University of Chicago Urban Education Lab study: Targeted tutoring can reduce the education gap

28 Jan

People want an education for a variety of reasons. Some have a love of learning. Others want to attend a good college or vocational school. Still others, see an education as a ticket to a good job. Increasingly for schools, the goal is to prepare kids with the skills to attend and succeed at college. In order to give children the skills to succeed, schools need teachers who are effective at educating their population of kids. There are many themes in the attempt to answer the question, what will prepare kids for what comes after high school. What will prepare kids for what comes after high school is a good basic education. The schools that provide a good basic education are relentless about the basics.

Sharon Otterman wrote a good news story in the New York Times about how a relentless focus on the basics can yield results. In Brooklyn School Scores High Despite Poverty Otterman reported:

To ace the state standardized tests, which begin on Monday, Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, finds money for coaches in writing, reading and math. Teachers keep detailed notes on each child, writing down weaknesses and encouraging them to repeat tasks. There is after-school help and Saturday school.
But at the start of this school year, seven or eight students were still falling behind. So the school hired a speech therapist who could analyze why they and other students stumbled in language. A psychologist produced detailed assessments and recommendations. A dental clinic staffed by Lutheran Medical Center opened an office just off the fourth-grade classrooms, diagnosing toothaches, a possible source of distraction, and providing free cleanings.
Perfection may seem a quixotic goal in New York City, where children enter school from every imaginable background and ability level. But on the tests, P.S. 172, also called the Beacon School of Excellence, is coming close — even though 80 percent of its students are poor enough to qualify for free lunch, nearly a quarter receive special education services, and many among its predominately Hispanic population do not speak English at home.
In 2009, the 580-student primary school, tucked between fast-food restaurants and gas stations in a semi-industrial strip of Fourth Avenue, topped the city with its fourth-grade math scores, with all students passing, all but one with a mark of “advanced,” or Level 4. In English, all but one of 75 fourth graders passed, earning a Level 3 or 4, placing it among the city’s top dozen schools.
On average, at schools with the same poverty rate, only 66 percent of the students pass the English test, and 29 percent score at an advanced level in math, according to a New York Times analysis of Department of Education statistics. And though it is less well known, P.S. 172 regularly outperforms its neighbors in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, where parents raise hundreds of thousands a year for extra aides and enrichment.
The school’s approach, while impressive in its attention to detail, starts with a simple formula: “Teach, assess, teach, assess,” said Jack Spatola, its principal since 1984.
Mr. Spatola attributed the coaches and other extra help to careful budgeting and fighting for every dollar from the Department of Education; the school’s cost per pupil, in fact, is lower than the city’s average. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/26/education/26test.html?pagewanted=all?pagewanted=all

What this school does well is know its student population and design assessments and interventions targeted at its population of kids. It is an example of the think small not small minded philosophy. Motoko Rich reported about another example of the think small and focus on the individual philosophy in her story about the University of Chicago study focused on targeted tutoring.

Rich reported in the New York Times article, Intensive Small-Group Tutoring and Counseling Helps Struggling Students:

A new paper being released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests a promising approach for helping the most challenged students, who often arrive in high school several years behind their peers.
The study, which was conducted by a team led by Jens Ludwig, the co-director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab, provided a program of intense tutoring, in combination with group behavioral counseling, to a group of low-income ninth- and 10th-grade African-American youths with weak math skills, track records of absences or disciplinary problems. Those students learned in an eight-month period the equivalent of what the average American high school student learns in math over three years of school, as measured by standardized test scores, over and above what a similar group of students who did not receive the tutoring or counseling did…..
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/education/intensive-tutoring-and-counseling-found-to-help-struggling-teenagers.html
ref=education&_r=0

Jann Ingmire reported in the Phys.Org article, Targeted tutoring can reduce ‘achievement gap’ for CPS students, study finds:

