MATCH tutoring is effective, cheap

“High-dosage” tutoring has produced large achievement gains at MATCH Education‘s Boston charter schools, according to a Pioneer Institute study.  “MATCH-style tutoring is less expensive and has proven far more effective than widely accepted reforms such as reduced class size and extended school days,” said Cara Stillings Candal, author of  Match-ing Students with Excellent Tutors.

Match Education set up math tutoring in Lawrence, Massachusetts schools. “After one full year of implementation at two grade levels, those students have seen historic achievement gains,” the study finds.

The success of the Match Corps is based on the ability to get well-educated young people to dedicate a year to tutoring, fully integrating the program into the life of the school, the presence of a strong accountability system to ensure its effectiveness and strong relationships among teachers, tutors, students and their families. Every Match tutor calls the parents of the students he or she tutors at least once a week.

To make the program more appealing to elite graduates of the nation’s top colleges, Match provides housing options for its tutors and pays them a stipend ($14,300 for the 2013-2014 academic year). At its high school for example, Match turned the top floor of its building into a dormitory; having tutors on site allowed every Match student to have at least two hours of tutoring daily.

 Alan Safran, MATCH Tutors, says there’s a large pool of people interested in tutoring, despite low pay. It’s a lot easier than being a classroom teacher.

MATCH-style tutoring produced big gains for low-income, black males in Chicago, according to another study, writes Owen Phillips on EdCentral.

Disadvantaged 9th- and 10th-graders scored in the 34th percentile on city math tests at the experiment’s end; the control group was at the 19th percentile.  “The improvement was roughly equivalent to three years’ worth of math instruction,” writes Phillips.

Students spent an hour each day in two-on-one tutoring based on the MATCH model. They also “met once a week in groups to develop emotional literacy, impulse control and interpersonal problem-solving skills.”

Tutored students also had fewer absences and were more likely to be on track for graduation.

The tutors in this experiment were recent college graduates and had no formal teaching credentials or previous experience. They were paid just $17,000 a year. . . . The tutors could individualize lesson plans, and spend less time managing the classroom and more time developing relationships with the students to maximize time-on-task.

The program cost $4,400 per student. By comparison, the Tennessee Star Class Room Reduction experiment cost about $19,600 per participant, notes Phillips.

Class size does matter, especially for disadvantaged students, argues Northwestern Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach in a summary of the academic literature.

Who should drive reform?

Americans rank small class size and technology as more effective than vouchers on the pro-choice Friedman Foundation’s new survey.  That must have produced “surprise (and, no doubt, embarrassment)” at the foundation, writes Diane Ravitch on her blog.

The foundation was “quite encouraged,” writes Robert Enlow, the foundation president.
Survey respondents ranked vouchers in the middle among seven offered education reforms. Not bad for a measure that currently affects just 0.9 percent of our country’s total student population.
As for the other reforms that ranked above vouchers, who doesn’t want smaller classrooms for students? And, in the 21st century, we certainly could use more technology in our schools along with accountability.

The critical question is: Who should drive those changes? writes Enlow. Should it be “lawmakers and bureaucrats, or parents free to choose, using vouchers, and educators free to teach, not being dictated by standardized tests?”

Making the most of the best teachers

If effective teachers taught more students — and weaker teachers had smaller classes — everyone would learn more, according to Right-Sizing the Classroom. Michael Hansen, senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, analyzed North Carolina data.

At the eighth-grade level, assigning up to 12 more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school, Hansen concluded. Three-quarters of that gain can be realized by moving six students. There are smaller gains at the fifth-grade level.

The benefits of assigning more students to the best teachers are the equivalent of firing the worst 5 percent of teachers, Hansen concluded. Unequal class size would be politically difficult, even with bonuses, but it’s easier than firing the incompetent.

In a survey last year, 73 percent of parents preferred a class of 27 students — “taught by one of the district’s best performing teachers” — over a class of 22 students “taught by a randomly chosen teacher.”

In a 2006 study, 83 percent of  Washington state teachers said they’d prefer an extra $5,000 in pay to having two fewer students in their classes. (Two is not a very large number.)

