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Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes Among Adolescents (WP-21-12)

Jonathan Guryan, Jens Ludwig, Monica Bhatt, Philip Cook, Jonathan Davis, Kenneth Dodge, George Farkas, Roland Fryer Jr., Susan Mayer, Harold Pollack, and Laurence Steinberg

There is growing concern that it is too difficult or costly to substantially improve the academic skills of children who are behind in school once they reach adolescence. But perhaps what we have tried in the past relies on the wrong interventions, failing to account for challenges like the increased variability in academic needs during adolescence, or heightened difficulty of classroom management. This study tests the effects of one intervention that tries to solve both problems by simplifying the teaching task: individualized, intensive, in-school tutoring. A key innovation by the non-profit the researchers study (Saga Education) is to identify how to deliver “high-impact tutoring” at relatively low cost ($3,500 to $4,300 per participant per year). Their first randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Saga’s tutoring model with 2,633 9th and 10th grade students in Chicago public schools found participation increased math test scores by 0.16 standard deviations (SDs) and increased grades in math and non-math courses. The authors replicated these results in a separate RCT with 2,710 students and found even larger math test score impacts—0.37 SD—and similar grade impacts. These effects persist into future years, although estimates for high school graduation are imprecise. The treatment effects do not appear to be the result of a generic “mentoring effect” or of changes in social-emotional skills, but instead seem to be caused by changes in the instructional “technology” that students received. The estimated benefit-cost ratio is comparable to many successful model early-childhood programs.

Jonathan Guryan, Lawyer Taylor Professor of Education and Social Policy and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Jens Ludwig, Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

Monica Bhatt, Senior Research Director, Crime Law and Education Law, University of Chicago

Philip Cook, ITT/Terry Sanford Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Public Policy Studies, Duke University

Jonathan Davis, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Oregon

Kenneth Dodge, William McDougall Distinguished Professor of Public Policy Studies, Duke University

George Farkas, Distinguished Professor, School of Education, University of California, Irvine

Roland Fryer Jr., Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Susan Mayer, Professor Emeritus, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

Harold Pollack, Helen Ross Professor, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, University of Chicago

Laurence Steinberg, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Temple University

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