Human tutors beat computers in Houston

Intensive tutoring — two kids to one adult — raised math achievement dramatically in Houston’s Apollo turnaround schools, while computer tutoring helped only modestly, writes Mike Goldstein of MATCH on Larry Cuban’s blog. MATCH helped hire and train the tutors.

Math tutoring for sixth and ninth graders raised achievement by the equivalent of five to nine months of extra schooling, concluded economist Roland Fryer in a study of Apollo’s results after one year.

In other grades, students who were behind took double math or reading, depending on the subject in which they needed help the most. Their classes used Carnegie Math’s  software featuring differentiated instruction based on previous student performance.

Computers are great for helping people learn what they want to learn. They’re not particularly good at getting someone to learn something they do not want to learn. For that, you need very skilled people (teachers and tutors) who can build relationships, use that to generate order and effort from kids, and then turn that effort into learning. A computer needs to start on “third base” — take effort and flip that into learning.

While the schools adopted a “no excuses” model, it was the intensive math tutoring that made the difference, writes Matt Di Carlo of the National Education Policy Center.

About Joanne


  1. That’s going to interfere with the “reformers” profit margins.

    Careful Joanne, you’ll be branded a liberal for suggesting people are better than computers.

  2. Interesting perspective, Joanne. Especially considering the inclination of today’s children to avoid basic human interactions in favor of communicating through technology.

    I recently started working for EqualApp, a Boston-based, online college admissions counseling program. It combines animated computer lessons with private 1-on-1 sessions with former college admissions officers via phone or video conference. What are your thoughts on a combination of human tutoring AND computer-based lessons?

  3. Yeah but for those of us who actually work in the district and those schools are aware of one little, maybe important fact:

    Ronald Fryer is also a paid consultant to HISD. And the value is in the near 7 figures range.

    So the guy who designed the program for a hefty fee finds the program works.

    Yea. Bridge. Brooklyn. Sale.