What matters more than class size and spending in student achievement? Intensive tutoring.

KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta holds its students to rigorous academic standards offered through longer schedules, after-school sessions and Saturday hours for 192 days a year.

My AJC colleague Ty Tagami wrote today about a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that examines the possible reasons for improved performance of students in sought-after charter schools.

The research uncovered a key factor: The intensive and often mandatory tutoring required in many charter schools.

“The authors of the paper — What Can We Learn from Charter School Lotteries? — compared the performance of students who won a spot at a charter school in an annual lottery and those who did not and had to stay in their traditional neighborhood school. The researchers explored several theories behind the higher achievement of some of those who got in — from the ‘no excuses’ policies prevalent in urban charter schools to differences in class size, spending and teacher certification. They concluded that three explanations rose to the top: the amount of teacher feedback, above-average suspension rates and intensive tutoring. Tutoring had the strongest correlation with accelerated performance,” wrote Tagami.

I found Ty’s piece so interesting that I went to the National Bureau of Economic Research and read “What Can We Learn from Charter School Lotteries?” The researchers looked at successful charters that admit students by lottery since they have more applicants than seats.

After pooling the data from 113 such schools and examining practices, the authors conclude “…intensive tutoring is the only characteristic that remains significant in improving student performance. Tutoring offered at charter schools is typically more intense than tutoring offered at traditional public schools. Charter schools often use paid tutors, add tutoring on top of already long school days, and require all students to participate. This finding about the importance of tutoring is in line with other recent evidence pointing to dramatic gains from intensive tutoring on its own, suggesting a good place to start for effective and practical reform at traditional public schools.”

The 63-page paper has other interesting stuff. Here are excerpts of some of it:

•Overall, once one accounts for surrounding neighborhood and school characteristics, many of the specific charter school practices are no longer associated with student improvement. The main exception is intensive tutoring. Its estimated impact remains large and relatively stable, especially in math, even when conditioning on other charter school characteristics.

•In line with previous studies, we find no evidence that differences in class size, per pupil expenditures, or teacher certification explain charter school effectiveness. The “No Excuses” explanatory factor that remains significant after controlling for fallback school performance (even for nonurban schools only) is whether a charter has an intensive tutoring program (though the effect of high suspension rates is close to significant).

•A charter school which attracts students who would have otherwise attended a particularly poor-performing traditional public school would appear more effective than an identical charter school that draws students who would have otherwise attended a better performing school. Estimates of charter school impacts should therefore be interpreted relative to the experience of students who lose the lottery at that school. As mentioned earlier, Angrist et al. (2013) find stark differences in the gain that can be attributed to a charter school according to whether the school is located in an urban or nonurban setting. The large positive effects from the Massachusetts studies are concentrated among the urban charter schools, while nonurban charters are generally ineffective and may even reduce achievement for some.

•Also, charter schools that are more likely to locate in highly segregated and disadvantaged areas tend to be “No Excuses” schools, while nonurban charter schools, in contrast, tend to emphasize other priorities, such as performing arts, interdisciplinary group projects, field work, or customized instruction.

•Lottery studies that use admissions data from identifiable schools, like KIPP Lynn, UP Academy, SEED, and the Promise Academy charter schools, allow for a more in-depth analysis of the mechanisms behind why some types of charter schools are more effective than others. All four of these charters boost student performance substantially (especially in math) compared to the low-performing urban schools that lottery losers attend. Because each of these charter schools targets disadvantaged areas, they also have a competitive advantage against surrounding traditional public schools. Because these charters are all trying to turn around the prospects of youth from disadvantaged neighborhoods, it is perhaps not surprising that they have adopted similar “No Excuses” strategies, which have been cited for decades by qualitative researchers as important for improving student performance, As noted earlier, these strategies include uniforms, high expectations from principals and teachers, a tightly enforced discipline code, along with intensive tutoring, longer instruction time, regular feedback, college preparation services, and an energetic commitment to ensuring the academic success of all students. Another feature of these schools are empowered, flexible, and inspiring principals, whose presence may be necessary to implement “No Excuses” schools successfully.

