Intensive tutoring and counselling for struggling teenagers

This working paper, published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, presents findings from a randomised controlled trial of an intervention that aims to provide both academic and non-academic remediation for disadvantaged teenagers who are falling behind and at risk of dropping out of school. The academic portion of the intervention includes intensive, individualised one-to-two maths tutoring provided for an hour every day. The non-academic portion includes social-cognitive skills training such as learning how to evaluate consequences ahead of time.

The study took place in a high school in a deprived area of Chicago with high levels of ethnic minority pupils and where nearly all the pupils are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The sample was 106 males aged 14–16 who were identified using an “academic risk index”.

Findings showed that participation in the intervention reduced course failures by about 66% in both maths and non-maths classes, increased rates of being “on track” for graduating high school by 46%, and showed large gains in a broad measure of maths test scores.

These are promising findings for a small-scale pilot, but testing the intervention at scale will be an important next step. Also, the current study measured outcomes only during the programme year, so no conclusions can be drawn yet regarding lasting impacts. Cost is another factor, and the authors do note that intensive small-group tutoring can be expensive. However, they say that the tested intervention (costing roughly $4,400 per pupil) seems to yield larger gains in adolescent outcomes per dollar spent than many other intervention strategies.

Source:The (Surprising) Efficacy of Academic and Behavioral Intervention with Disadvantaged Youth: Results from a Randomized Experiment in Chicago (2014),NBER.

Extended maternity leave does not improve test scores

A new working paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research investigates whether prolonged paid and protected maternity leave has an effect on children’s cognitive development. The authors used data from Austria, where a change in policy in 1990 extended maternity leave entitlement from one year to two years. Most women – around 80% – took the full entitlement. The authors looked at the effect this change had on test scores at age 15, using standardised assessments in mathematics, reading, and scientific literacy from the international PISA study.

The paper found no significant overall impact of the extended parental leave mandate on standardised test scores at age 15. However, subgroup analyses by maternal education and child gender points to significant positive effects for children of highly educated mothers, especially for boys. In contrast, schooling outcomes of children from less-well-educated mothers seem to have been harmed (boys have lower test scores and girls have a higher likelihood of being in a lower grade). The authors note that it is an open question as to how much these potential negative effects could be mitigated or reversed through a high-quality formal day care system.

Source: Parental Leave and Children’s Schooling Outcomes: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from a Large Parental Leave Reform (2013), National Bureau of Economic Research.

A computer is not enough

Researchers from the US National Bureau of Economic Research have published a new working paper that explores how important access to a home computer is to the educational achievement of children. They found no effects, either positive or negative, on a range of outcomes.

The authors conducted a randomised controlled trial with 1,123 pupils aged 11–16 without home computers from 15 schools across California. In the largest ever experiment involving the provision of free home computers, half of the pupils were randomly selected to receive free computers, while the other half served as the control group. The goal of the study was to evaluate the effects of home computers alone, so no training or other assistance was provided to the pupils who received the free computers.

At the end of the school year, data from the schools was used to measure the impact of the home computers on numerous educational outcomes. Findings showed that, although computer ownership and use increased substantially, there were no effects on grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance, or disciplinary actions in the experimental group.

Robert Slavin, Professor at the IEE, discussed a similar topic in a March blog post about Sugata Mitra’s “hole in the wall” experiment, in which he made a computer freely available to children in a Delhi slum. In his post, Slavin says, “If access to computers were decisive, middle-class children, at least, would be gaining rapidly. Admittedly, the technology itself keeps getting better and faster and easier to use, but from thirty years of experience in the developed world, it seems unlikely that access alone will lead children to become wise and capable.”

Source: Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren (2013), NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research).