For the new report, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the UChicago team tracked the impact of tutoring and mentoring among 106 ninth- and tenth-grade students at Harper High School in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood for six months in 2012 and 2013. Students were selected randomly to permit rigorous analysis of the outcomes. In addition to a significant jump in math test scores, students receiving tutoring and mentoring failed two fewer courses per year on average than students who did not participate, and their likelihood of being “on track” for graduation rose by nearly one-half.
“These results come from a randomized experiment of the sort that generates gold-standard evidence in medicine, but remains far too rare in the area of social policy,” noted Roseanna Ander, Executive Director of the UChicago Urban Education Lab. The lab is part of the UChicago Urban Education Institute, which is dedicated to creating knowledge to produce reliably excellent schooling.
One benefit of the Match tutoring approach is that it takes on the “mismatch” between a student’s grade level and the actual skills he or she has developed, which in disadvantaged urban settings like Chicago can be four to ten years behind grade level in math, which is a key gateway to high school graduation, said Jens Ludwig, Co-Director of the Urban Education Lab and McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy.
“So much of the energy in education policy is in improving the quality with which grade-level material is taught in classrooms,” Ludwig said. “But that’s not going to help a ninth-grader who is struggling with third- or fourth-grade math problems.”
Perhaps because students in the study got the targeted help they needed to catch up, Ludwig said, “These effects on schooling outcomes are larger—much larger—than what we see from so many other educational strategies.”
To help students catch up to grade level and re-engage with regular classroom instruction, the Match program administered a regimen sometimes described as “tutoring on steroids.” Virtually all participants were African American males from low-income families. Some of the 106 participants were selected via random lottery to receive the Match program’s individualized math tutoring for one hour per day, every day; each math tutor works with just two students at a time. In addition, students in this group received to non-academic intervention for one hour a week through the BAM mentoring program. BAM, developed by Chicago non-profit Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago, uses elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy and non-traditional sports activities to strengthen social-cognitive skills, including self-regulation and impulse control. Other students participated in BAM alone, and the rest received the school’s existing programming.
“In addition to gains in achievement test scores we also saw improvements in engagement with school, such as an increase in attendance of about 2.5 weeks per year” said Jonathan Guryan, Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and Co-director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab. “The results indicate this combination of programs may potentially be one way to narrow the black-white test score gap.”
The expansion of the BAM mentoring and Match tutoring approach to serve more CPS students will allow researchers to better understand the mechanisms of how these programs work and whether they can produce the same results on a larger scale.
The UChicago team’s NBER study concludes, “The impact of the pilot intervention reported in this paper are large enough to raise the question of whether the field has given up prematurely on the possibility of improving academic outcomes for disadvantaged youth.”
http://phys.org/news/2014-01-gap-cps-students.html

Citation:

The (Surprising) Efficacy of Academic and Behavioral Intervention with Disadvantaged Youth: Results from a Randomized Experiment in Chicago
Philip J. Cook, Kenneth Dodge, George Farkas, Roland G. Fryer, Jr, Jonathan Guryan, Jens Ludwig, Susan Mayer, Harold Pollack, Laurence Steinberg
NBER Working Paper No. 19862
Issued in January 2014
NBER Program(s): CH DAE DEV ED EFG HC HE LE LS PE
There is growing concern that improving the academic skills of disadvantaged youth is too difficult and costly, so policymakers should instead focus either on vocationally oriented instruction for teens or else on early childhood education. Yet this conclusion may be premature given that so few previous interventions have targeted a potential fundamental barrier to school success: “mismatch” between what schools deliver and the needs of disadvantaged youth who have fallen behind in their academic or non-academic development. This paper reports on a randomized controlled trial of a two-pronged intervention that provides disadvantaged youth with non-academic supports that try to teach youth social-cognitive skills based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and intensive individualized academic remediation. The study sample consists of 106 male 9th and 10th graders in a public high school on the south side of Chicago, of whom 95% are black and 99% are free or reduced price lunch eligible. Participation increased math test scores by 0.65 of a control group standard deviation (SD) and 0.48 SD in the national distribution, increased math grades by 0.67 SD, and seems to have increased expected graduation rates by 14 percentage points (46%). While some questions remain about the intervention, given these effects and a cost per participant of around $4,400 (with a range of $3,000 to $6,000), this intervention seems to yield larger gains in adolescent outcomes per dollar spent than many other intervention strategies.

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this. You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

It is going to take coordination between not only education institutions, but a strong social support system to get many of these children through school. This does not mean a large program directed from Washington. But, more resources at the local school level which allow discretion with accountability. For example, if I child is not coming to school because they have no shoes or winter coat, then the child gets new shoes and/or a coat. School breakfast and lunch programs must be supported and if necessary, expanded. Unfortunately, schools are now the early warning system for many families in crisis. In addition, to families and schools, corporate support can be useful in helping to move at-risk children into the mainstream.

Related:

‘Becoming A Man’ course: Helping young African-American men avoid prison https://drwilda.com/2013/07/03/becoming-a-man-course-helping-young-african-american-men-avoid-prison/

Study: The plight of African-American boys in Oakland, California https://drwilda.com/2012/05/27/study-the-plight-of-african-american-boys-in-oakland-california/

Schott Foundation report: Black and Latino boys are not succeeding in high school https://drwilda.com/tag/african-american-male/

We give up as a society: Jailing parents because kids are truant https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/we-give-up-as-a-society-jailing-parents-because-kids-are-truant/

Jonathan Cohn’s ‘The Two Year Window’ https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/jonathan-cohns-the-two-year-window/

Who says Black children can’t learn? Some schools get it
https://drwilda.com/2012/03/22/who-says-black-children-cant-learn-some-schools-gets-it/

Inappropriate discipline: The first step on the road to education failure
https://drwilda.com/2011/12/13/inappropriate-discipline-the-first-step-on-the-road-to-education-failure/

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