Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes Among Adolescents

86 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2021 Last revised: 17 Dec 2021

See all articles by Jonathan Guryan

Jonathan Guryan

Northwestern University

Jens Ludwig

Georgetown University - Public Policy Institute (GPPI); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Monica Bhatt

University of Chicago

Philip J. Cook

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy; Duke University, Dept. of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jonathan Davis

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy; University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Kenneth Dodge

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy

George Farkas

University of California, Irvine

Roland G. Fryer

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation; University of Chicago

Susan Mayer

University of Chicago

Harold A. Pollack

University of Chicago - School of Social Service Administration

Laurence Steinberg

Temple University - Department of Psychology

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2021

Abstract

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 we 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). Our 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. We 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.

Suggested Citation

Guryan, Jonathan and Ludwig, Jens and Bhatt, Monica and Cook, Philip J. and Davis, Jonathan and Dodge, Kenneth and Farkas, George and Fryer, Roland G. and Mayer, Susan and Pollack, Harold A. and Steinberg, Laurence, Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes Among Adolescents (March 2021). NBER Working Paper No. w28531, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3799822

Jonathan Guryan (Contact Author)

Northwestern University

Jens Ludwig

Georgetown University - Public Policy Institute (GPPI) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Monica Bhatt

University of Chicago ( email )

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Philip J. Cook

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )

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Jonathan Davis

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

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University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

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Kenneth Dodge

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )

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George Farkas

University of California, Irvine ( email )

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Roland G. Fryer

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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University of Chicago ( email )

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Susan Mayer

University of Chicago ( email )

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Harold A. Pollack

University of Chicago - School of Social Service Administration ( email )

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Laurence Steinberg

Temple University - Department of Psychology ( email )

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