Low cost, big gains: Family phone tutoring targets learning loss

The work of post-pandemic learning recovery will take many years. As researchers Tom Kane and Sean Reardon noted in an opinion piece in The New York Times: “Especially in the hardest-hit communities, it is increasingly obvious that many students will not have caught up before the federal money runs out in 2024.” 

Schools are hungry for cost-effective strategies that can help students accelerate mastering foundational academic skills. One tutoring approach that has significantly raised math achievement in a dozen countries is worth a look for U.S. schools. The idea relies on basic technology and has a personal twist: Schools close targeted skill gaps by involving the family when tutoring students over the phone. 

Tutoring students via cell phone

The ConnectED program was first carried out in Botswana by Youth Impact, a nongovernmental organization, during the 2020 school closures. After a phone call explaining the program to parents or caregivers, a tutor conducted an initial diagnostic assessment of the student’s skills. The tutor then texted two math problems weekly, and followed each text with a pre-scheduled 20-minute phone call with the student and parent together to learn and solve the problems. 

The program produced dramatic gains in student learning. Further research identified the key to the intervention’s success: the tutor and caregiver jointly motivating and supporting the student.

After ConnectED’s initial success, organizations in 10 countries adopted the strategy, including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Uganda, Kenya, India, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippines. A team of researchers led by Naom Angrist of Oxford University studied the family phone tutoring approach in five different countries and found that it ranks in the top percentile of cost-effective education interventions for accelerating academic learning. It also increased student motivation and engagement. 

Read the story of ConnectEd here. 

This video and story are part of the "Scanning the World" series developed by The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE).  Republished with permission. To learn more about CRPE visit their website

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