•There is some question about the extent to which the “No Excuses” framework captures what is different about these schools. While these schools share many similarities, they also exhibit distinct differences in curricula and culture—for example, KIPP schools follow a particularly unique setup, with middle schools starting in Grade 5 instead of 6, students receiving ‘paychecks’ for exhibiting good behavior that can be used for participation in school activities, and classrooms requiring students to ‘SLANT’ (Sit up straight, Listen, Ask questions, Nod, and Track the person speaking with your eyes). At Harlem Children’s Zone’s ‘s Promise Academy, students receive a free daily breakfast and regular instruction on character and social emotional issues in gender-based groups, and all classrooms are equipped with smart boards. Suspension rates also differ. UP Academy and SEED report relatively high suspension rates (33.5 percent in 2013 for UP compared to a 2.8 percent state average, and 52 percent for SEED compared to a 23 percent city average), while KIPP Lynn and Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy report low suspension rates that are close to state averages (4.7 and 2.5 percent, respectively).

•Moreover, some evidence suggests that these four charter schools may spend more per student than the traditional public schools, because they receive additional funding from charitable foundations. KIPP, for example states that 15 percent of its annual operation expenses is covered by philanthropic contributions.

Reader Comments 0

34 comments
Retiredmathteacher
Retiredmathteacher

Of course it is true.  I taught advanced Mathematics for 21 of my 26 years in working in a public high school.  I willingly stayed after school until 5:00 most days, and I took on all that chose to come.  I witnessed many kids gain 2, 3, and even up to 5 years in one calendar year due to focused and regular help, as well as their own willing hard work.  I also had several who "got nothing" out of tutoring, mainly because they thought that all they needed to do is show up and say "tutor me".  Imagine their genuine surprise when I actually demanded that they actually do something other than sit there!


Through the early 2000's until about 2009, I would have as many as 20 kids show up every day.  I may add that a lot of the significant gains happened after reluctant students realized I am human, and they established a positive relationship with me.  As time moved into 2010, it became rare to have any students take me up on tutoring.  They, and their parents, became content to whine about how they "didn't get this new math" and "I am too busy/can't get a ride" for after school work.  I still had a few that made tremendous improvement.  Several of these students are now doing a remarkable job in the college of their choice.  Several are even doing a STEM major!


My point is that one should not assume that the tutoring described in the article is not being provided by numerous teachers, for free, in many, if not most, public schools in the area.  The real question is why people are not taking advantage of the opportunities provided, not seeking to find such opportunities within their schools, and/or demanding that opportunities be provided at the school.  I can assure you that the majority of teachers would rather spend their work time working with students than doing the mindless paperwork now required!


I am pretty sure that tutoring is available on a regular basis at most public schools.  People do, however, have to make an effort to seek it out, and the students actually have to follow through and make the best of it..........

kaelyn
kaelyn

It sounds like you were a wonderful teacher. My kids have had some great math teachers, and all of them have held after school tutorials. I was told that all of the teachers at our school are required to have at least one scheduled day for tutoring, but not all comply. A couple of years ago my son was struggling in chemistry and when he asked the teacher if he could come to tutoring he was told that "unless you want to sit and stare at me, it's a waste of time." I was livid and complained. That resulted in the teacher scheduling one day a week twenty minutes before school started, which lasted less than a month. We ended up getting a chem tutor.

I also asked the ELA teacher from last year if she worked with students to improve writing skills. She said she would like to, but writing is time consuming. ?????? This must be true because most of the teachers don't actually read what the kids write anymore, instead opting to use online essay scoring software.

So we're supposed to have tutoring in the schools, but it doesn't always work out that way.

Retiredmathteacher
Retiredmathteacher

@kaelyn There are always a few, unfortunately, who get away with being contrary to policy and common sense, to say nothing of not being particularly student friendly.  However, my experience was that the majority of teachers would be available when promised, and they almost all begged kids to take advantage of any and all available tutoring opportunities.


