Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes for Disadvantaged Youth (WP-15-01)


Philip J. Cook, Kenneth Dodge, George Farkas, Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Jonathan Guryan, Jens Ludwig, Susan Mayer, Harold Pollack, Laurence Steinberg

There is growing concern that improving the academic skills of children in poverty is too difficult and costly once they reach adolescence, and so policymakers should instead focus either on vocationally oriented instruction or else on early childhood education. Yet this conclusion might be premature given that so few previous interventions have targeted a key barrier to school success: “mismatch” between what schools deliver and the needs of youth, particularly those far behind grade level. The researchers report on a randomized controlled trial of a school-based intervention that provides disadvantaged youth with intensive individualized academic instruction. The study sample consists of 2,718 male ninth and tenth graders in 12 public high schools on the south and west sides of Chicago, of whom 95 percent are either black or Hispanic and more than 90 percent are free- or reduced-price lunch eligible. Participation increased math achievement test scores by 0.19 to 0.31 standard deviations (SD)—depending on how the researchers standardized—increased math grades by 0.50 SD, and reduced course failures in math by one-half, in addition to reducing failures in nonmath courses. While some questions remain, these impacts on a per-dollar basis—with a cost per participant of around $3,800, or $2,500 if delivered at larger scale—are as large as those of almost any other educational intervention whose effectiveness has been rigorously studied.

Philip J. Cook, ITT/Sanford Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics and Sociology, Duke University

Kenneth Dodge, William McDougall Professor of Public Policy; Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University

George Farkas, Professor of Education and Sociology, University of California, Irvine

Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Henry Lee Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Jonathan Guryan, Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Jens Ludwig, McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy, University of Chicago

Susan Mayer, Professor of Public Policy, University of Chicago

Harold Pollack, Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

Laurence Steinberg, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Temple University

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