According to federal tests, half of all African American boys have not mastered basic math skills essential for their grade level. The National Bureau of Economic Research will be releasing a new paper that suggests a promising approach for challenged students.
This study was done in 2012-2013 by a team led by Jens Ludwig, the co-director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab. The study was conducted using a group of low-income ninth and tenth grade African American students who come from an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago. The students had weak math skills, disciplinary problems, and low school attendance. It provided a program of intense tutoring, along with group behavior counselings.
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.
The students also met indicators of being on track to graduate from high school on time. The solution Judwig said was the one-on-one that tutoring provided. This is impossible in a class with 25-30 students, but tutoring provides tailored lessons to an individual student. The cost of tutoring and counseling was around $4400 per student. The cost of tutoring would be cheaper than lowering class sizes in order to provide the same one-on-one education.
“If we’re going to instead take the most disadvantaged students who are the furthest behind and do this targeted one hour a day, that seems extremely sensible” said Matthew M. Chingos, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy. Mr. Chingos was not involved in the study.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that if the tutoring and counseling program continues to provide positive results, he hopes to extend it to more schools. “When you close the achievement gap that significantly, you have to pay attention,” he said.
Academic tutoring gives students adult attention that teachers cannot provide. They become closer with their students and build a relationship that is not typcal in a classroom. At one tutoring center in Harlan, a tutor was seen bringing chocolate chip cookies for a student’s birthday.
Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist and co-author of a similiar Chicago study, believes gestures like this could be just as important as academic training: “The hard truth is that a lot of kids in the schools that we tutor in don’t have a lot of positive and stable adult role models.”
“So many people now are convinced that results like this aren’t possible at all for disadvantaged teens,” Professor Ludwig said. “More and more people are of the view that you’ve got to reach poor kids by age 6, or it’s too late and the effects of entrenched poverty are already too profound.”
Studies like this one are showing that these results are not impossible. The researchers for this study modeled the tutoring on a program developed by a Boston-based nonprofit group called Match Education.