I would not have been happy at all with the two teachers you described!

gactzn2
gactzn2

A charter school with suspension rates at 33.5% and 52% should not be allowed to remain open. They want to weed out the difficult students and  keep the well-behaved ones.   Public schools with  suspension rates as high as theirs would be reconstituted in a heartbeat....And they are allowed to remain open???(smh)

gactzn2
gactzn2

Wonder what the teacher attrition rates are- probably astronomical based on the suspension rates,

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Change the rules for these charters so that 1) every child in the neighborhood district is assigned to the charter school (no application or lottery needed) ,and 2) no child can be dismissed to return another school because of behavior. Keep the intensive tutoring and longer day.  I think much of the "advantage" disappears.  Does additional practice, especially for kids whose parents do not contribute much to helping them with school (for whatever reason) help those kids?  It would have to, unless they are intellectually impaired.


Having a longer day in some rural areas might not work so well; in my district, starting at kindergarten, many children are away from home already for 9 1/2-10 hours a day due to all school levels starting at approximately the same time and a large percentage of the students ride the bus (kindergarten-high school all together.)

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


"Change the rules for these charters so that 1) every child in the neighborhood district is assigned to the charter school (no application or lottery needed) ,and 2) no child can be dismissed to return another school because of behavior. Keep the intensive tutoring and longer day.  I think much of the "advantage" disappears. "


Why can't the students change their behaviors? Why do we have to screw around with what's working so that the eduacracy and the disruptive students can just go on doing what they're doing?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Astropig @Wascatlady Hell.....apply those rules and the home school will improve! You are still a dsht!!!!!! What is your real motivation?

kaelyn
kaelyn

My lucky friends with kids in charter and magnet schools tell me that they are pleased with the tutoring opportunities. I refer to them as being lucky because I gave up on my county's lottery system after three failed attempts. Sadly, DeKalb has so many kids trying to get into a handful of great lottery only schools that I stand a better chance of winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

We don't have time to wait for Superman, so each year we have to hire private tutors to work with our kids. They are not cheap. I'd love for my kids to have access to high quality tutoring (not tutoring aimed at rescuing students who are failing, which is what our school mainly offers), but that type of tutoring seems to be available only at the charters and magnets. It's as if the neighborhood schools intentionally refuse to implement strategies that work. Congrats to the charters that are doing it the right way.

redweather
redweather

All of these measures leading to success can be done anywhere as long as the school administration supports them. I find it interesting that suspension rates, which are a racial bogey man when discussed in connection with public schools, are apparently accepted as necessary in charter schools. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@redweather In my area, the judges routinely just give parents another chance, and another chance, and another chance.  Then the child moves to another school (even in the same district) and the "clock" starts all over again!

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather


I would fully support making OSS days count against the attendance requirement for truancy and mandatory attendance statutes.I would put some more teeth in those statutes.I know from personal experience that a LOT of parents don't take these MA laws seriously until the sheriff shows up.If they knew that there would be real consequences for their progeny being kicked out of school for disruptive behavior,it would be a start toward getting some of these kids under control.It would not be a magic bullet,but improvement is a series of small steps that add up over time.


I would also make adults ineligible for public assistance for a period of years if they drop out of school for any reason other than extreme hardship or disability.No loopholes,no BS.If you are not pursuing the basic education that taxpayers provide,you don't deserve the other basics that taxpayers provide.No picking and choosing what fits your lifestyle choices.

ute
ute

@Astropig @redweather 

We all know that, in America, political correctness and the media remain effectively in the way of ever addressing real ills of the inner city. On any given day one needn't look further than this page to see the sad truth in that.

America will likely still be "waiting for Superman" long after its star has fallen.

Astropig
Astropig

@ute @Astropig @redweather


One (mild) disagreement with a point you made-the "old line" media is becoming more and more irrelevant (literally) every day. Newspapers are in free-fall.The atomization of TV audiences have destroyed the business case for probably two thirds of the networks available.The new mass media is Facebook and Twitter and such-for better or worse.We've seen several public figures and police leaders lose their jobs this week,not because of an inflammatory quote in their local paper,but because of a social media posting that their employers took exception to.This is a harbinger of profound change in our media landscape.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@redweather To be fair, I think suspension rates are okay to most people, AS LONG AS IT DOES NOT INCLUDE THEIR CHILD.

ute
ute

When parents are free to choose the school that best meets their child's needs—it's logical to assume they feel an extra commitment to achieving academic success.