“Right-sizing” also is a way to sidestep merit pay while rewarding good teachers, the study observes. Bonuses would be “extra pay for extra work.”

How parents choose schools

Georgia parents don’t choose private schools for their test scores, concludes More Than Scores, a study of the the state’s tax-credit scholarship program by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Parents who chose to use the scholarships at private schools cared most about disciplinary policies, learning climate, class sizes, safety and individual attention for their children.

Since 2008, Georgia students have been able to receive scholarships to private schools through nonprofits, which are funded by individual and corporate contributions. Donors get an offsetting state income tax credit.

Only 10.2 percent rated “higher standardized test scores” as one of their top five reasons for choosing a private school. Parents were most concerned about finding a safe, orderly school.

Most popular among respondents were:

“better student discipline” (50.9 percent),

“better learning environment” (50.8 percent),

“smaller class sizes” (48.9 percent),

“improved student safety” (46.8 percent), and

“more individual attention for my child” (39.3 percent).

Low-income parents give top priority to graduation rates and college acceptance rates in deciding on a school.

OECD: U.S. lags in college completion

Fifty-two percent of U.S. students who start postsecondary education go on to graduate, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Education at a Glance 2013. The OECD average graduation rate is 70 percent with Japan leading the pack at 90 percent.

On average, OECD countries employ one teacher for every 14 students in upper-secondary school. Portugal hires one teacher for every eight students, while “Mexico breaks the scales at 28″ students per teacher, notes Education Gadfly.

CRPE: Small classes have high costs

The benefits of small classes — more individual attention, less teacher stress — may not outweigh the costs in dollars and teacher quality, concludes The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes, a state-by-state analysis by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education. Call sizes in 2011-12 were slightly smaller than in 1999-2000, countering “the common and mistaken belief — spurred on by knee-jerk sensationalism and politicking — that class sizes are ‘skyrocketing’,” writes Education Gadfly.

The authors demonstrate that increasing the nation’s average class size by just two students could free up $15.7 billion—enough to raise average teacher salary by $5,000 per teacher, provide a laptop for every student, or lengthen the school day in the poorest quintile of schools.

Limiting K-3 class size to 14 to 17 students in high-poverty elementary schools showed lasting benefits, especially for blacks, in the Tennessee STAR study. (Some argue all the benefits accrued in kindergarten and first grade.)

Inspired by STAR, California paid all elementary schools $1 billion-plus a year to lower class sizes to 20 in K-3.  Suburban schools were able to hire competent teachers for the new classes. Urban schools with hard-to-teach kids filled classrooms with less-qualified candidates, a follow-up study found. The study found no evidence smaller classes improved student achievement. Because of the very high costs, schools spent less on other needs, including maintenance, teacher training, libraries and technology. Music, art, sports and special ed lost space on campuses. (I’ve seen schools cover their playing fields with portable classrooms.)

“Very large class-size reductions, on the order of magnitude of 7-10 fewer students per class, can have significant long-term effects on student achievement . . . in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds,” write Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst and Matthew Chingos. But is it the best use of education dollars?  “One careful analysis of several educational interventions found CSR to be the least cost effective of those studied.”

Only one good school?

West Philadelphia parents are demanding spots in their neighborhood’s K-8 school, which now uses a lottery instead of first come, first enrolled. Penn Alexander, which is supported by Penn, is an excellent school, writes the Philadelphia Daily News. “Why hasn’t the district done more to replicate . . . success?

“In a large system, your shining examples cannot just be islands unto themselves,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of Philadelphia School Partnership. “They need to be part of the effort to create more schools like their own.”

Since it opened in September 2001, PAS has attracted middle-class families to West Philadelphia, helped to increase home prices in its catchment area by tens of thousands of dollars and established a strong community in an area once plagued by crime.

Other popular schools in the city typically have strong parental involvement and partnerships with outside cultural organizations and businesses.

Penn Alexander caps class size at 18 children in kindergarten and 24 in other grade levels. It receives $1,330 extra per student, up to $700,000, from the university. The Graduate School of Education supplies student teachers and offers training to experienced teachers. “But the money alone does not make it a great school,” Gleason said. “It helps. By itself, it doesn’t change anything.”

