Scaling Up Individualized Tutoring Programs for Disadvantaged Youth

The educational achievement gap is widespread throughout the United States, especially among disadvantaged youth. Policy reforms to address this issue often focus on improving teacher quality, but do not target students who have already fallen behind their grade level.

In order to study the potential of individualized tutoring to address this problem, a randomized evaluation was conducted by Philip J. Cook (Duke), Kenneth Dodge (Duke), George Farkas (UC Irvine), J-PAL affiliate Roland G. Fryer (Harvard), J-PAL affiliate Jonathan Guryan (Northwestern), J-PAL affiliate Jens Ludwig (UChicago), Susan Mayer (UChicago), Harold Pollack (UChicago) and Laurence Steinberg (Temple). The researchers applied the tutoring model from Match Education of Boston to Chicago Public Schools, in order to study its effect on student performance. The program provided 50 minutes of daily, individualized tutoring to students who had fallen behind in math.

The researchers found that students who participated in intensive tutoring showed significantly higher test scores and math grades, as well as fewer failures in math courses as well as other courses. The students learned one to two additional years of math in a single school year, above what is typically learned. The tutoring program narrowed the black-white test score gap by almost a third in one year.

The evaluation showed that tutoring can be delivered at a manageable cost and is a task fundamentally different from regular classroom teachings. Due to these results, Roseanna Ander (UChicago) and J-PAL affiliates Jens Ludwig (UChicago) and Jonathan Guryan (Northwestern) have recently published a policy proposal recommending a scale-up of intensive tutoring programs.

The proposal suggests that school districts across the United States implement this model of low-cost tutoring for students who are falling behind in math. The cost of tutoring programs is seen as a major barrier to scaling up these programs, but the researchers found that the Match education model was successful and cost-effective. They predict the initiative will cost $2,500 per student when implemented on a large scale, and that this cost would be offset by the benefit of increased lifetime earnings. Funding for tutoring programs can be provided through Title I funds, an exciting prospect for policymakers as it targets a population typically under-served in the allocation of Title I funds. The proposal imagines that these programs could be scaled up either by SAGA Innovations – a spin-off created by Match executives to bring tutoring programs to NYC and other cities – or by other nonprofits

The full proposal can be read here.

Author: Carolyn Ruh

Carolyn Ruh is an Undergraduate Policy Intern at J-PAL North America. As a Policy Intern, Carolyn helps write summaries of research articles and updates the J-PAL North America blog. Carolyn is currently studying economics at Boston College with a minor in Faith, Peace and Justice. She has previously worked with ACCION East, a nonprofit in Cambridge that provides small business loans throughout the United States.

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