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.

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