in the use of randomized experiments by the California Youth Authority, the U.S. National Institute of Justice, and the British Home Office, although other experiments are also discussed. It is concluded that feast and famine periods are influenced by key individuals. It is recommended that policy makers, practitioners, funders, the mass media, and the general public need better education in research quality so that they can tell the difference between good and poor evaluation studies. They might then demand better evaluations using randomized experiments.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The author states that randomized experiments are often regarded as the “gold standard of evaluation evidence.”  Discuss what he means by this statement, particularly in terms of the benefits they provide for internal validity and disentangling the effects of intervention from other variables.
  2. The use of randomized experiments in criminology research, despite having several advantages, has been inconsistent and characterized by periods of feast or famine.  Please discuss why this may be the case.
  3. What role have individuals played in determining the uses of randomized experiments in criminological research?


Fiel, Jeremy E., Anna R. Haskins, and Ruth N. López Turley. 2013. Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention. American Educational Research Journal 50 (6): 1188-1218.

Abstract: Student turnover has many negative consequences for students and schools, and the high mobility rates of disadvantaged students may exacerbate inequality. Scholars have advised schools to reduce mobility by building and improving relationships with and among families, but such efforts are rarely tested rigorously. A cluster-randomized field experiment in 52 predominantly Hispanic elementary schools in San Antonio, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona, tested whether student mobility in early elementary school was reduced through Families and Schools Together (FAST), an intervention that builds social capital among families, children, and schools. FAST failed to reduce mobility overall but substantially reduced the mobility of Black students, who were especially likely to change schools. Improved relationships among families help explain this finding.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Please discuss how the researchers utilized cluster-randomized field experiments to study student mobility in elementary schools.
  2. Discuss how researchers may take precautions so that spurious relationships between variables (mobility and student outcomes in this article) do not lead to inaccurate causal inferences from a study.
  3. Please discuss the intervention used by the researchers.  In particular, how is the Families and Schools Together (FAST) program integrated into the research analysis?


Popkin, Susan J., Tama Leventhal, and Gretchen Weismann. 2010. “Girls in the ’Hood: How Safety Affects the Life Chances of Low-Income Girls.” Urban Affairs Review 45(6): 715 -744.  Reports on findings from HUD’s Moving to Opportunity randomized field experiment. 

Abstract: Adolescents growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods are at risk for a range of negative outcomes. Girls face specific threats because of their gender—omnipresent harassment, pressure for early sexual initiation, pervasive intimate partner violence, and high risk of sexual assault. This article uses mixed-methods data from the Three-City Study of Moving to Opportunity (MTO) to explore how moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods may have influenced adolescent girls’ life chances. MTO families moved to neighborhoods with lower levels of violent crime overall, but MTO girls also experienced a substantial reduction in the “female fear,” Gordon and Riger’s term for the fear of sexual harassment, coercion, and rape. The authors argue that this change is a plausible explanation for the notable improvements in MTO girls’ well-being.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Please discuss how the researchers used a mixed-methods approach which included interviews to study adolescent girls in high-poverty neighborhoods.
  2. Do the researcher’s findings point to causality among any of the factors presented, and if so, which?
  3. Please discuss what policy implications the findings of this research may hold.  How may decision making be shaped at the local level?