Education-minded families have been moving to the Spruce Hill neighborhood to send their kids to Penn Alexander, sending property values soaring, reports the Daily News. Plan Philly estimates a house inside the school’s boundaries fetches $50,000 to $100,000 more than one a block away.

Needed: More ideologues, less kumbaya

“Can’t we all just get along?” asked Rodney King. No, answers Matt Barnum on Dropout Nation. School reformers and traditionalists have different ideas on “what’s best for kids.”  Ideas matter.

A Teach for America alum, he criticizes TFA President Wendy Kopp for writing, “We have to stop thinking of ourselves as locked in an ideological battle and focus on doing everything in our power to give students today the education they deserve.”

. . . Kopp seems to create a dichotomy between ideologues –those “locked in an ideological battle” – on the one hand, and those who want to do what’s best for kids, on the other. In actuality, ideologues not only want what’s best for kids, they actually have ideas – some good, some bad – for how to achieve results. Reformers emphasize school choice, parental empowerment, and teacher quality; traditionalists focus on class size, early-childhood education, and wrap-around services.

It seems to me that part of the problem in education is not too many, but rather, too few ideologues.

Traditionalist Diane Ravitch and union leader Karen Lewis have engaged in increasingly vicious attacks, writes Barnum. Reformers have employed “harmful and distasteful rhetoric.”  He favors “discussing ideas over demeaning people.”

At times, compromise may be necessary Barnum concedes. But not always. An “uncompromising, ideological vision of change to our education system may, in fact, be what’s best for kids.”

Obama ad: Romney agrees with Duncan on class size

President Obama’s new ad hit accuses challenger Mitt Romney of believing class size doesn’t matter:  “Some of our children’s greater experiences have been in smaller classrooms … but Mitt Romney says class sizes don’t matter, and he supports Paul Ryan’s budget, which could cut education by 20 percent,” the ad says.

Romney never said class size doesn’t matter, reports CNN.

Talking to a group of Philadelphia teachers  in May, Romney said, “If you had a class size of five, that would be terrific. If you have a class size of 50, that would be impossible.”

But Romney cited a McKinsey Global Institute Study that showed sometimes schools with small classes fail and sometimes schools with big classes succeed. Therefore, he said, class size should not be given excessive weight in efforts to improve schools.

Obama’s Education secretary, Arne Duncan, agrees.  Class size might matter up to third grade, but “but in secondary schools, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size,”  Duncan said in 2010. “In fact, teachers in Asia sometimes request larger class sizes because they think a broad distribution of students and skill levels can accelerate learning.”

Romney’s K-12 education plan “contains some interesting ideas and some problematic ones,” writes Matthew Yglesias, who also notes that Duncan and Romney agree on class size.

At “the very Obama-friendly Center for American Progress,” where Yglesias used to work, the education team also holds the Romney-Duncan position:

It’s not that “class size doesn’t matter” exactly. It’s that at most plausible margins, it makes more sense to invest money in hiring and retaining the most effective teachers rather than in simply adding more teachers. The fact that Obama agrees with Romney about this is presumably why Obama’s education policies have focused on investing money in teacher quality rather than in maximizing the number of teachers.

Romney’s “budget won’t leave much money for anything,” including K-12 education, writes Yglesias.

How Americans would cut school budgets

If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes? Who’d go first if layoffs were essential? How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education reports on a Fordham survey.

If their own school district were facing a serious deficit, 48 percent said the best approach would be “to cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” rather than raise taxes or wait out the downturn. How?

Shrink the administration. A broad majority (69 percent) supports “reducing the number of district level administrators to the bare minimum” as a good way to save money because “it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.”

Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”

If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service. About three in four (74 percent) say that those with poor performance should be “laid off first and those with excellent performance protected”; only 18 percent would have “newcomers laid off first and veteran teachers protected.”

In addition, there was broad support for closing schools and merging districts, raising class sizes in non-core subjects such as art, music, and physical education and replacing expensive special ed programs.

However, respondents rejected shortening the school year and shrinking the non-teaching staff.

They split on charging fees for after-school sports and extracurricular activities, using blended learning (a mix of Internet and classroom instruction), and “virtual” schools.

Here’s part of the survey.