Blind opposition to school choice, in other words, may be even more counter-productive than teachers' unions and their allies will admit.

http://bit.ly/21NMVIN

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@ute There is a phenomenon, I think called the halo effect, that being "chosen" for something immediately puts it in a different light.  Parents of the "chosen" put pressure on their children to show they "deserve" the wonderful chance.


I would speculate that just changing the name of a school to "charter" would have that kind of cachet, at least for a short time.  We may see, with all these "charter districts."


As far as "blind opposition" goes, are you willing to fund a multitude of special schools to meet each parent's requirements for his/her child?  Didn't think so.

kaelyn
kaelyn

So how would it be possible to have school choice for everyone when the demand exceeds the supply now? My children have met the requirements and I've tried three years to get one or both of them into one of DeKalb's highly sought after schools. Last year my daughter was close to number 90 on the wait list. I like the idea of school choice, but I've never seen a realistic explanation of how it could be successfully implemented.

Astropig
Astropig

@kaelyn



A very good question and I can feel your frustration.Get active politically. Politicians go to where the votes are,and in Georgia,a little over two-thirds of voters want more school choice.One thing we know-in our system of government,the voters eventually get what they want.It might take a while (partly because of the opposition of some of the kinds of educrat fossils you see here every day),but more choice is coming and nothing can stop it. With three kids of my own,I wished that increased choice had been the norm when they were growing up,so I hear you and hope that you get more options while your kids can still benefit from them.

arbuckle_p_smithers
arbuckle_p_smithers

Well....duh!  Of course intensive and focused tutoring is the answer...it only works with multiple lifeboats with each person lifted in one at a time.  Now let's debate how many lifeboats we need and who pays for them.

Beth Williams
Beth Williams

So much extra individual time with students is surely effective & must be funded. Sounds like that's what is happening in some charters.

Marc Ginsberg
Marc Ginsberg

How is this "fascinating?" Doesn't it make perfect, logical sense that keeping students focused on meaningful, academic activities during otherwise unstructured time will lead to success? Seems like most educational research: something public school teachers already know but nobody wants to listen.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Are you sure, in these cases, that tutoring is "occasional?"  And what is their take on "class size?" Where is the line? 


Like many things, the devil is in the details (definitions.)

Tom Green
Tom Green

AJC Get Schooled They say that "practice makes perfect," but the reality is that PERFECT practice makes perfect. All other practice must be unlearned and retaught. Therefore, it makes sense that properly guided practice would be most productive.

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

What is fascinating is that tutoring trumps class size, spending and teacher certification. I would have predicted tutoring would help, but not surpass class size as a factor in achievement given that class size is a constant while tutoring is occasional. I think if you asked parents would they want extra money invested in lowering class size or hiring after-school tutors, most would pick class size.

Liza Jackson
Liza Jackson

Tutoring is nothing more than one on one instruction and more personal...something that could be better achieved with smaller class sizes and more teachers. I would much rather my child get that one on one human interaction during class time then have to spend extra time and money on after hours tutoring. After hours time should be time for exploring other things.

bu22
bu22

Tutoring is one on one time.  So it is effectively creating a period of a one person class (or sometimes two).

Marc Ginsberg
Marc Ginsberg

AJC Get Schooled True. I would lean on class size, too, but that's also because I know what I can do with 15-20 students as opposed to a classroom of 30-plus from experience. But even 40 highly invested students with a great teacher and more time on task will certainly outperform 25 students with mixed motivation and a teacher who is constantly told "you're doing it wrong" from every angle. This is why the Harlem Children's Zone or similar programs that provide services for children seemingly all day prove effective but unfortunately impractical on a larger scale. If you have massive buy-in from the faculty and the community combined with specifically tailored resources and the freedom to use them as needed, of course you will achieve great results. Try to do that from within many public schools and dumb politics and finger pointing begin as the discussion gets bogged down on something as silly as class size vs. tutoring. Meanwhile, some places are able to do it all without bureaucracy and the school's history plaguing its ever decision and effort to grow, as well as the sheer number of students being served. Anyways, as much as educational research frustrates me, that information probably is helpful for people who don't work in schools everyday. Point noted.

Bob Fuse
Bob Fuse

A well prepared, qualified and exciting Teacher is number one requirement.