Thursday, June 15, 2017

What Helps Low Income Children Learn

Freddie deBoer got modestly famous as a left-wing political blogger, but he eventually got tired of political wrangling and abandoned that effort. Now he just writes about education research, his academic specialty.

This week he features a big new study, a meta-analysis of a 101 studies from the past 15 years, all looking at various interventions that were intended to raise the test scores of low-income American elementary and middle school students. Except for one study that deBoer doesn't like, they all find modest effect sizes; the basic take-away from this study is that helping poor kids learn more is hard, no matter what you try.

Scanning the chart above, you see that what helps most is more attention, especially individualized attention from adults. One-on-one tutoring works better than anything else. As deBoer puts it, What Actually Helps Poor Students? Human Beings.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Most striking to me is that "Incentives" have the smallest effect by far.

So often you hear well-off people gripe about the poor supposedly being "lazy" or "unmotivated", and that if only they'd work harder and be smarter about managing the little they have, they could somehow pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become successful.

So often people blame the individual, failing to recognize that there's already a massive incentive to do better. Being poor is awful, and anyone who is currently poor is already supremely motivated to NOT be poor any longer than necessary. But there are other forces at work, and circumstances conspire to leave countless people trapped in their miserable situations, unable to escape no matter how hard they work, because the system is rigged against them.

It's like a person trapped in quicksand. Giving them a motivational speech isn't going to much of anything to free them from the mire, but reaching in a hand or throwing in a rope and pulling - while still a slow, difficult, and exhausting process - is far more likely to help them start making progress out of the mess, even if it doesn't let them wholly escape all at once.