February 5, 2015

Study highlights gains from Match tutoring program

A team from the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and Urban Education Lab, together with researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard University, released the findings of a study highlighting new strides in narrowing the education and success gaps for young black and Latino male students from low-income areas.

Graduation rates, GPAs, and test scores of adolescent Latino and black male students in low-income areas have long been lower than those of their white peers from higher-income areas, and the gap has become increasingly disproportionate in recent decades.

University of Chicago professors Steven Levitt and Erin Robertson, among others, have proposed a now popular theory regarding the achievement gap.

“[W]hen it comes to underperforming students [schools should] eschew traditional success metrics like test scores, focusing more on pragmatic objectives like keeping kids out of trouble…and helping them with labor market integrations,” Levitt and Robertson wrote in their 2013 report, “What Can be Done to Improve Struggling High Schools?”

The recent Crime and Urban Education Labs’ study details the effects of Match, a national tutoring program. Developed by Match Education in Boston, which seeks to correct the “mismatch” in academic preparedness common among minority students in impoverished areas, the program involved two-on-one math tutoring and was offered for school credit. The Chicago Match study worked with approximately 2,000 black and Latino male high school students in 12 South and West Side Chicago Public Schools over the past year.

Though studies on how to best remedy the achievement gap are numerous, Match tutoring is different in both its strategy and success. Aside from its intensive, small-scale structure, Match tutors receive training “much more intensive than most other tutoring programs,” Match Research Manager Julia Quinn wrote in an e-mail. Tutors, she continued, “are supervised by Site Directors (one per school) who handle behavioral issues…and conduct formal observations of every tutor for 30 minutes once a week.”

The one-year study found that participation in Match improved student math test scores by the equivalent of an extra one to two years of learning for the typical American high school student (equal to about 30 percent of the black-white test score gap nationwide for 13-year-olds). It also improved math grades, reduced math course failures by more than 50 percent, and reduced overall course failures by  more than 25 percent. 

Match tutoring has the potential for future success. A New York Times article published this week cited a study by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth which found that “eliminating the achievement gap in America…would raise the total output in the U.S. by another 10% percent.” And in the process, “lifetime earnings of the poorest quarter would jump by 22 percent.”

Though, Quinn cautioned, Match’s results “do not mean that providing this intervention universally would cut the black-white test score gap by the magnitude we see in [the Washington Center] study,” states could save money using Match. While tutoring programs in New York City public schools can cost the state $20,000 per student, Match costs a mere $3,800 per student. Quinn attributes Match’s cost-effectiveness to “recognizing that small group tutoring simplifies the teaching task in many ways” and adjusting training programs accordingly.

“Match has shown,” Quinn concluded, “that we shouldn’t throw in the towel on [disadvantaged adolescents], and that it is still possible to cost-effectively and substantially improve their academic outcomes.”