UChicago to evaluate effects of increased math tutoring in Chicago Public Schools

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

Up to 1,000 adolescent boys in 12 Chicago Public Schools will receive individualized, daily math tutoring in their regular school day beginning next fall, as part of a new UChicago-supported program designed to boost school performance and reduce violent crimes.

The University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab and Crime Lab will partner with Match Education, a national tutoring program, in focusing on schools in some of the city’s most distressed and disadvantaged communities.

With support from the MacArthur Foundation and the University of Chicago, the program will be implemented in a way that will support the most rigorous possible evaluation—akin to a randomized controlled trial that provides the “gold standard” evidence in medicine—with the intent of guiding education policy efforts in Chicago and across the country. 

Initial findings from a pilot program this year at Harper High School in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood showed that Becoming A Man, a local group counseling intervention, and Match-style tutoring together could dramatically reduce the risk of youth violence in some of the most dangerous Chicago neighborhoods. BAM was developed by local social service agency Youth Guidance and previously evaluated by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

“With critical mentoring and tutoring and proven results, Match builds on the city’s investment in the Becoming A Man program and is putting some of our most vulnerable youth on a path to a brighter future,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “We all have a role to play in ensuring their safety and growth, and I am committed to investing in more programs that not only provide safe alternatives but also give our youth the tools and opportunity they deserve to succeed.”

Among the pilot program’s findings:

  • After just six weeks of working with youth from November 2012 to January 2013, the combination of BAM and Match-style tutoring together reduced the rate at which students receive misconducts in their schools by 67 percent and reduced course failures by 37 percent. It also reduced expected violent crime arrest rates over the next one to two years by more than 50 percent.
  • The combination of the two programs—BAM plus Match-style tutoring—yields much greater impact than delivering the BAM program alone.

“The combination of gold-standard evidence and exceptional implementation capacity is rare, and that is precisely what the Urban Education Lab and Match bring to Chicago. I am enormously enthusiastic about the potential to make a difference for 1,000 young men in Chicago, and do it in a way that will influence policy and practice nationwide,” said Timothy Knowles, the John Dewey Director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute.

“We know from the Crime Lab’s previous research that BAM helps get students more engaged in school, but unfortunately too many middle and high school students are so far behind grade level that they need intensive academic help to catch up and be able to engage with regular classroom instruction,” said Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab and co-director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab. He is the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy. “Match was the most promising program we could find that has a chance of doing that. We need kids to have a real hope of getting a high school diploma if we want to sustain the effects of BAM on youth violence.”

The Match tutoring program was developed in 2004 at the Match public charter schools in Boston, where math tutoring is incorporated as a period in the school day. Trained, professional tutors each work with one to three students at a time as part of the regular school day. Since then, the Match tutoring model has been replicated in the Lawrence (Mass.) Public Schools, the Houston Independent School District; and Denver Public Schools. The tutoring in Houston, evaluated by Harvard University economist Roland Fryer, was found to have a significant effect, equating to between two and four years of math growth for the students.

“Based on the Match tutoring program’s previous success in urban public schools, we are excited to work with the University of Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools to help youth in Chicago. We believe this intervention program could be a guide for other cities,” said Alan P.G. Safran, president of Match Education.

In Chicago, the program will be provided alongside the BAM program. Match tutoring will be provided as part of the school day, and students will receive course credit for participating in the tutoring program. Match is recruiting recent college graduates, mid-career switchers and retirees to tutor in Chicago, and it also will hire staff to provide program leadership and oversight. Each tutor will work with two students at a time during six school periods across two schools, with a tutor caseload of 12 students throughout the school year. The University of Chicago will evaluate the performance of Match’s impact on student academic performance as well as reducing violent crime involvement.

“The research team at the Urban Education Lab is world-class, and Match is eager to submit the tutoring work we’ll do on behalf of the students in the Chicago Public Schools to their evaluation,” said Stig Leschly, CEO of Match Education.

As a result of the pilot program at Harper, teachers said that students receiving tutoring performed better in algebra because the gaps in their understanding of math were overcome by the individualized attention, which included intensive work on specific concepts. Students taking part in the program also said the tutoring made them feel more satisfied with their schoolwork.

“I missed a lot of assignments, and my tutor helped me catch up. She also explains math to me to help me understand the problems. Now I am getting an A in algebra. That makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something important,” said Harper freshman Keivonte Nichols.